SUBJECTS: Cheaper Child Care; Productivity Commission Inquiry into ECEC
MATT SHIRVINGTON: Childcare could become free under a Medicare-style plan. It’s part of a long-term reform strategy revealed by the education minister. Jason Clare says the Albanese government is looking to build a universal early education system with upcoming childcare subsidies just the start of the government’s agenda.
For more, let’s bring in Education Minister Jason Clare and Deputy Opposition Leader Sussan Ley. Good morning to you, guys. Great to chat again. Let’s start with you, Jason. $5.4 billion in subsidies are on the way from July 10. If it was completely free childcare, how would you fund it?
JASON CLARE, MINISTER FOR EDUCATION: G’day, mate. You’re right, Cheaper Child Care laws start tomorrow. That’s good news for more than a million families right across the country. Child care is important, but it’s also expensive. This will cut the cost for more than a million families. Goodstart, who are the biggest provider of childcare services right across the country say that at the moment for their parents they’re paying about 40 bucks a day out-of-pocket costs, and from next month that will drop on average to about $27 a day. That will make a big difference. It’s good for parents. It will cut the cost of child care for them, but it also means that if they want to go back to paid work and earn more money they can, so that’s good for businesses too. But it’s also good for our children. This isn’t babysitting. This is early education, and the more time in early education the better prepared you are for school. So that’s important.
But this is just the start. We’ve also got the Productivity Commission on the case to look at how we can improve affordability and access for the long term. The Prime Minister has talked about the fact that Medicare is a universal system. That green card makes sure that your health is looked after, not your credit card. We’ve also got a universal retirement system called super. We want to see what we can do here to make sure that we’ve got a universal early education system so all children get a great start in life.
SHIRVINGTON: Yeah, absolutely. No-one’s denying that. Sussan, two per cent of your taxable income goes to the Medicare levy at the moment. If child care is free, should everyone pay for it?
SUSSAN LEY: Well, it’s quite an amazing concept, Shirvo. But I agree with Jason that childcare is important. I still remember when I was a rural mum on the farm and child care, when my children were small, actually allowed me a pathway into education and a career, and the educators and the lecturers saved my life. So, no disagreements there.
But I think Jason is being very brave this morning. He’s promising free child care in the future when we can’t even get cheaper child care now. A universal scheme – who’s going to pay for it? Is this government going to have to raise taxes to do that? Meanwhile, the subsidies that we’re talking about that come in today – tomorrow, are eating – are being eaten up by increases in fees… And that’s what I’m seeing already around me. And that’s what childcare centres in my part of the world are saying.
So, parents are not necessarily going to find that they’re paying less. And I want to hear a guarantee from this government that has been spruiking cheaper child care that parents actually will see their childcare costs go down.
SHIRVINGTON: Yeah, what do you say to that, Jason? Because there are a number of childcare centres already sending letters out to parents that they’re going to increase their rates?
CLARE: What I’d say to that is that childcare costs went up by 49 per cent in the last 10 years under the Libs. That’s why it’s expensive. As I said in my first introductory comments, the biggest provider – Goodstart – says that at the moment parents are paying 40 bucks a day out-of-pocket costs, from next month that will go down to $27. So that’s going to make a meaningful difference for a lot of families right across the country.
You’re right that, and part of it is inflation, we’re seeing childcare centres increase their fees. I’d say that the ACCC is watching childcare providers right across the country at the moment. Making sure that they’re not taking advantage of this or the changes that we’re making, and if they are, if they are…
LEY: It’s a cost-of-living crisis, Jason. Of course, things are going up. It’s a cost-of-living crisis.
CLARE: …hang on a sec, I didn’t interrupt you, Sussan. If they are, then the ACCC is ready to make recommendations about what further action, we should take in that area.
But this is important. The first five years of a child’s life are everything, Matt. You know that. We’re all parents. Everything that a child sees, everything they eat, every book they read, every experience they have shapes the type of person that we become in our life. And it affects whether they’re going to be ready for school and whether they’re going to be ready for life. So the investments we make here will help us as a country for decades into the future.
SHIRVINGTON: Yeah, we’ve just got to figure out a way to pay for it. Jason, thank you. Sussan, thanks for your time.