SUBJECTS: Early childhood education options in regional Australia; Israel-Hamas conflict; Caulfield protest.
TOM CONNELL, HOST: Well, a new report has found a lack of regional childcare services have left parents choiceless. The Parenthood Report has revealed childhood education and care services are limited to non-existent in regional areas. Some of them, it means children are missing out on education, on social benefits. Parents, of course, struggling to get back into the workforce.
Joining me live is Early Childhood Minister Anne Aly. Thanks for your time.
DR ANNE ALY, MINISTER FOR EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION AND MINISTER FOR YOUTH: Pleasure.
CONNELL: Feels like Groundhog Day.
DR ANNE ALY: It certainly does.
CONNELL: Why are things, if they are changing, not quickly enough?
DR ANNE ALY: Well, thank you for that question. Just before coming on here, I actually met with Pauline and Catherine, who are featured in The Parenthood's report here that's aptly entitled, “Choiceless.” And I just want to start by acknowledging that we are very much alive and aware to the fact that there are areas, particularly rural, regional and remote, where parents have no choice about sending their children to early childhood education and care.
And in other areas, even where there are services available, those services aren't operating at capacity, aren't able to operate at capacity because of workforce issues. So, the area is complex, which is not an excuse for lack of action, but it does require a more holistic approach to address this issue.
CONNELL: The indication is, though, it hasn't improved so far. I mean, we're not talking sort of day ten of the government.
DR ANNE ALY: No, but we're not also talking day ten of these issues. These are issues that have been long standing and have been compounded over the last ten years because of inaction. So, let me be very clear on that. Like, even for me myself, 30 years ago, looking for early childhood education and care for my two sons as a single parent wanting to return to work, I had to go to ten different centres.
And I think everybody in the sector understands and realises that this did not happen overnight. These are issues that have compounded over years. We are now looking at how do we reform the sector and how do we solve these issues in areas of workforce, in areas of access, in ensuring affordability for families as well? But also, in maintaining quality of early childhood education and care.
CONNELL: So, what solutions have you chanced upon so far?
DR ANNE ALY: So, if you have a look at what The Parenthood – the recommendations of The Parenthood come up with in their report, and I've just met with The Parenthood and we've gone through those recommendations. They've talked about government stewardship and supply side. Now, we've got the ACCC, and their interim report demonstrated that the way in which the childcare subsidy works is not optimum.
CONNELL: Is that a bit of a – you know, basically a criticism of Labor, because you used the existing structure to pump billions of –
DR ANNE ALY: We didn’t set up the child – we didn’t set it up.
CONNELL: No, but hear me out. You used the existing structure to pump billions of dollars more in, and then had a report saying it's not working very well. So, it feels like some of that money's wasted.
DR ANNE ALY: Well, Tom, we recognised that one of the first things that we needed to do was to provide fee relief to parents and families –
CONNELL: But it was actually inefficient, wasn’t it? Because –
DR ANNE ALY: – at a time of – no, it hasn't been inefficient. Actually, the latest figures show that there has been a 14 per cent decrease on average in early childhood education and care costs.
CONNELL: So, the inefficiency is that fees have gone up, more compared to where they did previously.
DR ANNE ALY: No, not more than what they did previously. They would have gone up more had we not introduced the changes to the childcare subsidy.
CONNELL: Well, the fee’s separate. How much parents pay is after the subsidy, but the fees did go up.
DR ANNE ALY: I acknowledge that early childhood education and care in Australia is expensive. That is why we are looking at how we move towards a system that is affordable, that is accessible, that is equitable and that is quality for every parent and every child, no matter where they live and no matter what their background is.
CONNELL: So, at the end of all of this, is your nirvana sort of a universal system where the complexity’s sort of taken away?
DR ANNE ALY: Well, I don't think we'll ever take away the complexities. Because if anyone who knows the sector knows that there are mixed service models, there are mixed funding models, but –
CONNELL: Well, reduced –
DR ANNE ALY: I want to reduce the complexities. Ultimately, the vision is for a system that is accessible, affordable and works for every child no matter who they are, where they are and where they live.
DR ANNE ALY: And that means yes, absolutely, addressing the crisis in rural and regional parts where there are no options. And speaking to Catherine today whose story is featured in the report, they have absolutely no options where she lives. So, how do we create options for those parents that works for them?
CONNELL: Well, we'll watch this space because it's pretty dire for some people.
I wanted to ask you just briefly as well, comments from the Foreign Minister, Penny Wong, that Israel should work towards a ceasefire with Hamas. There's a lot of criticism for that because Jewish groups are saying, well, this is a terrorist group. Is it wrong to call for a ceasefire between a sovereign nation and a terrorist group?
