Rural childcare access a 'show stopper'

With its clear blue water, dramatic coastline and tight-knit community, Exmouth was the lifestyle change Rebecca Hawke and her two young children needed.

Ms Hawke swapped Fremantle for the small Western Australia coastal town in early 2021, one of 12,000 Australians who left capital cities for the regions amid pandemic lockdowns.

But Ms Hawke had to wait a year for a childcare place for her youngest child, leaving her unable to work as much as she needed.

"It was a show stopper," Ms Hawke told AAP.

"It's not the fault of the daycare centre - they do a wonderful job - but they've got space for 26 children and can only do what they can.

"If I can't work, it's a massive issue because I'm a solo parent."

Ms Hawke is working to open her own service, having heard from many frustrated parents who cannot return to work and are considering moving away.

"It's heartbreaking. They don't want to move," she said.

A national poll of more than 4500 people for Minderoo Foundation's Thrive by Five early education campaign has found the high cost of childcare is making life even harder for rural families.

The survey showed 91 per cent of parents in regional areas say the expense of childcare has increased in the last three years, while 88 per cent of families don't send their children to early learning or limit their time due to the cost.

Those numbers are slightly higher than for families in metropolitan areas, the survey showed.

Thrive by Five director Jay Weatherill said the results confirm research that many regional and rural Australians live in "childcare deserts", where there is low access to early education.

"We know so much about how crucial good quality early learning is for child development, to give them the best possible start," Mr Weatherill said.

"Why should families and children in rural and remote regions be missing out? I hope there's an outrage that demands a political process to remedy this situation."

Childcare is central to the future of country areas, identified as a key issue by the Regional Australia Institute think tank and Infrastructure Australia.

Mr Weatherill said early education is foundational for both rural families and their communities.

"Many (workers) have caring responsibilities. If you can't provide for them, you can't provide for the teachers, the nurses, the doctors, then you can't provide the building blocks for sustainable community," he said.

Thrive by Five last year launched an early education action plan calling for a dedicated funding model for rural services.

The federal government's new laws to lift the childcare subsidy will come into effect in July, while two inquiries will look at childcare costs and access.

Mr Weatherill said those are promising steps, but there should be commitments to build childcare centres on school sites.

"It's not just an additional add-on service that would be nice to have in the regions, it's an essential service."