Government's childcare changes could restrict access to learning: Indigenous peak body.

By Bridget Brennan

Aboriginal childcare centres are worried the Federal Government’s planned changes to the sector could derail progress on a Closing the Gap target.

If the Government’s Jobs for Families Child Care legislation passes Parliament, many Aboriginal childcare centres face changes to the way they are funded and the way in which parents can access subsidies.

The Senate’s Education Committee is due to hand down its report after receiving dozens of submissions to an inquiry examining the Government’s proposal.

The Secretariat of National Aboriginal and Islander Child Care (SNAICC) said its modelling predicted enrolments at Indigenous-run centres would drop by up to 9 per cent if the proposed changes went ahead.

Already the Government is behind on its Closing the Gap target to get 95 per cent of Indigenous four-year-olds enrolled in child care by 2025.

Currently, 74 per cent of Indigenous children are enrolled in child care in regional areas, and 67 per cent in urban areas.

Deputy chairwoman of SNAICC, Geraldine Atkinson, said the legislation could restrict access to early learning for vulnerable children, because parents would have to prove they were working, training or studying to classify for more than 12 hours per week of subsidised child care.

“It’s our children that are going to be punished,” she said.

“If the Government is worried about closing the gap in education, they need to have a good hard look at the package they’re trying to get through the Parliament.

“When you think about someone on a $37,000 salary that we have [in] our community, they’re not high salaries.”

But Education Minister Simon Birmingham said he was confident Aboriginal childcare services would be able to increase the number of children they cared for if the changes were passed.

“There’s a lot of extra support on the table that perhaps isn’t as well understood as it should be,” he said.


Senator Birmingham said he had been visiting Indigenous childcare centres to discuss the proposals.

“I hope, as we work through these implementation issues, people will come to see there are a lot of extra opportunities and assistance available, which should ensure that in the end we see more young Indigenous children accessing fantastic early learning opportunities,” he said.

Childcare centre provides ‘opportunity for best start’

Lulla’s Children and Family Centre in Shepparton in northern Victoria is one of about 240 Aboriginal child care services which get special funding because they operate in remote, rural or disadvantaged areas.

Lulla’s director Miranda Borlini said many families attending her centre needed additional support and a culturally appropriate service.

“Most of our children that come here to Lulla’s are vulnerable,” she said.

“This centre provides an opportunity to come and get that best start.”

Services like Lulla’s receive funding under what is called the Budget Based Funding Program, which will be abolished if the Government’s new package is passed in the Senate.

Those Aboriginal-led services would then have to compete with mainstream services for funding, and adhere to a set fee structure — in some cases, Indigenous centres are currently able to charge much lower fees.

Senator Birmingham said the current system was two-tiered and outdated.

“It is a very inequitable arrangement,” he said.

“We will look at each [Aboriginal child care service] on a case-by-case basis to help them shift their business model.”

SNAICC has asked the Government to consider a 100 per cent subsidy for families whose children are enrolled in Indigenous services.

This post originally appeared on ABC News.

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