DR ANNE ALY: Well, I think when you think about ceasefire, and I know there are a lot of people saying, ceasefire, ceasefire. But the fact is that a ceasefire is actually a process of negotiation between two parties to see an end to a war. And I know that – I think everyone wants to see a ceasefire. Everyone wants to see an end to this war. Show me a person who doesn't want to see an end to this.
I think the most immediate pressing issue is while working towards a ceasefire – because currently, neither party is willing to come to the table, which is what a ceasefire requires – while working towards a ceasefire, and Penny Wong has said this, that we need a humanitarian pause, and Australia has called for a humanitarian pause, to enable food –
CONNELL: There are pauses, and there are daily [indistinct].
DR ANNE ALY: And there are pauses in place at the moment. Yes.
CONNELL: I mean, the issue is as well, that Israel has, is if there's a pause, even if there's a pause of all fighting, all military action, that Hamas would rearm. And Hamas itself has said they want October 7 to happen again and again if they can. So, you'd understand why Israel would say, “No, we don't want to give you time to rearm,” for want of a better word.
DR ANNE ALY: And I would say that the people of Gaza, the children of Gaza, are not Hamas. Are not Hamas. And so, you know, I think that that is a point that is missing in the points that you're making, that the children and the innocent people of Gaza are not Hamas.
CONNELL: They're not. But it doesn't mean that Hamas would not spend that time rearming.
DR ANNE ALY: That's a difficult – that’s a difficult point that you make, and –
CONNELL: That's what they would do. I mean, they’ve said, “We would want October 7 to happen again and again.” That's the words of Hamas leadership. So, if they could make it happen –
DR ANNE ALY: But that's the vex – that’s why this issue is so vexed, because you have two parties who are unrelenting, who are unrelenting. And so, you put them on –
CONNELL: Do you put them on the same level? I mean, one is a terror group, according to the Australian Government.
DR ANNE ALY: And one is a fully militarised state with a full military. I mean, I’ve seen – you've seen in Gaza, whole neighbourhoods razed to the ground. The number of children who are killed –
CONNELL: Hamas does use civilians around military targets, though, doesn’t it?
DR ANNE ALY: That's what terrorists do. And I think one of the things that we need to think about here, is how do states respond to terrorist groups? I mean, we have protocols in place for war, but what are the protocols in place to respond to a terrorist group?
CONNELL: So, what, a different protocol –
DR ANNE ALY: Do you just go in and kill all the civilians and hope that you're going to get a couple of Hamas in the process?
CONNELL: Israel says that there are lots of targets it doesn't take, so it assesses civilians around it, but if it wants to take out a target, it might do it anyway. I mean, it's the issue as well, because we've heard from a lot of countries, including Australia, Israel has a right to defend itself. But also, let's not have civilian casualties. Now, no one wants them, but if every time they fire on any military target, they're going to have civilian casualties, does Israel really have a right to defend itself?
DR ANNE ALY: I think how they defend themselves matters. Are there opportunities, or is there a possibility for surgical procedures to go in and specifically target Hamas fighters?
CONNELL: When you say surgical, you say really precise operations.
DR ANNE ALY: Precise operations, as opposed to – I mean, I've seen pictures of bombing of 28 apartment buildings in a suburb. That's thousands of people left homeless with nothing but the clothes on their back. Where are they to go?
CONNELL: Is it also going to be the case that you'll never have zero civilian casualties? The nature of what Hamas does and how it shields its military targets?
DR ANNE ALY: I think there are international protocols and international rules of war that recognise that there will always be civilian casualties. But that very clearly states that states, sovereign states like Israel, have a responsibility to ensure that they proceed in ways that, at the very least, minimises civilian casualties. What we're seeing now, upwards of 10,000 people dead, many, many of them children, I don't think the world can accept that.
CONNELL: Just finally, protests in Caulfield. Was that incendiary, to do that near a synagogue at that time, a time within the Jewish faith where they're having celebratory meal as well?
DR ANNE ALY: Yeah, I do think it was a mistake. I think, you know, we live in a country where people are entitled to peaceful process – to peaceful protests. But what I would do here is to reiterate the words of Sheikh Shadi, who is the head of the Australian Council of Imams, which is the leadership of the Muslim community, and his words were to call for civil discussion, acknowledging that we may disagree on things that are happening overseas, but to call for civil discussion, to call for calm, and to call for everyone to proceed with civility towards each other.
CONNELL: Even if there's a protest, not to do it in the most incendiary manner.
DR ANNE ALY: I think that is pretty common sense.
CONNELL: Okay. Anne Aly, I appreciate your time today. Thank you.
DR ANNE ALY: Thank you, Tom.