260 council childcare centres rescued and preschool’s free



Mass closure of council childcare centres has been avoided and preschool will be free for six months under a $133 million state government rescue package.

The Daily Telegraph can reveal preschools will get $51 million so they can waive charges during the coronavirus crisis.

Premier Gladys Berejiklian will also provide $82 million to 260 council childcare centres ineligible for the federal government's JobKeeper subsidy.

"Parents are under a lot of pressure at the moment and it's crucial for them to continue to have access to childcare, particularly those working on the frontline during this crisis," Ms Berejiklian told The Daily Telegraph.

Last week the federal government said it would provide all childcare operators with 50 per cent of their funding - on the condition parents were no longer charged fees. Another $1 billion was to flow from the new JobKeeper wage subsidy.

Teacher Rebecca Gibbs with Charlotte, 4, and Sienna, 4, (right) at Amber Cottage Early Learning Centre in Ambarvale. Picture: Jonathan Ng
Teacher Rebecca Gibbs with Charlotte, 4, and Sienna, 4, (right) at Amber Cottage Early Learning Centre in Ambarvale. Picture: Jonathan Ng

But most council childcare centres are not eligible for JobKeeper because they are not businesses.

That left a gaping hole in their finances.

"It was a serious oversight," said state Opposition local government spokesman Greg Warren.

Councils are the largest single provider of childcare in NSW, with more than 14,000 kids attending.

Closures had already begun, with Georges River Council shutting a Hurstville early learning centre on Tuesday. Another in Hurstville was set to follow on Friday.

Cumberland Council, which runs 17 centres, had flagged their closure from April 20.

Waverley Council was budgeting on losing more than $90,000 a week due to the funding change.

For Campbelltown Council, the hit was to be $30,000 a week.

Singleton Council expected to be in the red to the tune of $12,000 a week and for Coolamon Council in the state's south-west, the figure was $7500 a week.

Federal Opposition early childhood education spokeswoman Amanda Rishworth said: "I think the Morrison government has underestimated how important councils are in child care delivery."

The Daily Telegraph understands federal Education Minister Dan Tehan had been exploring the option of increasing direct funding to 75 per cent, which the Telegraph has confirmed was raised as a potential solution by three councils in his regional Victoria electorate.

However it was then decided that states should take responsibility.

NSW Education Minister Sarah Mitchell said the funding was conditional on community preschools and council childcare centres remaining open - unless they are closed on health advice.

"Families and children can now also be assured that their preschool service will continue to operate, providing some familiarity for them during these trying times," Ms Mitchell, who is also Early Childhood Learning Minister, said.

"Preschools and council childcare centres will now have the peace of mind that they will be financially viable, and parents will benefit from the relief of not having to pay any fees," Ms Mitchell said.



Originally published as 260 council childcare centres rescued and preschool's free