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Childcare operators see red as Coalition flags childcare rebate to be extended to nannies

The childcare rebate could be extended to cover families with nannies under a Coalition Government, but childcare centres say any broadening of the rebate should be matched by greater scrutiny on providers.

Federal opposition leader Tony Abbott says a Coalition Government would order the Productivity Commission to look into financially responsible ways of extending the scheme to cover at-home care.

“Obviously in-home care is one of the ways in which we could be more flexible,” Abbott said over the weekend.

''It's easy to stereotype this as handouts to the female lawyer and accountant but the fact is that if you've got a large young family, having in-house care might be the most appropriate way of having childcare.

''Parents with young kids don't work the standard nine to five hours, five days a week, and the childcare sector still caters overwhelmingly to people in that position.”

The lobby group Chief Executive Women has previously called for childcare to be made tax deductible and a doubling of the rebate to $15,000, noting that the high cost of childcare in Australia is a “significant inhibitor to women returning to the workforce after childcare” and a key reason why there aren’t more women in executive and line management positions.

But Lucian Roncon, vice president of the Australian Childcare Alliance, which covers predominantly commercial operators, says any broadening of the rebate should be matched by identical regulatory compliance for nannies and the rebate recipient.

“If anybody is planning on easing the access to childcare benefit for other areas of care, they should be prepared to meet the same stringent regulations that we need to keep: providing an educational program, meeting accreditation standards, being registered and regulated, and allowing Government departments to enter and inspect premises,” Roncon says.

He adds that he doesn’t believe taxpayers would support the childcare benefit being paid for a housekeeper.

Roncon says a broadening of the rebate would provide competition to existing childcare centres, which from this year have been ordered to comply with stricter staff qualification requirements and lower child-to-carer ratios. The ACA has previously said that between 70-75% of childcare operators are private, the bulk of which are small businesses.

“It does bring into play another player and some families may wish to choose that avenue,” he says.

“With family day-care, the care occurs in one location and that location can be assessed and approved. But with a nanny, the care takes place in the family home, and if they are going to be accessing the childcare benefit, I believe that the same regulations should apply, the family home should be able to be assessed to ensure it meets the same standards.”

The Federal Government has rejected Abbott’s idea, questioning how it would be funded and the difficulties in monitoring whether a nanny is looking after children rather than doing other household jobs such as cleaning or cooking.

At the moment, the rebate is not means tested and covers up to $7500 - or 50% - of childcare costs.

A Productivity Commission report last year said the early childhood education and care workforce looks after more than 1.5 million children, and employs about 140,000 workers.

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