Analysis

The Government claims to hate red tape – but the Child Care Subsidy is nothing but red tape

2013 seems like a very long time ago now. Barrack Obama was the President of the United States, and the idea of President Trump was a punchline in late-night comedy shows. We had three Prime Ministers that year – Julia Gillard, Kevin Rudd and Tony Abbott. And in Opposition, the Coalition Government’s main line of attack on Labor’s early education and care policy was that it was drowning the sector in red tape.

What a difference five years makes.

With only a weekend between the sector and the new Child Care Subsidy, services and families are only now understanding how the new system increases and embeds challenging and difficult red tape – both in size and complexity. For anyone reading the statements of the Coalition, both in Opposition and in Government, this probably comes as a big shock. They’ve spent the last five years and more talking about nothing but cutting red tape.

What the Government have said

Let’s go back to Sussan Ley, the Coalition’s first Minister with responsibility for ECEC. Here are just a few quotes on red tape – if we included them all the article would be about 6000 words long.

The child care industry has said loud and clear that Labor’s increased red tape and regulations are some of the main reasons forcing them to raise fees and we’re listening. (Source)

The Coalition is committed to delivering more-affordable, accessible and flexible child care and cutting red tape will in turn reduce pressure on fees for parents. This is another step in our plan to address the unnecessary Labor red tape strangling child care centres and state and territory governments alike. (Source)

Increasing regulations over early learning make investing in onsite childcare a big call for any company. (Source)

Look there’s no doubt that the childcare benefit and rebate and the combination of how they apply to you in your family circumstances are confusing We will always have an overriding message of simplification and removing red tape. (Source)

I’m really feeling the frustration of the sector because every childcare roundtable I attend brings forward more examples of the dead hand of government regulation in a sector that absolutely doesn’t need it. (Source)

Remember when Scott Morrison, now the Treasurer, was responsible for ECEC? He had a lot to say about red tape too.

We all know the present system is far too complex and bound up in a lot of red tape both for families as well as for providers and it is very difficult often for parents to navigate, let alone engage in the first place. (Source)

The current Minister, Simon Birmingham, is also fond of saying how much he dislikes red tape and wants to get rid of it.

[The Child Care Package] will reduce a lot of red tape for childcare providers so they can spend more time educating children and caring for young children. (Source)

Just take a look at some of that language. Red tape is “strangling” centres! The system is too complex! The dead hand of Government regulation!

Surely we must all have to agree that after that sort of rhetoric the one thing this Government will do is reduce red tape for the sector, right?

Let’s take a look.

What the Government have actually done

As we’ve inched closer to the July 2 changeover, service providers and advocacy organisations have realised that rather than reducing red tape and regulatory burden, the Child Care Subsidy actively increases it.

Multiple providers have made submissions to the Government in the last two months on the increased regulatory burden. “CCC considers this a missed opportunity to remove red tape and ensure families had equal access to a less complex system,” said the Community Child Care Association, while Early Childhood Australia told the Government that providers are struggling with the administrative requirements of the new system.

They’re correct. The new system makes it harder for children and families to access a centre, and it makes it harder for the centre to manage their enrolment when they do. Let’s take a look at a few examples of the system which the Government tells us is “simpler” and evidence of “less red tape”.

enrolment

The process above is what is required just for a child to start their enrolment. And this process assumes everything goes right – that myGov isn’t down, that CRNs are quickly obtained, that families can access their enrolment notice. Imagine if families had to go through this for their child to attend the primary school down the road?

Want to get your head around the new “simple” and red-tape-light system? Check out this simple and easy-to-follow guide!

ccs7

And that’s just Page 1 of that guide.

The media have been reporting families struggling with the complexity of the system, and the challenges of navigating an unforgiving, and often broken, IT system. The hosts of Studio 10 grilled Education Minister Simon Birmingham on their own difficulties, and were met with an assurance that as far as the Government was concerned everything was going fine.

If you could sum up the reactions of every Australian family trying to wrap their heads around this complex new system, battling IT failures and then being told by the man responsible that everything was fine, it would be the faces of these two parents:

faces

Interestingly, when pressed on how the new Subsidy system reduces red tape, the only thing that Simon Birmingham can point to is that the legislation requiring Long Day Care services to be open for a minimum number of hours has been removed.

But, as every service provider around Australia now knows, this one change has led to possibly the greatest increase in red tape and administrative burden in the entire reforms!

Currently, services can mark an entire day’s roll in mere seconds. This is a quick and easy process, and requires only a bare minimum of administrative work. The Minister’s move to reduce red tape means that services now need to report the actual sign-in and sign-out times of every child attending every single day. This can either be accomplished with manual entry, requiring a significant administrative impost, or by purchasing and maintaining expensive equipment and software. Even with the software, service providers will still need to adjust missed sign-ins and sign-outs – as a parent regularly guilty of forgetting to sign in my own son I know this will be work required every day.

This is without even mentioning PRODA. Or new Organisation IDs. Or Complying Written Agreements. Or Enrolment Notices. Or [list goes on forever]…

This is just the red tape increase for services. For families, they are now required to meet the Government’s arbitrary conditions for their child to access ECEC – and do it using myGov and Centrelink, systems with a not-exactly-stellar record for managing claims and entitlements.

We know that trying to get access to the new Subsidy has seen many families on hold with Centrelink, in long queues at Centrelink, or just throwing up their hands in frustration.

Saying one thing, but doing another

There were voices who raised these issues as long ago as 2015. Professor Deborah Brennan and Dr Elizabeth Adamson highlighted the complexity of the new system in a submission to the Government.

Their submission said the package was “out of step with the realities of modern life” and threatens to “confuse and intimidate” many parents rather than support their workforce participation. “We are baffled by the complexity and we are experts in the field,” said Professor Brennan. “It will be really difficult for parents to navigate their way through.” (Source)

It’s clear from anyone with experience and knowledge of the sector that after spending years bashing Labor over the head for “strangling” the sector with “the dead hand of Government regulation”, that the new system starting in 3 days is more complex, more confusing, more administratively burdensome and infinitely more frustrating. It was clear in 2015, and its clearer now.

It says something worrying about our politics and our advocacy that everyone just assumes the Coalition Government cut and slash red tape and regulatory burden. The Child Care Subsidy is clear evidence that while they happily talk about doing that, in practice they do the exact opposite.

In political terms, that might be called a political masterstroke. I call it lying.

As a result of the Child Care Subsidy, no country in the world makes it more difficult for a child to access ECEC than Australia. While reforms to ECEC in other countries are focused on more access for more children, particularly the most vulnerable, Australia’s reforms are focused on making it harder for everyone involved.

The Government should be held to account for their increasing of red tape and administrative burden for families and the sector. Because at the end of the day, the ones who suffer for that are children.

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