ALICIA PAYNE: It’s my great pleasure to be back here at MOCCA in Manuka with Minister for Education Jason Clare and Minister for Early Childhood Anne Aly to talk about the really important legislation that we will be introducing today to provide much cheaper child care for over 1.2 million families. So, I’ll hand over to Jason to talk more about that. Thank you.
JASON CLARE, MINISTER FOR EDUCATION: Thanks very much, Alicia, and thanks Anne, thanks Rowena and the team for letting us visit here in Manuka today. Today’s a really important day.
Today we’ll introduce legislation into the Parliament to cut the cost of child care for more than a million Australian families. Anybody who has children in child care knows just how expensive it is. The cost of child care has jumped by a whopping 41 per cent just in the last eight years. Cutting the cost of child care was a key part of our election campaign, and today I’ll have the privilege to introduce legislation to honour that commitment.
As I said, it will cut the cost of child care for more than one million Australian families, and that’s good for children, it’s good for parents and it’s good for our economy. For our children, it will mean they’re better prepared for school. For parents, it will make it easier to return to paid work. And we know that a lot of Australians want to be able to get back to paid work after they’ve had children, but the cost of child care is a barrier.
About 60 per cent of Australian women who have children under the age of six are working part-time in paid work, rather than full-time. So, the cost of child care is a massive roadblock stopping a lot of Australians from going back to paid work. Why? Well, often working a fourth or a fifth day is all gobbled up in child care costs. So, if we can make child care cheaper, it will help more Australian families, in particular a lot of Australian mums, to go back to work. And that’s good for Australian businesses who are desperate at the moment for more skilled workers.
Analysis by Treasury indicates that the impact of this policy will mean that effectively up to 37,000 extra full-time workers will be available for Australian businesses in the financial year 2023–24 because of this policy. So, this is a big and important reform. It’s good for children. It’s good for parents and it’s good for our economy. I might just get Anne to make a few remarks and then happy to take questions.
ANNE ALY, MINISTER FOR EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION: Thanks, Jason. Hi, everyone. Well, first of all, thanks so much to Rowena and the wonderful staff and children here at MOCCA. MOCCA is just one example of a great early childhood learning centre that is getting way above the National Quality Standard and achieving great things for the cutie-patooties that you see here.
What this reform means today that we’re introducing into Parliament, the cheaper child care package, means that children like the children that you see here are going to have more access to quality early childhood education. All the research shows, and we know that these years are formative years. Have a look around you. Have a look at how these children are learning through play. This is what early childhood does; it prepares children for school. It prepares them for life. And we know that when we invest in these early years, we get better outcomes later.
But as Jason mentioned, it is also about, you know, allowing primary caregivers, who are mostly women, to go back to work if they want to. I know that in my electorate of Cowan, I meet so many families where, you know, they’ve sat down and worked with the calculator, and they worked out that working an extra day or an extra two days just wasn’t worth it because of the cost of early childhood education. Well, we’re making that change today. The sector has needed reform. Over the last eight years, as Jason mentioned, the cost of early childhood education has increased by 41 per cent. This is going to give families some relief to the cost‑of‑living pressures. Most importantly, our precious asset, these children who you see here today and children right across Australia, are going to be able to benefit from early childhood education.
CLARE: Happy to take some questions.
JOURNALIST: Any idea why it’s gone up so much [indistinct] to obviously work that out, but –
CLARE: Well, there’s a bunch of reasons, whether it’s the cost of rent or whether it’s the cost of staff or a shortage in the service as well. We know that we don’t have enough child care workers in Australia at the moment. We’re short by about 6,500. Predictions are that that will get bigger and bigger. It’s one of the reasons why I’ve committed to an extra 20,000 university places for next year and the year after. Many of those, a lot of those, will be for people who are training up to be early childhood education teachers and educators. That’s why we’ve allocated 465,000 free TAFE places, to train up the workforce of the future because we’re going to need more early educators, not less.
JOURNALIST: The cost is what, $5.5 billion over four years. It’s a hefty price. You don’t see it as a cost?
CLARE: It’s a bit less than that. But this is an investment because what it means is it helps Australians to get back to work and, particularly for children who are four – there’s a lot of four-year-old kids here today - analysis by PWC indicates that if you invest in preschool four-year-olds, every dollar you invest creates $2 for the economy. I mentioned the Treasury analysis that shows if you can make child care cheaper, it helps more Australian parents, in particular mums, to be able to get back to work. And the extra hours that they will be able to work because of this policy equates to up to 37,000 extra workers in the workforce.
And remember who we’re talking about here. We’re talking about people who have already got qualifications, who are already skilled up, who have taken a bit of time off to have children. They want to get back to work. Their employers want them back. It doesn’t make financial sense for them to go back to work or to work extra hours or days because of the cost of child care. If we can cut that, it makes financial sense to go back to work. It means their businesses will become more productive.
JOURNALIST: If the productivity benefits are so great, why was the decision made not to bring this forward – the subsidies forward to January?
