'It's killing towns': push for better rural childcare

There's a joke among a group of rural nurses: staff shortages would be solved instantly if every hospital had a creche.

It's a quip that's hit home for Victorian nurse and diabetes educator Leah-Ann Stephenson, who cannot return to work because there are no childcare spots for her 11-month-old son.

"Somebody needs to pick up that business model, especially for nurses, because the demographic is mostly women," Ms Stephenson told AAP.

"If they can't get their kids into childcare, they can't get back to work."

Ms Stephenson was four months pregnant when she joined waiting lists at five centres in Swan Hill, but she has been told her son may not get a spot before he's two.

Her employer has been understanding in offering casual shifts and extending her maternity leave by a year, she said.

But being unable to return to work is an ongoing frustration.

"In this day and age when women are supposed to be able to do it all, it's certainly not easy."

Country towns Australia are often classified as "childcare deserts".
Country towns across Australia are often classified as "childcare deserts". (Mick Tsikas/AAP PHOTOS)

It's particularly difficult for families in country towns across Australia, which are often classified as "childcare deserts".

The term refers to areas where there are three or more children for every childcare place, according to landmark research by Victoria University's Mitchell Institute.

A group of more than 50 rural and regional organisations, including Royal Far West, the National Farmers' Federation and the Regional Australia Institute, will on Tuesday call for an urgent fix.

The Access for Every Child Coalition, led by advocacy group The Parenthood, will gather at Parliament House in Canberra to push for federal policy changes to address early education inequity.

The Parenthood's campaign director Maddy Butler said lack of childcare doesn't just affect families.

"This means local businesses and essential services can't find workers. This is killing towns," Ms Butler said.

"Think of a nurse in a rural town who can't go back to work for as many days as she wants, or at all, because there's no childcare available.

"This not only affects her family's income but also the healthcare services that are critical for the community."

The group is asking for six urgent actions to address shortages, including subsidies for regional early education providers that are not tied to enrolment numbers.

It is also calling for the federal government to manage the sector with its state, territory and local counterparts to achieve universal access, as well as incentivising rural childcare workers.

While some of those strategies may take time to develop, the coalition is urging the government to provide short-term solutions such as funding for mobile early learning centres.

Measures in the federal budget, including a commitment to raise wages for childcare workers, were welcome, but did not go far enough, Ms Butler said.

"It's high time to recognise the unique needs of these communities and act."