ANIKA WELLS, MINISTER FOR AGED CARE: Good morning everyone and welcome to Lilley. I'm very pleased to be welcoming the Minister for Education and top bloke Jason Clare to the electorate this morning, because we on the north side are counting the minutes until 1 July when Labor's Cheaper Child Care Plan kicks in. This is in a cost‑of‑living crisis a substantial assist to North Side families, in fact 8,900 families here in my electorate of Lilley will benefit from this change come 1 July, and that's really important because it's good for kids, it's good for the parents, it’s good for our economy, which means it's good for the country.
JASON CLARE, MINISTER FOR EDUCATION: Nice way to start the day to be called a top bloke, you don't get that every day. Thank you very much for the invitation to be here today. Can I thank the team at Sandgate Kids for inviting us to be here. Just before we started the press conference I met a woman named Margaret who has been working here for 23 years. She started in the kitchen, and she got her Cert 3 and worked as an educator, now she's back in the kitchen cooking lunch for the kids here. My cousin who lives around the corner has been working in early education for over 30 years and when my first child went to early education, I said, "How do I pick a centre?" She said, "You pick the place where the teachers and the educators have been there for a long time, that's a sign of a good centre." So, I know from the conversation I had with Margaret, as well as some of the educators here who have been here for 16 to 17 years, that this is great place.
Child care is really important, and it's really expensive. In 79 days it's going to get a lot cheaper. In 79 days childcare will get cheaper for more than a million Australian families, including 284,000 families in Queensland, and almost 9,000 families here on the north side of Brisbane.
To give you an example, if you're a family on a combined income of 120 grand, these changes will mean that in the next financial year you'll save around 1,700 bucks. That's if you've got one child in care three days a week. So that's real money and will make a real difference for families where money's tight, where they're doing it tough. This is good for children, and it's good for parents, and it's good for our whole country.
It's good for children because more time in care means they're going to be better prepared for school. It's good for parents because it's going to cut the cost of early education and care, and give them a choice, if they want to, to work more hours or work more days. And it's good for the country, because businesses right across the country are screaming out for skilled workers right now. And for parents to be able to return to work, if they want to, will help Australian businesses as well.
This was one of the biggest and most important commitments we made this time last year in the peak of the election campaign. Australian people voted for it, we’ve passed the legislation to implement it, and we're now only 79 days away from delivering it.
JOURNALIST: Just on the skills shortage issue, there are reports this morning that more than 3 million Australians will have to lift their game in terms of literacy, for example, to enhance their ongoing chances of financial security, full stop, and other areas in their lives. Where does the problem lie? We've heard universities complain before too about the quality of the Year 12 students coming through, and another risk report about principals not being totally frank about the extent of whatever problem they're having within their school communities. Where does the answer lie?
CLARE: You're absolutely right to point to that report. If you boost literacy and numeracy levels, then you're going to boost the core skills that our economy needs to fill those jobs. If you don't finish high school, then you're going to be at a disadvantage for the rest of your life. Most of the jobs that are being created right now require you to finish school and go to TAFE or to university. The evidence that we're getting shows that not enough people are finishing high school, and a big part of that is kids who fall behind way back at primary school.
We've seen over the course of the last 10 years that reading skills of children at primary schools improved quite a bit. The reading skills of an eight‑year‑old are about a year ahead of the reading skills of an eight‑year‑old 10 years ago. But the gap in the reading skills of kids from poor backgrounds and kids from wealthy backgrounds has got worse.
10 years ago that gap was about a year in terms of learning, it's now two years, and the gap gets bigger with every year that you're at school. So by the time a child's in Year 9, the gap in reading skills with kids with poor backgrounds and wealthy backgrounds can be four or five years, which means a lot of those kids never finish school, which means it's harder to get a job, to build a career.
JOURNALIST: Screen time is a huge issue, but are you saying that not enough time is spent on a keyboard within a screen, or on a search engine? Do you think that's a real problem we've seen with mobile phones being taken to school?
CLARE: Yeah, I think it's a bit more elementary than that, Adam. It's about making sure that we invest in the right things at our schools to make sure that the kids who fall behind catch up.
