“It seemed a bit extreme to start with,” says new mother Jess Greening.
“Then I started entertaining the idea more and more.”
Baby Dominic is almost four months old.
He’s on four wait lists for local childcare providers.
Dominic has been on these lists since February — before his gender and name were even known.
Faced with no idea on when she might be able to access daycare services, the chartered accountant has devised an “extreme” childcare plan which involves spending three months in Brazil with her parents.
She hopes with their support she’ll be able to work three days a week between 8pm and 1am local time in a remote capacity for her employer.
Ms Greening moved to the north-east Victorian town from Griffith in New South Wales about the time she found out she was pregnant.
“If I was aware of the situation before moving, I probably wouldn’t have come,” she says.
After six years apart she’ll be back in Brazil to visit her family over Christmas.
Her winemaker husband will be working long days during the vintage between January and May.
Without childcare she says she’ll “struggle to do anything”.
Ms Greening is currently completing a day of work from home during the week and says her career is “really important”.
“I grew up with all the women in my family going back to work after having kids,” she says.
“I wanted to do the same.”
Calls for childcare workforce incentives
Wangaratta Mayor Dean Rees says the region has a big childcare problem.
Families need two working parents he says, and “we need more people to look after our children”.
Higher childcare subsidies from July next year were confirmed in the new Labor federal government’s October budget.
Under the new subsidy families earning up to $80,000 will be refunded 90 per cent of their first child’s fees
It’s part of the federal government’s $4.7 billion spend on childcare over the next four years.
But that’s not enough, according to Cr Rees.
“Rather than subsidies for care, I’d like to see better incentives for the workforce,” he says.
Indi MP Helen Haines agrees.
Families are waiting up to two years for a childcare place in Wangaratta and while affordability has been addressed in the budget, Ms Haines says availability is a “key area” for government focus.
“There simply aren’t enough places for the people who need them,” Ms Haines says.
Ms Greening says the subsidies “look good on paper” but until there are “enough childcare centres, with enough staff, there’s no point making it cheap”.
“It will just create more demand,” she says.
Fears region will go backwards
“Our population has grown so quickly, and we haven’t been able to keep up,” Cr Rees says.
“Councils can only do so much.”
Cr Rees says Wangaratta “needs private [childcare] operators to really make it work” and fears the shortage may stifle progress in the area.
“If people decide to leave and go back to Melbourne because there’s more availability for childcare elsewhere, we’re just going to lose staff and that’s just going to close businesses and that we just can’t afford to do,” he says.
“We’ve got everything set up for all these young people, but without child care what’s the point of having all the other infrastructure?”
Positive signs in sector
Advocacy organisation The Parenthood executive director Georgie Dent says “either early education and care is unaffordable, or it is inaccessible”.
“In some instances it’s both,” she says.
Since the pandemic, staff vacancies in the sector have more than doubled, and Australians pay “some of the highest out-of-pocket fees in the world”.
Mothers are very often the secondary earners and because of how the “childcare subsidy interacts with our tax system” and are faced with “a marginal taxation rate upwards of seventy five cents in the dollar”, Ms Dent says.
But there is some good news on the horizon.
Ms Dent says “there has never been more meaningful discussion” about care and early childhood education in Australia.
In June, the Victorian government expanded their Best Start, Best Life program by establishing 50 government-operated childcare centres, a new year of universal pre-Prep for four-year-olds and making kinder free.
The NSW government also announced a boost to the sector in June including grants for providers to expand infrastructure by targeting areas with limited childcare places or providers.
There will also be subsidies to private childcare providers to lower fees.
“Both policies have the same objective,” Ms Dent says.
“If the quality outcomes are there that should be the decision-making factor.
“Families and children would be better served if child care was approached like schooling.
“If you have a school-aged child there is a position at the local public school that you are entitled to access.”
Women fighting for ‘something so basic’
Ms Greening has been told Dominic is unlikely to secure a place before mid-2023.
Child care could be a deciding factor in how long the family stay in the area.
“It’s crazy to think that in 2022 we’ve achieved so much as women but we’re fighting for something so basic,” Ms Greening says.