Childcare centres in Melbourne could soon be closed to most families under stage four coronavirus restrictions, apart from vulnerable children and the children of “permitted workers”.
This is a major change from the state’s first lockdown period earlier this year and would provide an additional challenge for working parents in Australia’s second-largest city.
But at today’s briefing, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews stopped short of announcing details of the new childcare measures — and didn’t provide a list of “permitted workers”.
He said he would wait until Friday, after consulting with the Prime Minister, who’s hinted at fresh support for the childcare sector.
So, with lots of uncertainty, what are some of the key questions Melbourne families are asking?
Will all Melbourne childcare centres close down?
From Wednesday, flexible and remote learning will be brought in for every student across Victoria.
Mr Andrews announced on Sunday that childcare centres in Melbourne would be closed down as students returned to home-based lessons.
But today he seemed to walk back those comments, saying that he was waiting to see how “direct intervention” from Canberra might impact on the state’s plans.
“It is a very significant issue, but it’s not one that I can make announcements about,” Mr Andrews said.
“There was a direct intervention from the Commonwealth Government to support this [childcare] sector, and I know there are a lot of different discussions going on. But they’re not for me to announce.”
Mr Andrews said that that he would have definitive news about Melbourne’s childcare centres on Friday.
In a later media conference, Scott Morrison said the Federal Government was “very committed” to ensuring that some childcare facilities remained available.
“It’s very important that we keep these facilities open, so they’re available to people who need them. There are a number of ways that we can do that, and that’s what the Education Minister [Dan Tehan] is working through right now,” Mr Morrison said.
This could mean that at least some of Melbourne’s childcare centres will keep operating.
When will closed childcare centres reopen?
The ruling on childcare centres, once finalised, will be in effect until September 13, unless the six-week lockdown period is extended.
The third term of the Victorian school year will end five days later on Friday, September 18.
The final term will begin on October 5 and end on December 18.
Can my relatives help out as babysitters?
The Victorian Premier and the state’s Chief Medical Officer Brett Sutton were asked if relatives could look after children for working parents if most of Melbourne’s childcare centres closed down.
Under stage four restrictions, Melburnians are permitted to travel up to 5 kilometres from their homes for necessary goods and services.
With the state’s Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) also recommending that Victorians limit the number of people they see in person, Mr Andrews didn’t seem keen on the idea of babysitters.
“You need to have the minimum number of people coming to your house under any circumstances … and ideally, having no one coming to your home,” Mr Andrews said.
At this stage, it seems the only way you could get a babysitter in Melbourne is if you’re a permitted worker and don’t want to put your son or daughter in childcare.
Professor Sutton said the rules on babysitters were being “drawn up as we speak”.
Am I a ‘permitted worker’?
Under “Stay at Home” restrictions, workplaces in metropolitan Melbourne are closed unless they are part of a permitted industry.
Children of permitted workers will still be able to be looked after at childcare centres.
Permitted workers aren’t necessarily the same as so-called “essential workers”, who were given special exemptions during Victoria’s first lockdown.
But Mr Andrews didn’t provide a definitive list of Victoria’s permitted workers today, saying that “we’ll have some more announcements to make this week about a permit system”.
The Prime Minister added that he was seeking “clarity” around the issue.
“It’s still a little unclear by what is meant by permitted worker in the table that’s been released this afternoon and we’re seeking some further clarity around that,” Mr Morrison said.
Can tradies work on my house?
The Premier discouraged Victorian families to invite tradespeople to their homes for the next six weeks.
“There’ll be no cleaners going to your house … there’ll be no-one mowing your lawns,” Mr Andrews said.
“There’ll be no-one providing anything, other than emergency support.
“If you need a plumber because a pipe has burst, then yes, you can have a plumber come and do that work.
“But it’s not the time to be painting your house or having unnecessary, non-urgent work happen.”
However, Meals on Wheels, home and community care, and other important services will continue.
Is there more help for Melbourne’s renters?
There will be more information on the changes to commercial and residential tenancies soon, according to Mr Andrews, which could help Victorian families during this tough time.
And he had great things to say about the banks.
“I think that many financial institutions — our banks — have stood up and, by and large, have done very large and important work to support people with mortgages whose circumstances could not have reasonably been foreseen,” Mr Andrews said.
“They’ve done their very best to accommodate deferrals and … I’d encourage them to keep going the way they have, because I think that customers are obviously very grateful for that.”