Free childcare will be offered to nurses, doctors, hospital cleaners and any worker who still has a job amid current lockdowns for six months, under new COVID-19 childcare reforms.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison made the announcement on Thursday, pledging care would be free from Sunday night (April 5).
The free childcare will be offered to essential workers, regardless of their family income.
“We will be ensuring for those parents who are still in that position where they are needing that childcare, it will be free,” he said.
“We will be putting in place support arrangements to the childcare facilities, some 13,000 of them, to ensure they remain open and be there for their parents to ensure they can do what they need to do each day.”
Education Minister Dan Tehan said centres would be asked to prioritise essential workers and vulnerable children who might not be safe at home.
“It will be a system that will mean parents will get their children cared for for free,” Mr Tehan said.
“What we will be doing is turning off the old system and going to a new system, which will provide that relief to parents.
“Can I say to all those parents, what we want to do by doing this is ensure that your childcare centre will remain open, so that you know where you normally take your child to get care, that that will be there for you, so you are not looking to have to go to a new centre.
“You do not have the worry and the concern about trying to look for new care for your children.”
Under the $1.6 billion coronavirus-driven bailout for the sector, the Morrison government will also guarantee a portion of childcare subsidies that would otherwise have flowed before parents started withdrawing their children.
“The way it will work is that we will look at what 50 per cent of the fees up to the rate cap were in the fortnight before 2nd March and we will pay you that amount on a fortnightly basis,” he said.
“Now, there are some conditions that we are asking if the sector are to receive these payments. The centre must remain open. It must provide care for those parents who need their children cared for. They must also seek to re-enrol those parents who might have dropped off.
“If they need care, they can get that care as well. To help and assist with that, we are backdating to 23rd March the requirement that the sector must pursue from parents a fee. So we are waiving the gap fee for parents going back to the 23rd March.
“The hope is that now all parents who need it will get the care they want and those who have sought to disengage from the childcare sector will re-engage with the sector.”
But one of the nation’s biggest childcare providers, Goodstart, has raised concerns it will not qualify for the JobKeeper allowance because it has a turnover of more than $1 billion.
Talks with the non-profit provider are continuing.