News ‘No health risk’: PM talks up ‘free’ childcare as learning set to continue for months to come
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‘No health risk’: PM talks up ‘free’ childcare as learning set to continue for months to come

It's hoped more than 80 out-of-school hours services will be able to stay open with the new funding. Photo: AAP
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Childcare and schools remain safe for children to attend, according to the Prime Minister, as he unveiled a $1.6 billion plan to extend ‘‘free’’ childcare to all workers during the COVID-19 crisis.

The ‘‘free’’ childcare will start from Sunday and will be offered even to parents who do not send their children to childcare or after-school care while they are working from home.

Despite widespread panic among parents and some teachers over the risk of COVID-19 spreading in schools, Scott Morrison on Thursday insisted there was ‘‘no health risk to children going to school or childcare’’.

“What we always have said in the health advice has been very clear and it has not changed,” Mr Morrison said.

“There is no health risk to children going to school or going to childcare. So that hasn’t changed. Absolutely no change.

“The health advice is clear. Children can go to childcare and children can go to school.”

Sydney primary school student six-year-old Oscar stays focused online on Tuesday. Photo: AAP

He urged those parents calling for tougher lockdowns and for schools to be closed to keep in mind changes had to be sustainable and remain in place for six months or longer.

“We are one of the few, if only, countries that have been talking about the coronavirus pandemic as being one that we are going to have to live with for at least the next six months,” the PM said.

“I have been very clear about that.

“I really want Australians to understand that we need to be in this for the haul. It will be months.”

Parents will secure “free” childcare and be able to keep their booking even for after-school care regardless of whether they attend.

Education Minister Dan Tehan confirmed the changes on the ABC’s 7.30 program.

“So if you have a place with a childcare centre, and you want to keep your children at home, then you will get that continuity with that centre through the pandemic,” Mr Tehan said.

Childcare centres will have to guarantee that they will stay open and provide care for essential workers.

The definition of essential workers will include anyone who has a job outside the home – whether that is a supermarket cashier, a nurse, a doctor, a public servant, a journalist or a food delivery driver.

The definition of essential workers is broad and captures any worker who has a job they cannot do from home.

It may also include families working from home who need toddlers cared for while they work.

“We will be ensuring for those parents who are still in that position where they are needing that childcare, it will be free,” the Prime Minister said.

“If you have a job in this economy then that is an essential job.

“It is important that all of those parents who have children, that they get access to childcare and those facilities will be there for them.”

Most childcare centres will also secure the JobKeeper payment, which means taxpayers will subsidise childcare workers’ wages by $1500 a fortnight.

“We’re putting a new system in place as of Sunday night,” Mr Tehan said.

“So we’ll be mothballing the old system and putting in a completely new system.

“What a parent will be able to do in that situation is they’ll be able to keep the continuity with their childcare centre, but they don’t have to attend and they will not be charged fees.”

Mr Tehan offered no guarantees school children would physically return to school in Term 2.

“So we’ll work with the state and territories who have the jurisdictional responsibility for this and we will make sure that we’ve got the best possible arrangements in place so that they will continue their education in term two,’’ Mr Tehan said.

Mr Morrison again said there were no “health reasons” why children could not be at school, and that terms would resume after the Easter break even if it was via distance learning.

“One of the things I’ve been most adamant about is that the virus is going to take a lot of things from us in the months ahead – I do not want it to rob our children of their education,” he said.