LOCAL families have been caught in the middle of the most recent feud between State and Federal Governments, with the Victorian Government warning the fate of federal funding for occasional childcare is on uncertain ground.
State leaders lashed out at the Turnbull Government recently following its decision to cut funding from the National Occasional Childcare Program under new childcare reforms.
The current program – due to expire in July – funds 143 flexible childcare providers across Victoria, including 51 neighbourhood houses –Tongala Community Activities Centre’s childcare centre among them.
Neighbourhood Houses Victoria policy officer David Perry said these cuts could spell the end of a vital service for local families – again.
“For us it’s a case of here we go again,” he said.
“The equivalent program was cut by the Federal Government some years ago. And it took a lot of lobbying and a change of government to reinstate that program.”
However, federal leaders have claimed the Andrews Government called for the funding to be cut in the first place.
Education and Training Minister Simon Birmingham clarified this in a letter to Families and Children Minister Jenny Mikakos.
“I note state and territory treasurers wrote to the Hon Scott Morrison MP, Treasurer, on 20 October, 2017 recommending that funding for the NOC Partnership Agreement should not be renewed,” he said.
Mr Birmingham said the funding would continue under the childcare reforms, with a new childcare subsidy available for eligible occasional childcare centres.
He also stated existing restrictions on hours of service and the cap on the number of approved occasional childcare places would be lifted.
Despite these assurances from the Federal Government, Mr Perry said occasional childcare centres would be proceeding with caution.
“Childcare is complex as there are a lot of regulations to be complied with,” he said.
“We are concerned that a number of services funded under the National Occasional Care Program may not be able transition to the new system.
“And so far there’s been no communication from the Federal Government and no offer of support to transition to the new system.
“It’s critical for small communities like Tongala to have occasional childcare programs. These are essential services – and occasional is the hardest childcare to get.”
Occasional childcare offers an affordable option for families while allowing parents to pursue work or study.
Di Tinning, group leader at Tongala’s occasional childcare hub The Cottage, said the centre was guaranteed funding until December.
And would endeavour to ensure its future in the meantime.
‘‘We’ll be working to get as much information as possible about what these reforms mean for us,’’ she said.
‘‘Of course, we want to keep The Cottage open — especially after last time the funding was cut. But we still haven’t really received official notification about what’s going to happen.’’
Neighbourhood Houses Victoria acting chief executive Clare Corbet said they would work closely with both state and federal governments to negotiate a smooth transition to the new childcare system.
“We’re very concerned about the potential impact this may have and are working hard to measure what the consequences could be,” she said.
“All neighbourhood houses are in slightly different positions in terms of funding, so this may have an impact on some of them but not necessarily all of them.”
Member for Murray Plains Peter Walsh said the State Government’s warnings of funding cuts were mere scare-mongering.
“Victorian Minister for Families and Children Jenny Mikakos is deliberately misleading Victorian families to distract from the broken promise to Neighbourhood Houses by the Andrews Government,” Mr Walsh said.
“As Federal Education Minister Simon Birmingham has said in a letter to Minister Mikakos, there is no cut to Occasional Childcare – it is funded in the new childcare reforms.”