CLARE: There’s some practical steps we need to take. Number one, we need to pass the legislation. It will go through a Senate committee process over the course of the next few months, but we hope to get it passed by the end of the year. Then we have to set up an ICT system. That’s a big task. In addition to that, there’s about 23 different third parties that we need to interact with as we develop that. To give you an idea how big this task is, when the former Government introduced its child care changes, it took about 50 weeks from announcement to implementation. We think we will be able to get this done in a shorter period than that.
JOURNALIST: It depends if – if the child care centres don’t play ball. Is there a guarantee that every centre will, you know, participate? And what’s the situation –
CLARE: Look, I think child care centres will be very excited about this because they know what it will mean is, for their parents and their kids, child care will be cheaper. And in terms of playing ball, there’s already a cap on prices linked to the child care subsidy, so that’s important. But if there are further measures that need to be taken to make sure we’re putting downward pressure on prices, that’s what the ACCC inquiry is all about. That’s why we said it will start on 1 January, it will report its final recommendations by the end of next year, but it will be able to give me and the Treasurer interim findings before 1 July, when this legislation starts.
JOURNALIST: How much of a difference will this make in terms of cost of living? It’s one of your bigger ones you took to the election.
CLARE: It’s going to provide real and practical relief for a lot of Australian families. If you’re an Aussie family on the median wage, so 120 grand a year, and you’ve got one child at child care for three days a week, we reckon it will cut the cost of childcare for you by about 1,700 bucks. That’s 1,700 bucks that’s in your pocket, in your purse, in your wallet, not having to be spent on other things like child care.
JOURNALIST: How many families will benefit?
CLARE: More than one million Australian families will benefit from this. We think about 1.26 million Aussie families will benefit from this legislation that cuts the cost of child care.
JOURNALIST: What about then all the other Australians who won’t see cost‑of‑living relief in this Budget?
CLARE: We know that things are tough out there. The Treasurer has said that things are expected to get tougher before they get better. That’s why we’re taking a number of practical steps where we can. That includes increasing the minimum wage by over five per cent. That will help a lot of Aussies that are living on really low incomes. Increasing the pension will help a lot of Aussie pensioners. In addition to cutting the cost of child care, we’re also cutting the cost of medicine. That will help a lot of Aussies who spend a lot of money at the chemist every week.
In addition to that, for Aussies who are struggling to pay the rent, and we know there are a lot of Australians who are struggling with rent bills, as a national Government we can do more here too, and that’s why we’ve committed to building more affordable housing and building more social housing. I just hope that the Liberal Party – that have been against increasing the minimum wage, that have been against this child care legislation, and that have been against building more affordable housing – change their position and recognise that these are practical things that we can do to help Aussie families.
JOURNALIST: If you’re at working age in this country and you don’t have a family, is there anything in this Budget for you?
CLARE: I’m not going to pre-empt the Budget. Wait until Jim hands it down in a couple of weeks’ time.
JOURNALIST: Top teaching graduates will be offered paid jobs while they’re studying in New South Wales. Is this the sort of scheme we need to see nation‑wide in order to retain and encourage teachers?
CLARE: We’ve got a massive shortage of teachers right across the country at the moment. There’s not enough young people that are going into uni to be teachers. We’ve got to fix that. We’ve seen a drop of about 16 per cent in the last 10 years. One of the things that we’ll do – and you’ll see this in the Budget – is to provide bursaries or scholarships worth up to 40 grand to encourage our best and brightest to become teachers. But in addition to that, we need to better prepare teaching students to become teachers.
One of the things that came out of the roundtable a couple of weeks ago was even teachers that have won awards around the country, people like Rebecca West, former teacher of the year, said they didn’t feel ready to teach when they started at their first school. So, more prac when you’re at uni is an important part of that, and I’ve announced a review into that.
And then the third part of it, which really came out in that roundtable, was the fact that a lot of teachers who are really experienced are leaving the profession because they feel burnt out. There’s a report from the Productivity Commission that came out last week that made the point that Australian teachers work longer hours than their overseas counterparts, but they spend less time face to face with kids than their overseas counterparts. About 40 percent of the time that they spend at school is teaching. So, if we can reduce teachers’ workloads, it will mean that kids get better results and teachers are less likely to leave the profession.
JOURNALIST: There are reports a staff member in Lidia Thorpe’s office was scared when she had an outburst during a meeting. Is that kind of behaviour acceptable in Parliament and is the Respect@Work message sinking in?
CLARE: I don’t know the details of what happened, but I think in general terms, politicians, members of staff and everybody that works in the building have learnt an important lesson, which we shouldn’t have needed to learn over the course of the last years, and that is basic respect and to treat people with dignity and respect and act professionally, whether we’re working in Parliament House or wherever we are in Australia. And so, you know, these are lessons that we shouldn’t have had to learn but we’ve learnt them the hard way, and I would hope that everybody who works at Parliament House would have learned from the work Kate Jenkins has done.