Families will get no “grace period” to adjust to childcare changes in Victoria – and have just hours to prove they are an essential worker who needs access to care before the new system kicks in at midnight.
“I understand the need to reduce the spread of COVID-19 but these policies need to be communicated clearly – not the day before they come into force,” Melbourne parent Asher told The New Daily.
Under sweeping childcare changes, necessitated by the state government’s looming Stage 4 Melbourne lockdown, only vulnerable children or children of “permitted workers” can access childcare in Victoria from Thursday.
Parents will have to prove they are on the permitted workers’ list, or that their child cannot be properly cared for at home.
“If you or someone else in your household can look after your kids at home, you must continue to do that,” the Victorian government said.
Premier Daniel Andrews said there would be penalties for making false statements about a lack of in-home alternative care.
The system was outlined as Victoria marked a tragic record day – logging 725 new COVID cases and 15 deaths, its highest tallies of both in the coronavirus pandemic yet. Among the fatalities was a man in his 30s, who is the youngest Australian to die so far.
From midnight Wednesday, only essential businesses such as supermarkets and pharmacies will be able to operate in Melbourne under a strict six-week lockdown designed to quell its deadly virus outbreak.
Under the Stage 4 measures, accommodation, pubs and bars, clubs and nightclubs will close. Cafes and restaurants will be allowed to trade, only for takeaway.
New building construction will be stopped for six weeks, except for critical infrastructure and sites that have already started work.
Up to 250,000 more workers are expected to be stood down as a result. Anyone who is still going to work – particularly during Melbourne’s 8pm-5am daily curfew – will need to carry a permit to show if requested.
Slightly less stringent Stage 3 restrictions will be enforced in regional Victoria.
Earlier, federal Education Minister Dan Tehan and Prime Minister Scott Morrison pledged a “triple guarantee” of funding for the childcare sector, to ensure centres could keep educators in work.
We’re continuing to do all we can to support Victorians. Today we announced a triple guarantee for childcare in the state to ensure centres can stay operational, people keep their jobs and essential workers can get access to childcare if they need it. https://t.co/yljkILYY4F
— Scott Morrison (@ScottMorrisonMP) August 5, 2020
Mr Andrews outlined the Victorian changes on Wednesday morning.
A new childcare permit, to run in conjunction with the “Permitted Worker Scheme”, will be required for parents to leave children in early education. Bosses will have to fill in forms to vouch for their employees.
If needed, the employee will need to also affirm that nobody else in the household can supervise their child.
“Hefty penalties of up to $19,826 for individuals and $99,132 for businesses will apply to employers who issue worker permits to employees who do not meet the requirements of the worker permit scheme or who otherwise break the rules,” the Victorian government said.
On-the-spot fines of up to $9913 for businesses and $1652 for individuals will also be enforced for breaching requirements, including for as little as not carrying a worker permit when required.
As reported on Tuesday, childcare centres had warned parents of “hefty penalties” for breaching the new rules.
Information on the Permitted Worker Scheme and Access to Childcare Permits is available at the Victorian government’s website.
Mr Andrews said if, for instance, one parent was a permitted worker but the other was not, “you need to establish that the second person is not capable of providing care and support”.
“There will be an element of trust in this,” he said, adding it would be “very difficult to try to enforce this level of detail.”
The Premier said that if numbers of children attending facilities did not fall considerably, or there was evidence of people trying to skirt rules, further restrictions might be needed.
The changes come into effect with the Stage 4 measures at 11.59pm Wednesday, giving families only hours to understand them and act. The Premier said the rules would be fully enforced immediately.
“I’m not announcing any grace periods. This is unfortunate, but we need to make these changes,” he said.
On Wednesday afternoon, Melbourne parents told The New Daily they were trying to figure out what the changes meant for them.
Ellen, a single mum, said she had “great relief” when she found out she would still be able to send her kids to childcare.
“I thought I was going to have to somehow work full time, and have the girls at home with me full time, and I was rather anxious about how that would work,” she said.
Matt, a teacher from suburban Hughesdale who is working from home, said he expected his family wouldn’t qualify because his wife is on maternity leave.
“We have the means to cope – but it is really hard when both kids are here to get much done. Because our day online teaching is so structured, like normal school hours, we can’t just pick and choose when we work,” he said.
Federal Labor’s early childhood education spokeswoman Amanda Rishworth said the changes were confusing, and criticised Mr Tehan for not abolishing “gap fees” for parents who can’t send kids to care.
“The rushed measures announced for providers today are incredibly complex, and we are concerned services will be left deeply confused about how this package will ensure their viability,” she said.
“Many providers will be scratching their heads for days, if not weeks, to understand how much support they will be entitled to.”