Release type: Transcript


Interview - ABC RN Breakfast


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

PATRICIA KARVELAS: Dr Anne Aly is the Minister for Early Childhood Education, and she joins me this morning. Anne Aly, welcome to RN Breakfast.

ANNE ALY: Thank you, Patricia. Nice to be here.

KARVELAS: I should call you Minister now because that’s absolutely what you are, and congratulations. I think it’s the first time we’ve spoken since you were officially – 

ALY: Thank you. It is. It is indeed.

KARVELAS: So, there are more than 6,500 positions available. That’s an all‑time high. The most urgent problem, of course, that’s been identified is wages. Should the Government fund an increase in pay for early educators?

ALY: I think that’s a discussion for the Jobs and Skills Summit, and I’m pleased to see that the early childhood education sector is going to be well represented at the Jobs and Skills Summit and that the Labor Government is really paying attention to the issues that are being raised. I’ve held a number of roundtables in the lead‑up to the Jobs and Skills Summit and wages certainly comes up a lot, Patricia, but so does a whole range of other things. Conditions is another issue. It’s not just the wages. It’s also the conditions under which early childhood educators are expected to work. It’s also a lack of professional development and a lack of professional recognition, that people who work in early childhood education are part of the education workforce. They are educators. It’s not childminding. It’s not outsourcing parenting. It is early childhood education.

KARVELAS: Would a wage increase stabilise the workforce in the short term and stem the tide of people quitting?

ALY: I don’t think it’s a silver bullet and I don’t think it’s the only answer. A lot of people who leave the sector – 

KARVELAS: Is it going to make a big difference still, though? It might not be the silver bullet but a significant part of the – well, the bullet.

ALY: Well, I think we want to see wage growth. We’ve supported an increase to the minimum wage. We’re increasing wages for the aged‑care workforce, and I think any idea that’s designed to get wages moving should be an idea that’s discussed at the summit, and I know that it will be discussed at the summit. I don’t think it’s the only answer, though. There’s a whole range of other issues. Retention within the workforce now is an issue, yes, but there’s also a retention issue in the pipeline to the workforce. So, there’s also a retention issue at Certificate III level and at diploma level. So, there’s also a piece to look at about how do we keep people in the pipeline studying and how do we get them into studying early childhood education.

KARVELAS: And what’s the answer to that? How do you get them in?

ALY: I think the start to that is to really lift the sector and treat it as part of the education workforce and give early childhood educators the recognition, the professional recognition, that they deserve. It’s not child care. It’s not childminding. It is early childhood education. And the importance of it in our society and the importance of it for a child’s development and for their future performance in school is so critical.

That will be part of the Early Years Strategy that we’re developing as well that Minister Amanda Rishworth and I are starting to develop as well with the sector. So, that’s a part of it and that’s what’s going to start increasing the pipeline and the number of people coming through. There are a number of – the most important thing at the moment is to retain people in the sector.

KARVELAS: Okay. The pandemic deprived the sector of a qualified workforce from overseas. What options are the on the table when it comes to visas?

ALY: I think there are a number of things we could do to make visas more easier for early childhood education workers. The first thing, I think, to do is list it on the skilled migration list. The second thing to do, I think, is the fact that early childhood educators, the language requirement for them is a 7.5 IL. Now, for those listening and those who are wondering what that means, that’s a very, very high academic level of English, rather than a functional level of English that would be required to pass and successfully pass either a Certificate III or diploma level. So, there are a number of barriers there that I think we could remove to make immigration easier.

KARVELAS: Okay. So, you think the requirement we put on childcare workers for their English skills is just too high and that needs to be lowered, essentially?

ALY: I think it needs to be lowered, not a lot. It still needs to maintain a high standard of English, but it needs to be functional as well. So, it needs to work for the sector.

KARVELAS: Have you modelled how many workers that could bring into the country that are currently not meeting the language requirement?

ALY: That work hasn’t been done yet, but I can tell you that anecdotally – it’s something, first of all, that the sector has raised with me in the working groups that we’ve been having in the lead‑up to the Jobs and Skills Summit. But anecdotally, I’ve also met a lot of people, quite a few actually, who have the qualification from Australia or have a qualification from overseas, but that language is a real barrier.

