Opinion | Childcare policies ignore rural needs

The government’s proposed childcare reforms are a problem for rural and regional Australia.

The government knows this. The Minister for Education and Training Simon Birmingham visited Indi in November last year at my invitation. He talked with families and providers. The issues were presented clearly.

The Minister was told the funding model would make mobile childcare such as Albury Wodonga Community Early Years service unviable.

Following this visit, there was great hope. The Minister gave reassurances the community would be looked after.

Imagine the extreme disappointment when the legislation was drafted with none of these concerns addressed.

To add insult to injury, the childcare reforms have been bundled together in an unwieldy “omnibus” bill tied to family tax benefits.

As a result, an important service for rural families – mobile childcare – may not be available in Indi in the long term.

The Government has no plan. No consideration has been given in this legislation to rural and regional communities.

The Minister refers to rural and regional communities as “vulnerable” and “disadvantaged”.

This is nonsense! Regional communities are not an “add on” or outside of mainstream Australia. They are resilient and clever and productive. They make up a third of the country’s population and contribute immensely to the national economy, yet they are just being forgotten.

Rural and regional Australia’s biggest disadvantage is the contempt the government shows it in refusing to consider its needs when developing major policies. They deserve the same services and opportunities as their urban counterparts.

Access to childcare is fundamental for the economic health of regional Australia. Attracting and keeping young families in these areas is a massive challenge but vital for the sustainability of these communities. Local schools, businesses and community organisations rely on them to thrive.

When a family moves away from a small community, it can have a devastating impact on the local schools, businesses, sporting clubs and community organisations.

Recently, the Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce advised families looking for affordable housing to move to the country. 

They can’t do this, however, if there are not the services to allow them to have the same opportunities to work and study their urban counterparts enjoy.

During his visit to Wodonga, Minister Birmingham said: “Jobs are just as important in regional Australia as they are in suburban settings, and to make sure we undertake that transition successfully, we need the right education and training policy settings.”

How are parents to access those important jobs without childcare?

The government has questions to answer.

Where is its plan for rural childcare?

Will it allocate a percentage of funding to rural childcare?

When will the government learn that one size does not fit all when it comes to policies that affect the whole nation?

When will the government step up and stop failing rural people?

The Government needs to fulfil the commitment the Minister made to the families he met in Talgarno.

I will continue to be the strong local independent voice for the families of Indi. 

Cathy McGowan is the Federal Member for Indi.