A not-for-profit consortium led by Community Childcare Co-operative NSW has made a bid for 241 ABC childcare centres that the company’s receivers had deemed “economically unviable”.

Calling itself Children 21, the group also involves Community Sector Banking, a joint venture of the Bendigo and Adelaide Bank, as well as organisations like the Australian Council of Social Service, the Brotherhood of St Laurence and Oxfam.

Bernadette Dunn, a spokesperson for Children 21 said that any profit from individual centres would be ploughed back into the group, so viable centres could help cross-subsidise unprofitable ones.

She describes the bid as a “once-in-a-generation opportunity” to transfer corporate childcare into the non-profit sector, adding that, “It’s not just about dollars, it’s about social justice and quality childcare for all Australian children”.

Rudd and Gillard back corporate childcare
However, the Rudd government has made it clear that it continues to support the for-profit childcare that led to ABC Learning’s disastrous domination of the industry (and the enrichment of Eddie Groves).

This also saw higher prices, poor working conditions, substandard care, and ultimately the company’s demise despite receiving huge government subsidies.

Last December, Rudd and Gillard stood by as ABC Learning’s receivers McGrathNicol cherry-picked the 720 most profitable centres and closed 55 unprofitable ones. Yet even in the profitable centres, parents have been voting with their feet, leading the receivers to offer a gimmicky 30-day “money back guarantee”.

Meanwhile, the funding for the 241 centres that are the subject of Children 21’s bid will run out at the end of March.

Government support needed
While the community sector’s bid is a worthy one, government support will be needed to keep the centres running, not least to pay often-exorbitant rental costs. At a minimum, the government will need to subsidise the non-profit sector to prevent any further closures or job losses, and to ensure decent working conditions.

Better still, as a social good, childcare should be regarded as part of the public education system, and be funded as such. As Solidarity argued last year, nationalising ABC Learning, and putting the centres under community control, would be popular not only with not-for-profit childcare providers, but with parents and staff.

Meanwhile, the receivers McGrathNicol have had to apologise for new employment contracts it foisted onto workers transferred from the closed ABC Learning centres. Among the clauses was a requirement for three months’ probation and the right of management to dismiss workers at a moment’s notice.

By Mark Goudkamp

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