KARVELAS: Yesterday, I asked the Treasurer, Jim Chalmers, if he was prepared to bring forward the start date to lift the childcare subsidy in January. This is what he had to say. This is the Treasurer. I think we’ve got the Treasurer:

CHALMERS: I have been considering, is the truth of it, but there are substantial costs associated with it and there may be some operational difficulties as well that we need to be conscious of.

KARVELAS: That’s Jim Chalmers from our interview yesterday. He went on to say the cost to move it forward would most likely be prohibitive. And that struck me. I didn’t have the time to explore it with him so I’m going to with you, because the entire argument you’ve been making is that it’s not a cost because of the productivity you get out of this, and so how can you argue that it’s a cost when you don’t argue it more broadly for the reform? I mean, isn’t it an investment?

ALY: Yeah, I heard the interview that you had with Jim Chalmers yesterday and, look, Jim and Jason Clare, the Minister for Education, and myself, we’ve been having a yarn about this for a while now and we would have loved to have been able to bring it forward, but Jim’s right; the economic situation we’re in at the moment it’s an incredibly high cost to bring it forward, but there are other issues as well and I think Jim alluded to them yesterday as well. And one of them is the workforce issue. If we do bring it forward, that’s going to put more pressure on the workforce issue at the moment, and I think we don’t want to set it up to fail. Already, we have – 

KARVELAS: Will you be ready by July then?

ALY: Well, I think that the Jobs and Skills Summit will come up with some really good solutions. We’re doing everything we can to be ready by July, but already you have parents being asked to keep their children at home because there are no childcare workers.

KARVELAS: The bottom line here is about the wellbeing of children.

ALY: Absolutely.

KARVELAS: Multiple studies show the benefits of quality education in the early years leading to better outcomes later in life. What is a realistic time frame, then, for the skills shortages to be resolved?

ALY: I don’t think there is a single time frame, right? So, I think there’s a time frame to do something immediate that will make a difference, whether it’s a big difference or an incremental difference. But I think there’s a time frame to implement a range of issues and that’s something that is a discussion that will happen at the Jobs and Skills Summit and that will be part of the outcomes of the Jobs and Skills Summit, I imagine. And what we could do is sit down and work out a time frame about – I’ve asked the early childhood sector when I’ve been doing these roundtables: what are some of the things that we can do now; what are some of the things that we need to do in a year’s time; and what are some of the things that are more long term – three, four five years’ time? And that’s what I’m hoping and I’m working towards developing.

KARVELAS: Who is attending the Jobs and Skills Summit from the early education sector? Have you got the guest list?

ALY: I don’t have the guest list off the top of my head but I can tell you who I remember who was there. We had unions. So, we had unions represented. We had early childhood educators represented. Groups like Child Australia, like the Parenthood Project; private providers were represented, so some of the big providers, including Goodstart. I noticed that you had someone from Goodstart on earlier, in the piece earlier. So, there is a wide-ranging variety of people there.

KARVELAS: So, there are immediate workforce issues in terms of visas that you’re clearly going to act on from everything you’ve said and then it is about sort of re-imagining the workforce to bring people in. You say that the time frame is different for different parts. That part, the domestic workforce and really building it and bolstering it, given the competing demands, aged care and other sectors, the health workforce, what is your time frame for our domestic workers to be built and ready to staff the childcare revolution that you’ve talked about?

ALY: That’s the most urgent piece. That’s the most immediate piece and that’s what we will be trying to do in the shortest time frame possible. But recognising that that can’t be just the solution. There has to be a layered-on approach. So, you have to also be looking at how do we attract people into the industry? How do we keep people who are studying at the moment, retain them, because the retention rates are terribly low? How do we retain them in study at the moment? How do we give them a pipeline and a pathway and a career pathway and map out that pathway for them?

KARVELAS: Thank you so much for joining us.

ALY: My pleasure. Thank you so much for having me, Patricia.