Andrew Brown, AAP
Childcare centres that hike fees to cover subsidy increases have been warned they will be in the sights of the consumer watchdog.
The federal government’s childcare subsidy will be increased from July 1, leading to bigger rebates for more than one million families.
While the subsidy rise should mean a reduction in out-of-pocket fees for parents, concerns have been raised the savings will be swallowed by childcare centres increasing their fees to cover increasing costs.
Education Minister Jason Clare said the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission was monitoring for unreasonable price rises.
“They’re watching what’s happening right now to see whether centres are playing by the rules or not, whether they’re lifting prices in accordance with inflation or not,” he said in Melbourne.
“If they don’t, then they stand ready to act and give us the recommendations we need to make sure parents get value for money.”
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said the childcare changes would make a difference to family budgets.
“How do we make a difference to every Australian? Through cheaper childcare,” he said.
“People have been anticipating this change since we were elected in May of last year. You’re already seeing, as a result of that, more early learning centres being opened, more people training and getting the skills that they need.”
It comes as the consumer watchdog is set to hand an interim report on its inquiry into childcare services to Treasurer Jim Chalmers on Friday.
The final report will be handed down in December, following talks with industry stakeholders after the childcare subsidy changes come into effect.
Deputy opposition leader Sussan Ley said parents would still end up paying more for childcare in the long run despite the subsidy changes.
“The subsidies that we’re talking about that come in tomorrow are being eaten up by increases in fees, and that’s what I’m seeing all around me,” she said.
“Parents are not necessarily going to find that they’re paying less.”
Mr Albanese said more early childcare workers were coming into the system.
“During the pandemic, we valued care workers and we need to do more than just say thanks, we need to value them in the wages and conditions that they earn, but we also need to give them the respect that they deserve,” he said.
“These people aren’t child minders. They are raising up.”
Early childhood group Thrive By Five director Jay Weatherill said the government needed to crack down on unreasonable price rises by operators.
“Families will be better off financially regardless of increases, but providers who use this nation-building reform to build more profit off the backs of educators and families shouldn’t be given a free pass to price gouge,” he said.
“A small price increase to pay for better early education will benefit children and families and would be offset by an increase in the subsidy, but anything beyond CPI or that doesn’t contribute to better quality is unacceptable.”
Mr Clare said the government was looking to see whether Medicare-style universal childcare was a possibility in the future.
But Ms Ley said while universal childcare was a good idea, funding it would be difficult.
“He’s promising free childcare in the future where we can’t even get cheaper childcare now,” she said.
“A universal scheme, who’s going to pay for it? Is this government going to have to raise taxes to do that?”