Release type: Transcript


Interview - ABC Afternoon Briefing


The Hon Dr Anne Aly MP
Minister for Early Childhood Education
Minister for Youth

GREG JENNETT: Now, in and around last week’s Jobs and Skills Summit here in Canberra, one of the dominant messages to come from groups representing women, business, industry and unions for that matter was the need for a robust childcare and early childhood education system in this country. To that end, Australia’s nine governments have now outlined a vision on how to get there over the next decade. The relevant Federal Minister is Anne Aly who joins us in the studio. Anne, welcome back.

ANNE ALY: Thanks, Greg.

JENNETT: You’ve all had to make the dash after being delayed in the House.

ALY: Yes, absolutely.

JENNETT: But we appreciate it all the more.

ALY: My pleasure.

JENNETT: This 10‑year “Shaping Our Future” national strategy that I’ve just alluded to, what exactly does it do?

ALY: Right, so we know that – first of all, we know that early childhood education is really important. It contributes not just to child development, so it’s not just good for children; it’s good for families. It’s good for the primary‑caregivers, who are usually women, so it’s good for women to be able to stay in the workforce, for their career progression, to do more hours and to contribute to productivity. In recognition of all of that, this workforce strategy looks at how do we create a workforce in the future, now and into the future, that’s going to meet the increased demand for early childhood education. It looks at how do we raise the profile of early childhood education, noting that among early childhood educators and among the sector, they know that what they do isn’t about outsourcing parents. They know that what they do isn’t about wiping noses and changing nappies. What they are doing is education, and recognising that workforce, creating pipelines for professional development in that workforce, retaining the workforce and attracting new people to the workforce are all part of growing a workforce that’s going to respond to increased demand.

JENNETT: So, if we’d asked you this question in the lead up to the election or immediately afterwards, I imagine your answer would have said, “We’ll be seeking to lift pay,” and that’s a move that’s already underway. Is this a recognition that that and that alone isn’t enough?

ALY: I think there’s always been a recognition that pay and pay alone isn’t enough. In fact, in the lead up to the Jobs and Skills Summit, I’ve held a number of consultations with stakeholders and a number of round tables, and they make that point to me very clearly. It’s not just about pay; it’s also about conditions and it’s about professional recognition. It’s about a pipeline. It’s about professional development. It’s about having time to do professional development and to develop themselves among early childhood educators, and that’s all part of the puzzle of how we retain the people that we’ve currently got and attract new people into the sector.

JENNETT: Is there any country that’s doing this well?

ALY: Well, I’ve just come back from the G20 where I had some bilateral meetings with like ministers and went and visited some schools and some education institutions there in Bali. I have to say, we are pretty well ahead in terms of our early childhood education and particularly our preschool or kindy or as it’s variously called – the year before school, three and four‑year‑old. We are pretty well developed in that. Other countries are now looking at how do they formalise early childhood education and give it the recognition that it deserves.

JENNETT: Does this strategy contemplate costs, and by costs I don’t just mean to the Federal Budget but to all interested parties, the states in particular?

ALY: That’s something that our review will do, so the ACCC review that we’ll be commissioning will look at costs and a pricing mechanism around it as well. So, there are different bits of the puzzle. This is one part of it. We’ve got the Productivity Commission review. We’ve got the ACCC review. We’ve got our childcare subsidy reform and we’ve got a national quality framework.

JENNETT: All on a pathway to what they call universality. When do you think?

ALY: Look, it’s hard to put a time frame on it, because right now we’re dealing with some pretty urgent issues around workforce, workforce retention, but also creating the workforce for the future, so it’s hard to put a time line on it. What I can assure everyone, though, is that these are things that are front of mind for the Albanese Labor Government and things that we’re really working towards in partnership with the sector.

JENNETT: You mentioned the Jobs and Skills Summit where the latest $5 billion childcare policy was discussed a lot. I’d be right to assume that you’ve been lobbied and pressed by any or all of those participants to bring it forward. You’re nodding. How do you justify, in your answer to that, sticking with July of next year?

ALY: I think that most of the stakeholders and people in the sector understand why we can’t bring it forward. We want to make something that’s pretty – it’s a pretty radical change what we’re looking at and we have a vision for early childhood education. But in order to do that, there are a number of things that we have do. First off, we have to pass the legislation, so that’s got to happen. Then we’ve got to build the ICT systems that are going to cope with the requirements of a new childcare subsidy and a new childcare subsidy system. Now that takes time. Right now, there are – I’ve got the figures here – 23 third‑party providers who provide software that interfaces with systems for 13,685 services, and they support 1.3 million families. That’s pretty extensive.

JENNETT: So, it’s mechanically just not possible?

ALY: Well, we have to do the testing. I’ll give you an example, an idea of how long it takes to implement these things. The former Government’s childcare changes took about 50 weeks to implement. We’re hoping to have it all ready and implemented by the date that we set in our election commitment, which is July next year; so, we’re working really hard to get everything set up so that when these changes come into place, it runs smoothly and it’s done effectively.

JENNETT: So, they are more compelling arguments, are they, these mechanical or IT issues, than sheer expenditure, sheer costs?

ALY: I don’t want to fob‑off concerns and I don’t want to fob‑off anyone who feels passionately about bringing them forward. I understand those concerns; and, believe me, Greg, if there was a way to do this, I would have done it, right. It would have happened; Labor would have done it. But we want to make sure that when we do this, we do it right. It is a big reform and it’s something that we want to set up effectively and smoothly, so it is going to take that time.

JENNETT: Fair enough. Just take you outside your own portfolio, Anne, and you’re in Question Time, of course, where pensions and indexation increases were spoken about by Amanda Rishworth and others in Question Time. These are fully automatic and would have happened anyway. Why are they being presented as major cost‑of‑living relief measures when they are literally automatic?

ALY: Just because they’re automatic, doesn’t mean they are not also providing a relief for cost of living, and my understanding is that some of them were a little higher than the indexation. Some were at four per cent, so a bit higher than the indexation rate, which means they’re actually not automatic. They’re actually some of the highest indexation rates that a government has delivered for the last decade, so, I wouldn’t agree with you on that, Greg.

JENNETT: All right. Even if they are not keeping fully pace with inflation, I think they’re one or and a half to two percentage points behind. No one would begrudge the recipients, by the way, but from an economic point of view, are they not themselves inflationary?

ALY: Oh, gosh, are you talking macroeconomics now! I’m recalling my Year 10 economics teacher Mr Lago, who used to throw me out of class every time for talking too much. Look, I’m sure that there are a number of things that have inflationary pressures right, but we know this. We know that people with the lowest income, that when they get extra money, they don’t hoard it, they spend it, and that actually puts money back into the economy. To be honest, I think our most pressing issue is giving people relief, giving people like my mum who’s on a pension, some relief.

JENNETT: I hasten to add that in asking the question, we’re not begrudging anyone or questioning the legitimacy of receiving these entitlements, so that’s fully in the works. Anne Aly, we’re going to thank you and say farewell at this point. Thanks so much for joining us.

ALY: Thank you.