Centre of Policy Development plan for universal childcare offers a way to stop system failing Aussie families

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Katina Curtis
The Nightly
A new blueprint for an early childhood education system produced by the Centre of Policy Development envisages an Australia where childcare is a truly universal right like schooling or Medicare.
A new blueprint for an early childhood education system produced by the Centre of Policy Development envisages an Australia where childcare is a truly universal right like schooling or Medicare. Credit: Denis/DenisProduction.com - stock.adob

A fundamental overhaul of childcare would create a more productive workforce, set children up to be healthier and better direct $15 billion of taxpayers money each year.

A new blueprint for an early childhood education system produced by the Centre of Policy Development envisages an Australia where childcare is a truly universal right like schooling or Medicare.

At its core are recommendations that all children under five should be entitled to at least three days a week of care at a cost to parents of just $10 daily, and that the funding to centres be transformed to a supply-side model with all services given base funding topped up with extra where there are particular needs.

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The Government has said it wants a universal childcare system, with a Productivity Commission examination of the matter due at the end of June.

CPD chief executive Andrew Hudson said the proposed overhaul matches closely with the Government’s thinking.

“The choice we’ve got here, really is, do we continue to spend $15 billion annually on a system that we know is failing children and families? Or do we look at this at this new model?” he told The West Australian.

“It is about bringing this up to level with other universal systems that we have.

“I’ve got three young kids – the four- or five-year-olds, it is just as important to educate them as it is to educate six-year-olds and seven-year-olds, and at the moment, we have this false distinction where we don’t have any universal system in place for those before school but we do once they get to school.”

The report released on Wednesday offers 10 recommendations to reach this ideal system, saying it could be phased in over a decade.

It suggests having a set $10-a-day fee for three days and $15 for the fourth and fifth days in a week, with this halved for younger siblings also in care.

An alternative would be to still have low fees but means test them. In all models, the CPD says the activity test — which disproportionately affects low-income parents — should be scrapped.

The bulk of the funding for centres would come from the Government rather than parents, with a base funding amount set to cover the core costs of providing high-quality early childhood education.

This should be tied to minimum quality standards, wages and conditions, and a priority access system for enrolments.

Governments should also back centres in areas with severe shortages – primarily rural and remote communities – to make sure all parents have access.

Mr Hudson said boosting the childcare educator workforce was central to the whole plan.

The sector has been in crisis for years, with low wages and poor conditions turning off many staff.

However, the Fair Work Commission is now looking at the potential to significantly boost award wages while many hopes are pinned on a multi-employer bargaining process also underway.

Mr Hudson said waiting a further two years for the Fair Work process “would be way too long” and more needed to be done to attract and retain educators.

“It’s not impossible. You know, presumably, it will take a bit of time to build the pipeline. But it’s clearly one of the most important recommendations in the report,” he said.

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