At the moment, not all schools across the country are properly funded. Non‑Government schools are funded above the Gonski level, and they'll come back to the Gonski level by the end of this decade. Government schools won't. They're still on a trajectory to not meet that level.
One of the things that we promised in the election apart from cheaper child care was to make sure that we fully fund our schools and to work with States and Territories to do that, and that work is now under way.
Funding is important and so is what it's spent on. So we've established a panel whose job it is to advise me, as well as the Education Ministers across the country, about what are the sorts of things that we need to tie future funding to, including ‑ and I guess this goes to your point, Adam ‑ what are the sort of things that we fund in schools to help kids who fall behind to help them catch up, so that we don't have children who fall behind when they're in third grade and drop out of high school when they're in Year 10.
JOURNALIST: Minister, just on mobile phone bans in schools, we don't actually have them in Queensland at the moment. You may have heard that there's been some talk about wanting to implement them again.
CLARE: I saw it on the front page of the Courier Mail.
JOURNALIST: Yes, yes. What are your thoughts? Do you think that we should have like a national sort of ban on phones in schools?
CLARE: You're right, different states have got different systems in place at the moment. Some have banned it just at primary schools, some have banned it at primary school and high school. In New South Wales they're taking the step to ban it in high school from fourth term of this year. I think here in Queensland, am I right, that it's not banned at high school at the moment, but the principals can ban it if they want to?
JOURNALIST: It’s up to their discretion.
JOURNALIST: Do you think there should be like a universal ban on them?
CLARE: I think there's a good argument for a nationally consistent approach to this. I'm going to catch up with Grace Grace the Education Minister later this afternoon. I'll talk to her about this as well as other things. I'll talk to other State Ministers about it too, because as I said, different States are doing different things at the moment.
One of the things we're doing a bit differently under this new Government is working collaboratively with State and Territory Governments. Last year Education Ministers got together to develop a national workforce plan to deal with teacher shortages, which are chronic, which are at crisis levels, here in Queensland, but right across the country. I think we can do the same thing here.
JOURNALIST: But do you think it's concerning that we don't have a ban in Queensland for mobile phones in schools?
CLARE: There's different plans for different States. Incidentally, I was at my old high school, Canley Vale High last week, and I was talking to some students there about the banning of phones. They banned it about 16 years ago there, so it's already in place at that school, even though the State-wide ban in New South Wales doesn't come into effect until October, and the students there said that they thought it was a fantastic thing to do, because it meant when they were in class they weren't reactively or instinctively looking at their phones, they were concentrating on what the teacher was saying to them. So they were focussed on what was happening in the classroom, rather than what was happening on their phone. And they also said to me it meant that in the playground at lunchtime they were talking to their friends, or they were playing sport; they weren't all sitting around looking at their phones. I hope that the centre workers here will forgive me for talking about what happens at the lunch break here, where everybody looks at their phone. The same thing happens in playgrounds right across the country where phones aren't banned at the moment, where kids are, instead of talking to each other, or playing handball or playing soccer or whatever they want to do during lunch break, are all standing in a circle looking at a phone. These young people at my old school were telling me, "We were talking to each other." So that's a good thing too. I said to them, "What about cyberbullying, because surely the respite from 9 o'clock till 3 o'clock of not having all of that in your face is a good thing?" And they said, "Yeah, that's true, but that hits you in the face as soon as school finishes, it doesn't disappear entirely."
JOURNALIST: Just last week the Education Minister here was adamant that the ban would not be applied. This morning, we saw a softening from the Premier saying that her mind is open to the idea of prohibition, and she was looking to the Federal Government to lead by way of that implementation, but it's not a Federal Government responsibility, surely? I mean you said it yourself; the States have their own rules. Was she deflecting responsibility, do you think?
CLARE: No. I wouldn't interpret it like that. Different States implement their own schemes, but it's always best if we can have a nationally consistent approach. I'm up for that; happy to do that as well. I can't tell States what to do, but I can bring us all together and try and develop a national approach, and I'm really happy to do that.
JOURNALIST: So foster a spirit of collaboration as opposed to leadership necessarily?
