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Government to roll out free childcare, new leave arrangements for workers

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Free childcare and new leave arrangements have been announced by the Morrison government in an effort to keep more workers in employment for longer.

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Today’s $1.6 billion childcare initiative will prioritise children of parents still working in the community, along with the most vulnerable, and seek to allow anyone forced to give up their jobs during the pandemic to now return to work.
However, parents currently working from home, and managing to do so with their children, may have to compete for remaining places.

As the pandemic and economic crisis continues, Prime Minister Scott Morrison made clear the rules had to be rewritten: “It’s no longer about entitlement, it’s about need”.

The government will seek to maintain services where families already receive them – dozens of centres have already closed in Queensland alone – but may not subsidise childcare giant Goodstart Early Learning to the same extent because it has previously made too much money.

Asked this afternoon why it had taken so long to make childcare arrangements, and how Goodstart could still be left out, Morrison said his government had in recent weeks spent hundreds of billions of dollars, boosted the health system, extended the welfare safety net and sought consistency in school and other changes.

“We’ve been working through these issues each and every day,” Morrison told reporters in Canberra.

“No government in our history has moved more quickly to deal with the resourcing needs of the Australian people than the one that is leading Australia through this crisis.”

Morrison said childcare and early childhood education was critical, particularly for those who relied on it to be able to go to work. He repeated his definition of an essential worker as anyone who still had a job and said 13,000 childcare centres were expected to stay open as a result of the government’s intervention.

Education Minister Dan Tehan said parents expecting to pay gap fees this week would see them waived, and from Sunday night an entirely different financial system would be in place. Negotiations would continue with Goodstart, he said, with some suggestion their changing circumstances may see them slip within the government threshold.

Under the initiative, the government will pay 50 per cent of the sector’s fee revenue up to the existing hourly rate cap based on a point in time before parents started withdrawing their children in large numbers, but only so long as services remain open and do not charge families for care. The funding will apply from April 6 based on the number of children who were in care during the fortnight leading into March 2, whether or not they are attending services.

The announcement came as Attorney-General Christian Porter confirmed changes to modern awards and industrial relations systems, particularly for restaurant and hospitality workers and clerks, would provide two weeks of unpaid pandemic leave and double the duration of annual leave at half rates.

Porter said the temporary consensus reached during the past three weeks might previously have taken stakeholders 30 years to agree on, and had saved “what I believe to be tens of thousands of jobs”.

Morrison said the workplace relations changes and childcare initiative complemented the government’s boost to Newstart payments, and would hopefully see more businesses survive, and more workers keep their jobs.

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