Call for government intervention as childcare access dwindles

February 10, 2024 BY

The ACCC has called on the federal government to intervene in childcare markets following a year-long inquiry into the sector. Photo: FREEPIX.COM

MARKET forces alone are not meeting the needs of all children and households, an Australia-wide inquiry into the childcare sector has found.

After a 12-month investigation, the Australian Consumer and Competition Commission (ACCC) is calling on the federal government to adopt a market stewardship role to improve the affordability and accessibility of childcare across the country.

In its final report, the ACCC suggested a “one size fits all” policy approach would continue to leave some communities under-served, unserved or without adequate and appropriate access to childcare services.

The report highlighted staffing constraints, particularly in regional and remote areas, as an ongoing barrier to the sufficient supply of childcare.

Last month, this newspaper spoke with more than 80 childcare providers across the region about the challenges faced by the sector.

Many centres were battling staffing shortages, enrolment caps and increased demands for childcare with rising cost of living forcing parents to spend more time at work.

In Torquay alone, more than 85 per cent of the childcare providers contacted by this newspaper were operating at or near capacity, with only limited vacancies on offer to local families.

Throughout the Bellarine, this number stood at about 80 per cent.

Waitlists at many centres were filled with hundreds of families and for many, wait times had ballooned to at least 12 months.

For one local childcare provider, enrolment caps had contributed to the growth of its waitlist to 600 families.

While illustrative of the challenges facing the sector, it should be noted families frequently join multiple waitlists to increase their chances of placement with a centre and often forget to remove their name once a position becomes available.

Corangamite federal member Libby Coker said she had met with several childcare providers in the region and was aware many were concerned about the pressure workforce shortages were putting on the sector.

“Nothing is more important than providing our children with the best possible start in life and that’s why our government is committed to delivering accessible and more affordable childcare and early education.

“Our government will now consider the findings of the report along with the recommendations of the Productivity Commission’s report which is due in a few months.

“We’ve also made significant investments in fee-free TAFE which is one of the most important actions we’re taking to ensure a quality and sustainable workforce for the early childhood education sector.”

When asked how the state government was helping to improve childcare access for local families, South Barwon MP Darren Cheeseman said childcare was a “Commonwealth responsibility”.

“The Victorian government is contributing to improving childcare access in communities of greatest need by establishing 50 government-owned and operated early learning and childcare centres between 2025 and 2028.

“The Victorian government will continue to advocate to the Australian government for increased childcare availability and funding solutions to ensure that Victorians across the state have access to childcare.”

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