Regional Australia is already recognised as an attractive place to live and work. It has a highly mobile population. While people choose to move or stay in regional areas for economic and employment related reasons, other factors influence their mobility decisions such as the ‘liveability’ of the location.
The importance of liveability has become increasingly recognised across Australia as central to community and regional planning. Access to, and the availability of childcare is a key factor.
According to research by the Mitchell Institute, 3.7 million regional Australians live in a ‘childcare desert’ - a region where there are three children per childcare place. A key finding of that research was that childcare deserts are disproportionately located in rural and regional areas, with towns of less than 1,500 the most at risk of a lack of childcare.
The challenge facing the provision of childcare is its market-based nature – which, despite increased government assistance through the Child Care Subsidy, is not a government provided service. As such, the provision of childcare in many rural and remote communities is sitting within market blackspots of economic feasibility and increasing demand.
This study, funded by Origin Energy as Upstream Operator of Australia Pacific LNG, and conducted by the Regional Australia Institute (RAI), has focused on the accessibility, availability, affordability and quality of childcare and the subsequent impacts on workforce participation, liveability, population attraction and retention in the Maranoa and Western Downs Local Government Areas (LGAs) in South-West Queensland.
Importantly, the purpose of this study has been to collate evidence on the operation of childcare and provide it back to these two communities, to facilitate further discussion.