SUBJECTS: Guaranteeing access for two years of preschool; Cost-of-living relief; Pay raise for early childhood workers’.
TOM CONNELL, HOST: Childcare advocates are calling on the Commonwealth and state governments to guarantee access to at least two years of preschool. The plea has come ahead of an early year’s summit later this week. It's part of the development of a fresh national strategy into early childhood education. Joining me live now is Minister for Youth and Early Childhood Education, Anne Aly. Thanks for your time.
MINISTER ANNE ALY: Thank you.
CONNELL: There's a real anomaly now in the system with a lot of preschools - because of the funding - give you half the time, some parents have to switch between preschool and childcare on a Wednesday. I mean, that seems crazy.
ALY: Yeah. Look, the system is a very mixed model system, so in some states, for example, preschool is provided in long day care centres, so there isn't that switch. In other states, preschool is provided on school grounds, and it makes it difficult for parents because you can't really leave work in the middle of the day to pick up your child -
CONNELL: Transition -
ALY: Or transition them to school. But these are all issues that the Productivity Commission review will look into. And last week, the Prime Minister announced Professor Deborah Brennan - sorry, I forgot her name for a minute there. Professor Deborah Brennan will head up that Productivity Commission review and that'll give us good insights into how we can really look at reforming the system to achieve what the Prime Minister-
CONNELL: That seems like a slam dunk, though. Is that where you're headed? That anyone that wants to can get subsidised the same way they get to childcare just two full years of preschool, rather than this mix and match?
ALY: Well, I wouldn't like to say where we're headed. I'd like to say that we definitely need some form of review, which is what the Productivity Commission review.
CONNELL: But the current way it works is crazy.
ALY: Oh, absolutely. Look, anyone who's been a parent or who is a parent currently knows just how difficult it is to manage multiple services, multiple service delivery models for children, particularly when they hit three to five in those years before, just before school, but even before then as well.
CONNELL: Even seems weird to me that you can't start preschool until the day they turn three, but I'm just talking about my own problems now. There's a cut coming in childcare fees, which Labor has been sprucing a lot, but it's going to come just as the RBA is hoping there's a lid on inflation. Do you need to consider delaying that if it contributes to inflation?
ALY: Absolutely not. We know that it won't contribute to inflation because we know that it will mean more productivity, more women or primary caregivers, being able to go out and take extra hours, contribute to the household budget. But importantly, it's good for children. Like, we know that those critical early years access to good quality early childhood education is really important for children and future generations.
CONNELL: But when you say it won't contribute, yes, childcare fees are down, but people won't be working more and have more money to spend, that can contribute to inflation. Have you asked Treasury to look at whether it would contribute to inflation, to clarify that?
ALY: Well, we know that it will contribute to productivity, and it'll contribute to the household income. Right now, families right across Australia are feeling the pinch of inflation. They're feeling the pinch of cost-of-living. We came to the election with this commitment. The Treasurer has outlined our economic plan that involves relief, cost-of-living relief for families. And this is a essential part of that. We need to provide families right across Australia with cost-of-living relief. This is a centrepiece of our cost-of-living relief plan.
CONNELL: Right, but I'm just trying to clarify, you say there's no contribution to inflation. Is that based on what Treasury has told you? Because it's a complicated beast, but if you've got more money to spend in a household, you're generally going to spend it on something and that can contribute to prices, so why that confidence?
ALY: Well, you're looking at it in isolation. Tom, there's a whole range of other measures that the government is doing that are designed to address cost-of-living without putting more pressure on inflation and Jim Chalmers has very lucidly outlined those plans and how that works.
CONNELL: But he hasn't spoken about childcare in particular.
ALY: He does, he has. He's spoken about what terms of cost-of-living relief.
CONNELL: Sure, but whether it's inflationary or not well.
ALY: Well -
CONNELL: Cause this plan was a long time ago we didn’t think inflation-
ALY: But every measure that we've taken has been very mindful of providing cost-of-living relief while not putting more inflationary pressure on the economy.
CONNELL: But to know that, each measure you talk about, wouldn't it be wise to say to Treasury, is this inflationary, is this inflationary? Because some things are, some spending clearly is if you hand out money to households it will be a cut in fees?
ALY: Well, we are not handing money out to households.
CONNELL: No, but you'll have more disposable income. That's what you've just been saying.
ALY: And there'll be more productivity as workforce hours increase as well. So, you know, it's part of a plan that the Treasurer has very clearly outlined and has said over and over again that the way that we approach the economy is to provide cost-of-living relief without putting more inflationary pressure on.
CONNELL: The new IR laws we've spoken about as a chance for maybe early childhood workers to get better pay. Are there any deals brewing in this sector?
ALY: What do you mean by deals?
CONNELL: Well, is there any bargaining that's kicked off in this sector?
ALY: I think the bargaining process hasn't started yet, but certainly there are plans to start the bargaining process because early childhood educators have been calling for a pay rise for many years now, and now they finally have, through the IR laws that we passed last year, they finally have a mechanism to be able to do that.
CONNELL: Cause Tony Burke mentioned some ANZ had already started them in earnest, for example. Are you able to reveal that happening in the childcare sector yet?
ALY: I'm not aware whether they've started or not.
CONNELL: Okay. The union wants a 25 per cent increase to the base pay for early childhood workers. Is that a fair demand?
ALY: Look, I think that we support, certainly, valuing our early childhood educators for the work that they do, for that very important work that they do. What the union demands is up to the union.
CONNELL: But do you think the 25 per cent -
ALY: And what the Fair Work Commission gives them is up to the Fair Work Commission. We'll wait for that process. We're not going to undermine that process and we're not going to pre-empt that process.
CONNELL: Just finally, cost-of-living. You spoke about how hard it can be to make ends meet; you knew that as a single mum. Are you worried the RBA is hiking too much?
ALY: I'm worried that there are many families out there who are struggling because they got their mortgages on a very low-interest rate base and they're going to face incredible increases to their mortgages over the next coming weeks and months. I'm worried about that. That concerns me. But I will say this, I have spoken time and time again about cost-of-living pressures on families from the day I entered this Parliament, particularly in my electorate of Cowan and what Jim Chalmers has done and what the Albanese Government has done, we're very cognizant of the need to provide cost-of-living relief.
CONNELL: Okay, Minister, thanks for your time.
ALY: Thank you so much.