SUBJECTS: Early childhood education; Granting of temporary visas to Israelis and Palestinians.
MATTHEW DORAN: Let’s bring in the Early Childhood Education Minister Anne Aly. She joins us now live from Perth. Minister, welcome back to Afternoon Briefing. It seems like the draft recommendations from the Productivity Commission here are echoing a lot of the sentiments that we’ve been hearing for some time about how the child care sector at the moment is putting up barriers to those who actually want to get their kids in there and, indeed, get back to work and access those services. How – was there anything in this report that you found surprising or novel on first blush?
MINISTER ANNE ALY: Actually, no. I think the report really confirms a number of things. It confirms the research that we have as Sam Page mentioned, the research that we have that proves and shows that early childhood education is good for children. It confirms that significant reform is needed to ensure that we achieve that aim of a universal early childhood education and care system that works for every child and every family. But it also confirms that we are on the right track in terms of the reforms that we have already been able to achieve in the short time that we’ve been in government in increasing the child care subsidy, making early childhood education and care more affordable between 13 and 18 per cent, the initiatives that we’ve introduced on workforce, free TAFE and, indeed, our changes to the fair work, our IR legislation changes, which make it easier for early childhood educators to bargain for a wage increase.
MATTHEW DORAN: You pointed to some of the comments from Sam Page from Early Childhood Australia there. The organisation is saying that there are actions the government can take right now to start addressing this issue, among them looking at changing the activity test, that the parents can sort out care and then also find work. Is that something that you are open to reforming?
ALY: We did change the activity test for First Nations children, enabling First Nations children to get more hours without having the activity test kick in. And we did that when we introduced the increase to the child care subsidy.
Certainly all the recommendations are on the table for us. This is, I must stress, though, a draft report with draft recommendations, and it’s now open for public comment. And I would invite and encourage anyone with an interest in this and anyone who has a stake in this to engage with the report, engage with the recommendations and to have their say on that.
MATTHEW DORAN: Do you think that there are a lot of Australian families who should be getting access to the child care system or greater child care subsidies who are missing out because of that equation at the moment?
ALY: Well, the report clearly states that that is the case and that we have to work to do, that the work we have done thus far has, as I’ve said, made significant progress and that our kind of thinking about where we want to go aligns with what the current context is and what the pathway to a universal system that is affordable, accessible and high quality could look like. But it is only a draft… I will stress that again – it is only in its draft form. And I’m really keen to see the feedback that we get on the draft recommendations.
MATTHEW DORAN: Clearly more Australians want to be able to get more spots in the child care sector, but there is always a concern around workforce. We hear about shortages in the aged care sector. We hear about shortages in the child care sector. How are you going to actually boost those workforce numbers to ensure that they too meet the growing demand and can adapt to any changes that are made to things like the activity test allowing more people to put their kids in care for greater periods?
ALY: That’s a great question, and it goes to the heart of what the report says, which says that, you know, all reform is really contingent on having a strong and sustainable workforce. And we’ve been very aware of that fact for the period that we’ve been in government now, which is why we introduced a workforce package in the last budget - $72 million going towards professional development, something that the Productivity Commission recommends as something to bolster the workforce. It’s why we’ve introduced free TAFE for early childhood education, and I’m really proud to say that early childhood education has been the most popular free TAFE course.
So we’ve seen this pipeline of workforce come in. We’re looking at all angles in terms of increasing the workforce and making the workforce more sustainable. We have a workforce plan, a 10-year workforce plan. We’re looking at what we bring forward from that workforce plan to help us meet the workforce issues that we have currently before us.
So what I found really heartening in this report is that the measures that they are suggesting, the findings around workforce and the measures that they’re suggesting really confirm that we’re on the right track, that what we’ve been doing thus far is making a difference, but that there is more work to do.
MATTHEW DORAN: Anne Aly, I could see you sitting there waiting patiently to join us as we were bringing our viewers some comments from Peter Dutton earlier today about the processing of visas for Palestinians, saying that they have been done too quickly to adequately go through the appropriate security checks and ensure that the Australian community is safe when these people start to arrive in the country. What do you make of those comments, that this situation or the suggestion that the government’s trying to rush this situation through?
ALY: Where do I start? Quite disappointing, to be honest. I mean, we’ve seen this play out before with the Liberal Party and with Peter Dutton. The fact is that the Opposition knows the process. They used the exact same process to bring in people who were fleeing the war in the Ukraine. It is the exact same process, and I will reiterate what my colleagues have said about the Opposition and about Peter Dutton fomenting community disharmony and using division for political gain.
This should be above politics and what should also be above politics is the way in which Australia has, and its history of providing sanctuary and refuge for people who are fleeing wars. It’s a proud history for Australia. And I’m just – I’ve seen this before and I’m worried that – what we’re going to see again.
MATTHEW DORAN: Anne Aly, thank you for your time.
ALY: Thank you.