Day care terror link: Nearly 200 dodgy centres shut down
Almost 200 NSW daycare centres - some linked to funding for overseas terrorism, bikie gangs and fraud - have been shut down.
The banned daycare centres - the majority of which are located in southwest Sydney - include those linked to the Fairfield-based Red Roses Family Day Care company, which was raided by police last month and 18 people arrested as part of an alleged $4 million fraud on the Commonwealth's Child Care Subsidy Scheme.
The 188 family daycare centres shut down in NSW since 2016 have saved the federal government an estimated $674 million annually in fraudulent payments, often for children who do not attend and daycare centres which do not exist.
One fake family daycare centre was in a house with no electricity. Another was in a garage where dozens of children were listed as attending.
The crackdown followed a crisis where regulators refused to visit some "dangerous" addresses posing as family daycare centres without being backed up by police as they were threatened with guns as NSW's number of centres rapidly rose to 420 three years ago.
"Operational staff undertaking compliance and monitoring have reported a number of safety incidents including weapons at (family daycare) venues and threats to personal safety," a confidential briefing document for the Early Childhood Education Department has revealed.
"To mitigate these safety issues it is proposed to have unformed police officers attend with departmental staff. NSW Police also advise there are a number of individuals who are known to authorities."
The hot spots for unscrupulous family daycare providers are the Canterbury-Bankstown council area, with 49 licences cancelled, followed by Liverpool, where 25 licences were cancelled, Fairfield with 23 licences cancelled and Auburn with 17 cancelled.
It means the number of approved NSW Family Day Care services has dropped from 420 on July 1, 2016 to 197.
"It was a licence to print money," one source said.
The blitz on dodgy operators came after all family daycare applications received after 2010 were simply cross-checked with addresses, referees and other information. The checks actually allowed for a complex set-up of webs of seemingly disparate FDC providers and services that were actually connected.
Since NSW adopted Queensland's practice of face-to-face interviews with applicants, about half of all applications have been refused.
One convicted fraud, Hussain Dandachi, 28, was arrested in August 2016 at Old Guildford after raids by the Australian Federal Police's counter-terrorism National Disruption Group on several Western Sydney family day care centres.
The raids were part of a wider investigation into a $27 million fraud and funding for Islamic State.
Dandachi, who was stopped from boarding an international flight at Sydney Airport, was sentenced in the District Court to a minimum 10 months' jail after pleading guilty to putting in false invoices worth $107,757 for children who were not in his care between August 2015 and August 2016.
The court was told authorities suspected he was heading to the Middle East to join Islamic State.
Another childcare network was investigated in a police operation into possible terrorism financing from claimed funds, resulting in fraud charges against two men.
During last month's raids across southwest Sydney, Red Roses Family Day Care director Alee Farmann, 49, and two women were charged with knowingly direct activities of a criminal group. There is no suggestion they are linked to terrorism, funding for terrorism or bikies. Police are now pursuing up to 150 parents who allegedly sold their children's identities to help Red Rose qualify for the subsidies.
Education and Early Childhood Learning Minister Sarah Mitchell on Sunday said NSW now had the country's toughest entry requirements for family daycare providers.
"NSW is leading the nation when it comes to combating unscrupulous providers," she said. "As Minister, I make no apology for being relentless in ensuring there will be consequences for providers who do not operate in the best interest of children.
"As part of the NSW government's strict compliance regime, it is estimated that the potential cost savings to the Commonwealth amounts to an estimated $674 million annually."
FULL LIST OF DAYCARE CENTRES SHUT DOWN