SUBJECTS: Early Childhood Education.
ALI MOORE, HOST: We’re talking about cost of living and the pressure that families are under. I wonder whether you’ve done the child care sums and worked out whether the new child care subsidy arrangements are going to make a difference to you. They are costing the budget $5.4 billion. They were an election promise, but you’ll know from reading all the headlines in the past couple of days that there’s a question over just how much they will flow through to you because child care costs are going up. We just heard Paul Zahra there talk about the increased cost for business and child care providers are no exception. So, on the one hand, there’s a subsidy, on the other hand, there’s a higher cost, so will you be better off? Anne Aly is the Early Childhood Education Minister and member for Cowan in WA. Minister, good morning.
MINISTER ANNE ALY: Good morning, Ali.
MOORE: Just I know you were on the line there and listening to some of our conversation. That 20 per cent increase in theft from retail stores, that’s a Victorian number, the Victorian crime stats. It’s a real sign though, isn’t it, to a point about just how hard people are finding it?
ALY: Yeah, absolutely and you don’t need statistics like that to know that people are doing it tough. You just need to go to the shopping centre and do your shopping and have a look at how much the price of everything has gone up to understand that, you know, there will be families out there struggling. And, you know, that’s a challenge for our government and that’s why we’ve got a raft of cost‑of‑living measures coming through, including the more affordable early childhood education.
MOORE: So, have you done the numbers on the percentage of families who are going to find their subsidies well at least in part swallowed by higher child care fees?
ALY: It’s interesting that you raise that, Ali, because I know that the headlines have been saying that, but the modelling actually shows, and we’re very confident, that the vast majority of parents will actually not be out of pocket. In other words, the vast majority of parents after our changes to the child care subsidy will have more money back into their pockets. And as an example, Goodstart, which is Australia’s largest not-for-profit provider, did the sums, did the work and with a seven per cent increase in the fees, which is a fairly standard percentage of increase at this time of year that that a lot of the centres are increasing their fees to, even with that seven per cent increase in fees, the vast majority of parents are still benefiting.
MOORE: A lot or a little?
ALY: It can be up to $28 a day of difference. So, there is a significant difference there, Ali. And, in fact, yesterday, I met with a group of parents at local Goodstart in Clayton, I think the suburb is in Melbourne, and one of the parents there, she works three days a week and she wanted to work four days a week. Now, a couple of years ago, she tried it. She tried putting her two sons in for an extra day a week, found that the cost of it was just so prohibitive and they just couldn’t afford it, couldn’t work it in the budget. She’s now done the sums, she’s now done the household budget and now can afford to put her sons in for that fourth day.
MOORE: I know that you’ve got a couple of reviews that are underway into child care. The ACCC has just given you an interim report with a final report do you at the end of the year. There’s a Productivity Commission review. It’s an incredibly complicated system, isn’t it?
ALY: Oh, my goodness, so complicated, Ali. This is the stuff that keeps me up at night. It’s such a mixed market because you have really large for-profit providers, then you have large not‑for‑profit providers. Eighty per cent of the market are smaller providers. You have community, you have council‑run, you have government-funded, you have different models of service provision, so you have long day care, in‑home care, family day care, out‑of‑school‑hours care. It is a very, very mixed market. And we’re interested in how this market behaves –
MOORE: But not just interested, Minister, in how it behaves, surely you’re also interested in trying to fix it because –
MOORE: – because it’s so difficult to navigate. What do you see, having only had the interim report so far from the ACCC, what do you see as the biggest complexity? Is it, as you just outlined, the range and the different model of providers?
ALY: I don’t know, to be honest with you. I don’t know that that’s the biggest complexity. I think the biggest complexity is that very much the behaviour of the market. So, it doesn’t seem to go but where the demand is. And that’s why you have places where you’ve got a number of children on the waiting list and other places where you’ve got a whole range of services that are undersubscribed, that don’t have their full component of children. So, I think that’s part of the complexity. The mixed market is part of the complexity. There are a whole range of complexities there. But we should also factor in parent choice and, you know, that’s what we want to do. We want to give parents options and parents choice. Parents know what’s best for their children and that’s factored in as well –
MOORE: Does parent choice, does that actually come into that argument for free state child care? Are you in favour, as a principle, for free child care just like we have free education?
ALY: I think I don’t know that that is the definition of universal child care. I certainly think that Australia is very expensive and I know parents listening right now will be nodding their heads in agreement. It is very expensive for early childhood education in Australia and parents will spend more in those first five years of early childhood education than they will for some of the primary school years, as much as one of the best private schools in the country, and that needs to change. That needs to change. It needs to be more accessible –
MOORE: But not free?
ALY: Well, I don’t know if free is the answer. I think we have to look at how the market works and I don’t know if free is doable. All of these things will come out through the ACCC and the Productivity Commission review.
MOORE: Is the issue with free, is it a simple matter of cost?
ALY: I’m waiting on these two reviews to tell us. I think that the Prime Minister is committed and has spoken very publicly about his commitment to a universal early childhood education system. We want a world-class early childhood education system that works for every child and for every parent and that gives parents choice and where every child can benefit from that early education in those first five foundational years. What that looks like and how we get there will be charted for us through the ACCC review and the Productivity Commission review.
MOORE: That sounds like there’s a long way to go before we get any change.
ALY: It’s an exciting time, though, Ali. It’s an exciting time because I think all parents out there will agree that change is needed. All educators out there will agree that change is needed. And we can reform the system so that it works for every child and gives parents choice.
MOORE: Anne Aly, thanks for talking to us.
ALY: Thanks, Ali.
MOORE: Anne Aly, the Early Childhood Education Minister.