CLARE: We've got a national curriculum; we've got a national approach to try to tackle the big challenges in education like kids falling behind at school, we've developed a national teacher workforce plan. I reckon with a bit of goodwill here; we can develop a national approach to the banning of phones in all schools.
JOURNALIST: I have some questions for Minister Wells. Wesley Mission's been forced to close at Sydney aged care centres as it struggles to pay for the Government's new national reforms to sector. Will you increase funding for aged care provides so they can afford to implement changes?
WELLS: Well, the Royal Commission asked all of us to employ 24/7 nurses, and that was a key recommendation from the Royal Commission, and that Royal Commission report was handed down more than two years ago, so this was no blindside, and I'm disappointed that Wesley Mission, the first I heard of this was last night. When I met with the CEOs of Wesley Mission just two weeks ago, and they did not raise this with me. If they had we could have told them that the Government provides a lot of resources and information and support to facilities who are struggling to meet the requirements that we are asking of them, that the Royal Commission asked all of us to implement, and that we are working with plenty of other facilities who are doing their best to make 24/7 nursing requirements land by 1 July.
JOURNALIST: A lot of those agencies that you are supporting though are in regional areas and are struggling to fill those roles anyway. The latest industry survey shows that about two‑thirds of residential aged care facilities are running at a loss, and that this tipping point will be reached by more facilities in the coming months. What are you going to do to prevent more tipping over?
WELLS: I wouldn't agree with that characterisation, because that round of reporting that you're talking about was the last quarter before the AN-ACC funding model that we introduced kicked in on 1 October last year. That's for a 10 per cent uplift in the funding to all the facilities, including regional, rural and remote across the country. So we've yet to get the data through that [indistinct] to whether or not that has started to have an effect and start to track towards improvement.
There's also a lot in the works. We're working on the IHACPA model which will come in 1 July as well, and there's indexation, you'll see the 15 per cent pay rise. The Albanese Labor Government is delivering the biggest single injection of funding to aged care since federation in a 15 per cent pay rise for aged care workers which also kicks in 1 July. The workforce shortages you’re talking about are substantial and they affect all facilities, and we are working with them on that, but they haven't emerged overnight, and they haven't emerged since May last year when we took office, and they haven't even emerged since the Royal Commission asked us to do these things that we're doing to lift the standard of care that emerged out of nine years of neglect from the previous Government, and whilst our massive injection of funding on 1 July, 15 per cent pay rise, will have a huge effect, it's what the Commission has asked us to do, it is going to take a while for that to work through the system. So we're asking everyone to keep faith, tell us and work with us to make sure that we look after the residents and give them the kind of care that they deserve.
JOURNALIST: How is the Government going to pay that 15 per cent pay rise?
WELLS: You will find out in the Budget.
JOURNALIST: Minister, with regards to the Wesley Mission aged care homes closing down because the Government staff requirements will be too hard to meet, is your target going to spook centres into closing down, and how does the Federal Government intend to plug the gap when more homes inevitably start to close down in other cities and States?
WELLS: So I disagree with the characterisation, what I just said to Jemima. The Royal Commission asked all of us to introduce 24/7 nursing to all nursing homes, and they asked all of us to do that more than two years ago. So Wesley Mission was aware of that ask from the Royal Commission more than two years ago, and as of two weeks ago when I met the CEOs from Wesley Mission, they did not raise this with me. Had they raised it with me, I could have told them about all the resourcing and information and support that is available to facilities who are facing crippling workforce shortages and who are worried that they will not meet requirements.
The other point I'd make, discount the scare campaigns that are out there. I'm not strapping on my GoPro and my Blundstones and kicking down the doors of facilities on 1 July that have failed to meet 24/7 nursing requirements. I appreciate the scale of what we're asking people to do, but I refuse to apologise for being ambitious for aged care. The Royal Commission asked us to lift the standard of care in this country, it asked us to introduce 24/7 nursing requirements, so that is what we are doing.
JOURNALIST: Is there scope for like financial assistance to the facilities that are struggling?
WELLS: We do that, which is why, if facilities reach out to the Department of Health and Aged Care, we can give them that information and resourcing, including labour support, where it's required, particularly in regional areas.