Canberra playschools saved with inclusion in subsidy scheme
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Canberra playschools saved with inclusion in subsidy scheme

Canberra playschools have been handed a lifeline after education minister Simon Birmingham approved an amendment that will allow them to administer the new child care subsidies introduced in July.

The decision came after an appeal from the German Australian Playschool in Turner for playschools, which are unique to the ACT, to be captured by the scheme for fear of them going out of business and leaving a raft of families forced to find a new child care option.

Director Lisa Stephan teaching students at the German Australian Playschool how to bake. The playschool has been given a lifeline to survive by being allowed to administer the new child care subsidy scheme.

Director Lisa Stephan teaching students at the German Australian Playschool how to bake. The playschool has been given a lifeline to survive by being allowed to administer the new child care subsidy scheme.

Photo: Dion Georgopoulos

The German Australian Playschool turned to member for Fenner Andrew Leigh who lobbied the minister's office and presented a petition on behalf of the playschool with 344 signatures.

German Australian Playschool director Lisa Stephan said she was fearful playschools across the territory would have gone out of business by not being able to offer subsidised fees.

"We feel like playschools are a real treasure in the ACT," Ms Stephan said.

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"It would have been a real shame if families were no longer able to afford to send their child to a playschool.

"The government would have had to pay for these kids anyway, but not within schools already set up for them.

"Our families are delighted with the changes."

Andrew Leigh reads a story to Elise Brouwer. The member for Fenner petitioned the government on the playschool's behalf.

Andrew Leigh reads a story to Elise Brouwer. The member for Fenner petitioned the government on the playschool's behalf.

Photo: Dion Georgopoulos

In a letter to Senator Birmingham Ms Stephan wrote that without the 12 currently operating ACT playschools there would have been a further 250 children requiring care from other facilities.

Playschools were put at risk when the new child care subsidy scheme was introduced by the federal government as it was restricted to child care centres regulated by the National Quality Framework.

However playschools are licensed and operate under the ACT's Children and Young People Act 2008 which has its own strict guidelines of child care provision.

A Department of Education and Training spokesman said the German Australian Playschool had been assessed and approved to provide the subsidy.

"Some early learning and care services are ‘out of scope’ of national law but they must meet relevant state licensing requirements to apply for approval under family assistance law," the spokesman said.

"To ensure these services were able to apply for approval under family assistance law, a legislative amendment under the Minister’s Rules was made in June 2018."

He added playschools and similar services must comply strictly with the family assistance law provisions.

Member for Fenner Andrew Leigh said he was pleased to see the government accommodate playschools in the legislation and was proud to have early learning centres in the ACT that foster diversity like the German Australian Playschool.

"The German playschool has a strong reputation in Canberra of providing not only good quality care but also a different kind of model," Dr Leigh said.

"It just seemed shocking to me that as a result of the government changes they effectively would have had to close down.

"In an era in which people are pretty disenchanted with mainstream politics to get things done it’s pleasing as a local member when a group of constituents come to you and you’re able to solve a practical problem like that."

The government has been heavily criticised by the opposition over the new subsidy scheme. Numbers provided by Labor estimate 3000 families in the Canberra electorate will be worse off after the changes or 28.2 per cent.

In the Fenner electorate it is estimated 3624 families will be worse off under the new scheme or 26.7 per cent.

Senator Birmingham countered saying the program would see more than 17,500 Canberra families better off.

"We make no apologies that our reforms retarget child care and early subsidies to those families earning the least and to families working the most," Senator Birmingham said.