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ABC Learning disaster could happen again: union [AU]

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Author: 
Brisbane Times
Publication Date: 
17 Apr 2009
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The sale of failed ABC Learning centres has brought some diversity back into the childcare sector but there are concerns it won't be enough to prevent a single player again dominating the market.

Court-appointed receivers announced earlier in the week that new operators had been found for most of the 241 ABC Learning centres deemed unviable after the company collapsed.

Thousands of parents were spared from having to search for new childcare places following the news, while most of the employees at the centres were thrown a lifeline with the majority expected to be offered jobs with the new operators.

The federal government praised receivers for finding 65 new providers to run the centres, around half of which are non-profit groups.

Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard said there had been concern about ABC's business model, which led to one player dominating the sector.

"There was neglect of national quality standards, workplace arrangements and the issue of creeping acquisitions," Ms Gillard said earlier in the week.

The government was forced to step in with $58 million in taxpayer funds to keep more than 1,100 centres open after the company went into receivership in November.

"We now have a more diversified system. We also have a more intensive focus on quality and regulation in the childcare system," Ms Gillard said.

But the union representing childcare workers says nothing has been done to prevent a similar disaster from happening again.

The Liquor, Hospitality and Miscellaneous Workers Union wants the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) to be given the power to intervene.

"There is nothing that is different today than there was over the last five or six years during ABC's acquisition phase," LHMWU national secretary Louise Tarrant said.

"The ACCC had no capacity to stop ABC. There is nothing that changes its mandate to do that now."

The Australian Greens said the sale of the unavailable centres was a missed opportunity to transform the childcare sector.

Childcare expert Dr Elspeth McInnes, from the University of South Australia, agreed.
She said the government should have used ABC's collapse to shift the sector back towards not-for-profit providers to ensure care was put before profits.

"The government hasn't used the demise of ABC to squarely look at this issue," she said.

"With private centres the money is used to fund profits not the care of children.

"When you cut costs and reduce overheads, qualified staff, food, and the size of centres is compromised."

Dr McInnes says the 50 per cent childcare rebate should be paid directly to childcare operators to support services.

"Taxpayer money would be better spent going to universal quality subsidised service that enables centres to provide optimum levels of care at the lowest price to parents," she said.
She has urged the government to consider this position ahead of a parliamentary inquiry into child care, sparked by the demise of ABC Learning.

- reprinted from the Brisbane Times

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Entered Date: 
22 Apr 2009
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