It’s as easy as ABC Julia!

Solidarity believes the federal government should take over ABC Learning Centres, CFK Childcare and any other “unprofitable” centres. For years the government has watched its subsidisation of the for-profit section (70%) of the child-care “industry” grow. About 40% of ABC’s earnings come from government subsidy. Last year Canberra spent about $2.5 billion subsidising the private providers. Now Julia Gillard has put up $22 million extra to stop ABC’s receivers shutting “unprofitable centres” before Christmas.

But childcare shouldn’t be an industry. It’s no longer a place where working parents dump young kids and they are left to do their own thing: it’s a community service at the critical stage of socialisation and pre-academic learning. It requires dedication and training. Yet the degree of accreditation and regulation by government is much less than for the aged care and private health sectors.

Child-care workers are some of the worst paid workers in the country. Louise Tarrant from the LHMU – the union fighting for child-care workers’ rights – says there is a turnover of 30% of staff each year due to low pay and too many kids to care for. Telemarketing can earn workers more than child-care!

In 2006 CFK hit the news when it offered WorkChoices AWAs to employees which froze their wages and stripped away entitlements such as rest breaks, overtime and annual leave loading.

In New Zealand childcare workers are in transition to get as much training – and pay – as school teachers. It was a long struggle by their union and the community, but it will be the kids who benefit as they mature having had better-trained and happier workers in their crucial first years.

Parents, kids and taxpayers deserve better than the (failed) Eddie Groves model of buying up centres to make quick bucks: we need a social model of child-care, where the local community controls its centres with world’s best-practice guidelines for ratios of kids per worker. Parents – and the rest of us – should collective contribute through the taxation system for a high quality system.

A small increase in company income tax, capital gains tax and the highest personal income tax rate would pay for a federal takeover of ABC Learning and CFK and this would be a great start to a fully-funded community-based child-care system worthy of a rich place like Australia.

Child-care – like all education – gives a social benefit to the community, not just an individual benefit to the person or family. While ever Julia Gillard and Maxine McKew continue with Howard’s for-profit fee-paying model they will oversee a crisis in childcare which all of us will ultimately pay for with poorly socialised kids, stressed out parents and angry, exhausted workers.

Bruce Knobloch


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