Childcare centres facing shutdown in remote regions

ONE remote Queensland child care centre will close down and others may be forced to do the same, as council-run centres face a raft of complex issues undermining services in regional areas of the state.

That was the dire message of the Local Government Association of Queensland's submission to a Senate inquiry examining "the immediate future of the childcare sector in Australia".

As the Productivity Commission, two separate Senate inquiries and the Abbott Government investigate and review child care services and regulations, the submission painted a bleak future for regional areas of the state.

It found that many council-run child care centres in rural and remote areas were the only services available to parents, but were at risk from a host of unique challenges.

Among the challenges undermining services were skills shortages, attraction and retention of qualified staff to meet national guidelines, a lack of services and "lifestyle issues".

"In addition, the LGAQ has advocated on the need for greater flexibility for local government as childcare providers, particularly in rural and remote areas, as they not only face complex and difficult issues but are often the sole providers of childcare in their communities," the submission reads.

Underlining the challenges facing regional Queensland's childcare sector was the need for centres to meet national quality framework guidelines on staff qualifications.

While the guidelines, introduced in early 2012, sought to improve the quality of childcare the new rules had the unexpected effect of reducing rural councils' ability to recruit qualified staff.

In a letter to Canberra decision-makers in December 2012, LGAQ President Margaret De Wit highlighted the problems facing two remote councils, Croydon Shire and Etheridge Shire, both of which were at risk of closure.

She wrote that the peak body for Queensland's local councils believed due consideration of the impacts of the new regulations "was not properly undertaken when the policy was being formulated".

"The LGAQ has recently received the advice that Croydon Shire Council has elected to now close its childcare services - the only services available in their shire," she wrote in the February 2014 Senate submission.

To improve the situation, the LGAQ in its Senate inquiry submission wrote it hoped the government inquiries would lead to a "comprehensive review" of the guidelines.

However, such a review was unlikely until each separate inquiry was completed and released its findings, not expected until later this year.

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