4BC Brisbane: Productivity Commission draft report recommendations

  • Assistant Minister for Education


SUBJECT: Productivity Commission draft report recommendations

PATRICK CONDREN: Earlier we touched on the Productivity Commission’s report into Australia’s childcare system. It’s calling for means-tested childcare rebates, middle and upper income families to pay more, and for rebates to cover the cost of nannies. As well, grandparents who want to get into the childcare industry to access government funding, they’ll need to do a TAFE course. Now, Sussan Ley is the Assistant Minister for Education. A short time ago I spoke to the Minister and asked her what she thought of the Productivity Commission draft report into childcare.

SUSSAN LEY: Look, I’m excited that this draft report is on the table. The final one is coming in October, and then government will have some real opportunity for reform. A once in a generation opportunity to change the policy settings, which, let’s face it, are not working for families today. They belong to the nine to five working week, not to the 24/7 economy in which we all seem to operate.

PATRICK CONDREN: What about the notion that some of them will adversely impact middle-income earners? Some of the recommendations.

SUSSAN LEY: Look, I’ve seen the PC’s recommendations, and they’ve actually asked question of us – as in, the Australian people, about their cost model. So they want ideas coming back to them. So nothing is set, and of course it is only a draft report and we’ll decide what we do, ultimately. But my intention is that we come up with policies that are more affordable for families, and that includes middle-income families. Because it’s them that I often hear from who say: well, I’ve worked out I can work two or three days a week, but after that it’s just not worth it, my childcare costs are too high. So they’re not participating in the workforce, and we’re losing out. I mean, there’s 165,000 parents with children under 13 who’d actually like to work, or work longer hours, and they’re part of the under-participation that the entire economy is losing from.

PATRICK CONDREN: Okay, let’s deal with at least one specific in the Commission’s recommendations; that’s paying grandparents, get them into a TAFE, get them a qualification, and then grandparents can be paid to look after their grandkids. What’s to stop people who don’t want to go to TAFE just getting cash in the hand?

SUSSAN LEY: Ah, look, they can do that now and they are. In fact, there’s 10,000 au pairs currently working in Australian homes, and we know from the visas – the tourist visas and the turnover that there’s a huge demand. So that’s outside the system; parents can do that now. They’ll be able to do that, they always have. What I would say is that if we the government provide a subsidy to somebody who’s working in the home, it would be within the current regulated system. I’ve always said we won’t pay nannies to unstack the dishwasher; this is about early education and care and looking after children, and parents participating and going back into the workforce. So we would take care with any recommendations around that, to make sure that the qualifications and the integrity of the framework, if you like, are kept in place.

PATRICK CONDREN: So what’s your message, then, to middle-income earners and grandparents who might be looking at this and thinking, uh-oh?

SUSSAN LEY: Well, I – my message to everyone is: I hear your frustration, I hear it every day, and I am determined to bring about a better system. One that gives you the flexibility to find the childcare that suits your working life, not have to design your working life around the limited childcare options that are available to you. And, you know, I think of the shift workers, Patrick. We’ve got emergency service workers, police, nurses, and when they step away to have a baby, they come back to an office job. Why did they join those jobs in the first place? Because they love that front-line work and they’re really good at it. And when we lose them – I mean, I know the office jobs are important, but when we lose them from doing the job they love and that they’re trained for, just because they can’t find childcare – which may need to be round the clock because of the hours that they work, then I know that we have a system that’s close to breaking point.

PATRICK CONDREN: So round the clock childcare is something you’d like to see?

SUSSAN LEY: Well, if you have a in-home carer you can actually access that now. There’s not a lot of places and it’s quite difficult and complicated. But we do want to see the system freed up to be – so that it supports everybody’s working life, and everybody’s working choices. And yes, there are some shift workers who do work round the clock. But there are many more who just finish after the childcare centre closes. And I talk to parents who worry all day that the boss is going to ask them to stay back, and that they won’t be able to make it by five past six or five past seven, when they have to pick up their children. And then they feel, you know – it’s tough. It’s tough at that time in a young family’s life – you’ve got to go home, you’ve got to get everybody fed and ready for bed. You’ve got to get up in the morning and start it all again; and if you’ve got a long commute to and from work, you know, that’s tough. So these are the things that are front and centre of my consideration. I want to give parents choice and I want to relieve them from some of that stress that is taking its toll.

PATRICK CONDREN: Okay, when will we get the final word on this?

SUSSAN LEY: October is when the final report comes down. The PC, by the way, wants to hear from parents again. Submissions to this draft report close on September 5; I’d love lots of people to have their say, and I hope to be able to take some ideas to Cabinet in early 2015. So it’s not that far away, and as I said, it’s a once in a generation chance to change this up and make it way better than it is now.

PATRICK CONDREN: Minister, thank you for your time this morning.

SUSSAN LEY: Thank you for having me.

PATRICK CONDREN: Assistant Minister for Education Sussan Ley.

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