TOM CONNELL: Welcome back. A lot of things on the table at the recent Jobs and Skills Summit. Not though, seemingly, bringing changes forward to child care, which would make it more affordable to 96 per cent of families. Joining me live is Early Childhood Education Minister Anne Aly for more on this. Thanks very much for your time. So not going to be brought forward – the changes coming in the middle of next year. Why not?
ANNE ALY: A number of reasons, but first of all let me state that this was a major Labor commitment taken into the election and it remains a Labor commitment. We are very committed to bringing in childcare subsidies, making child care much more affordable for families, raising productivity, enabling more women to go to work, enabling more women to have that career progression that they need as primary caregivers. But we are also facing a reality where we’ve inherited a trillion dollars of Liberal Party debt and there are a number of logistical reasons why bringing it forward would make it quite difficult. So, we’re sticking to the timeline that we went to the election with, and that will be next year.
CONNELL: So, you mentioned cost. Labor has spoken about this being a net benefit, a productivity measure. If that’s the case, bringing it forward ultimately doesn’t cost money. It helps the economy and the Budget overall.
ALY: Well, the whole thing helps the economy and the Budget overall. And bringing it. Whether it’s brought forward or whether it’s July next year, it’s going to benefit the economy and the Budget overall and it’s going to benefit productivity overall.
CONNELL: If it’s a net benefit then cost can’t be a reason for not bringing it forward because you’re saying it’s not going to cost money.
ALY: Well, the cost of bringing it forward, particularly where there are going to be logistical challenges – we want to get this right. We want to make sure that when it’s brought forward or when it’s put on the table, that parents are able to access that extra childcare subsidy. They’re able to access early childhood education for their children. We want to get this right. At the moment, if we were to bring it forward, not only would the cost be quite overwhelmingly, actually, when you look at the trillion dollars of debt that we’ve inherited, but it would just not be possible. There would be too many logistical challenges for it.
CONNELL: So, do we just not have enough centres and teachers?
ALY: There’s that. There’s also, you know, some changes that need to be made to ensure that it runs smoothly as well – that the subsidy runs smoothly as well.
CONNELL: But on teachers and, you know, enough places out there, if you like, if a parent wants to go from three to four days, so that increased demand, do we not have the capability to do that if we wanted to on January 1? We wouldn’t have the teachers and the places.
ALY: The workforce shortages in the early childhood education sector, I’m not going to sugar-coat them. It is a very, very vital factor. And it was one of the reasons why the Jobs and Skills Summit really tackled this issue, and I was pleased to see some really good representation from the early childhood education sector at the Jobs and Skills Summit. The primary focus of that is that shortage of early childhood educators.
CONNELL: There will be a shortage on January 1, but that will be sorted by July 1?
ALY: Well, we’re looking at things. So, we’ve got the 180,000 TAFE places, free TAFE places, that the Government has brought forward. You know, some of those will be looking at that but —
CONNELL: So, could people be trained up between now and July 1?
ALY: The key factor, though, Tom, is not just about training people up. It’s also about retaining people, right? So currently, the sector faces an issue with retention where you’ve got early childhood educators who are leaving the sector or people who start an early childhood education qualification of some sort, whether it’s a certificate III, a diploma or a bachelor’s, who are not completing that. So, the fee-free TAFE places are going to benefit the sector because they’re going to benefit retention.
CONNELL: So, first of all, on the TAFE places, how many will be child care and how many of those will be ready to go in the system by July 1 next year?
ALY: Well, we don’t know how many will be child care but we do know that that there will be. That’s something to be worked out with the States, and that will happen later this month.
CONNELL: The people who take up that will be ready to go on July 1 next year, will they?
ALY: Well, no, because the certificate III is longer than a six‑month course or a nine‑month course –
CONNELL: So, to get the system ready for July 1, the TAFE places actually don’t help at all –
ALY: But it will help. It will help.
CONNELL: But not to be ready for next year, July 1.
ALY: Well, no, but what it will do, it will do this – right now as I mentioned the issue is retention, right? What the sector is crying out for is recognition, recognition of their professionalism and recognition of their value. By having fee-free TAFE places, by the Labor Government’s commitment to this sector, we have signalled very loudly and very strongly and very clearly how much we value the sector and how much we’re willing to work with the sector to address their issues.
CONNELL: But if you’re already in the sector and the Government announces fee‑free TAFE as something you’ve already done, how does that help you stay?
ALY: Because it values you. I’ve spoken to –
CONNELL: It doesn’t change it up at all. It makes someone’s degree –
ALY: But, Tom, no, it does. I’ve spoken to so many early childhood educators and their biggest gripe is that they are undervalued and unvalued. They feel invisible. They feel like they’re not being seen. They feel like they’re not being heard. And I can tell you this with my hand on my heart, that listening to them, bringing them around the table, having the number of stakeholder engagements that we’ve had, having the number of roundtables with early childhood educators that we’ve had, has made huge inroads into them feeling valued. Them feeling valued is a factor for them being retained.
CONNELL: But their actual – how it actually changes their life – it doesn’t. The next cohort in gets free TAFE. They didn’t. Someone who’s in the system right now has already paid for TAFE.
ALY: But they’re seeing that their qualification, that their work is valued, that the Government is listening. And that’s something that the previous Government didn’t do for 10 years.
CONNELL: But they’ve had to pay for it. The next cohort gets it free.
ALY: That doesn’t matter. Well, if I were an early childhood educator, I’d be celebrating that they were free.
CONNELL: I'd want more pay, which Labor guaranteed ahead of 2019, that election, but is no longer doing that.
ALY: We are committed to wage growth in the Labor Government and we’re looking at these issues. This was also on the table at the Jobs and Skills Summit.
CONNELL: But is that on the table right now? You used to have a Government or a specific pledge to increase pay for childcare workers specifically, but took that off ahead of 2022.
ALY: We are working – we have already made movements with the Fair Work Commission to increase pay for the minimum wage. This is a Government that believes in increased wages. It does not, like the previous Government, believe that low wages is a centrepiece of the economy.
CONNELL: But, so who pays that? Because aged care, you’re paying, but child care, if it’s not you, it’s parents. And we’re already talking about unaffordable child care. So, who pays for the increase for childcare workers?
ALY: That’s something that’s going to be negotiated. I mean, one of the outcomes of the Jobs and Skills Summit. I think is one of the most incredible outcomes is that you’ve got businesses and unions prepared to talk about a change to the way in which agreements are made.
CONNELL: But it’s got to be parents or the Governments that pay for higher wages. Who do you think it should be?
ALY: Or the industry.
CONNELL: So, they’ll just make less profit.
ALY: Well, that’s got to all be worked out.
CONNELL: Have they signed up to that?
ALY: No, we’re not signing up to anything yet, but we’re looking at how we can address this issue. We’ve got the Productivity Commission review in train. We’ve got the –
CONNELL: So, you can convince the industry to bring down their margins basically.
ALY: We’ve got a Productivity Commission review in train that will look at all of these issues. I’m not going to pre-empt any of those things. What I’m talking about is some of the suggestions that have been put forward by the sector at the roundtables that I’ve had that were taken to the Jobs and Skills Summit and that we will continue to talk about with the unions, with the businesses, with the sector, with the early childhood educators. Everyone in this sector can be assured that they are being listened to.
CONNELL: Minister, thanks for your time today.
ALLY: Thank you, Tom.