666 ABC Canberra Breakfast with Philip Clark

  • Assistant Minister for Education

666 ABC Canberra Breakfast with Philip Clark
26/08/14 7:13am

SUBJECT/S: Interview with Federal Assistant Minister for Education Sussan Ley.

PHILIP CLARK: Interesting figures on childcare in the ACT. ACT residents are being encouraged to get out and have their say about childcare, particularly with the Productivity Commission’s inquiry into childcare continuing its public hearings in Canberra today. The interesting figures out: the ACT has had a huge increase in demand for childcare services; something like 70 per cent since 2007. That’s a massive increase in childcare. The number of demands for childcare places and children have increased hugely. Look, it’s a story around the country as well, mind you the ACT was only – one of only two states to experience a drop in the number of hours wanted, leading many to observe that this underlines the need for flexibility. What is the future of childcare in the ACT? Federal Minister – Assistant Minister for Education Sussan Ley, who’s got responsibility for childcare, joins me on the line this morning. Minister good morning.

SUSSAN LEY: Good morning Philip.

PHILIP CLARK: It’s a – it’s in demand around the country isn’t it? I mean the ACT particularly here; 70 per cent that’s a big demand, but around the country the story’s pretty much the same isn’t it?

SUSSAN LEY: It is and costs are going up, hours of available care are going down and parents are screaming to us to fix the system and that’s why we’re having a Productivity Commission inquiry. We promised it before the last election. It’s having, I think, its final hearing in Canberra today and the final report comes down in October. We will bring new policy settings to the Parliament early next year. So I want to say to parents in the ACT, I know this is difficult, but we do have a plan to solve this problem that is, it appears, getting worse and worse year by year.

PHILIP CLARK: Okay, tell me about that. What do you want to do?

SUSSAN LEY: Well, we have to find ways to make care more flexible. If, in the ACT, the demand has gone up – and I think one of the reasons for that is people move to the territory and they don’t have extended family to help them, so they really do rely on formal childcare. Because it’s not available often after 6pm at night and, if you are a shift worker, that doesn’t work for you, that’s one problem that absolutely has to be sorted. The PC has brought down a draft report with lots of interesting recommendations. We haven’t settled on anything because this is only in the draft stage, but I note at the hearings today the Police Federation is appearing and one of the things they said, as did the nurses and the emergency workers, was that if you’re a parent and you, you know, after the birth of your child, you don’t come back to front line work, you come back to the office job, the desk job and that doesn’t work for you; that’s not what your passion is, that’s not why you joined the service and they lose your talents and your abilities because they have to slot you into something nine to five. So I’m very conscious of that. I’m also conscious Philip of the fact that prices have gone up. Under Labor they went up 53 per cent in six years. For many families that’s just unaffordable.

PHILIP CLARK: I mean that’s a – look, I mean and that – you’ve hit open a key issue here and given the demands for better accreditation, better qualification for childcare workers, given the demands indeed for childcare workers to be paid a reasonable wage for what they’re doing, but plus the demands for certification of centres, we’re only going to see upward pressure on prices aren’t we? Childcare’s only going to get more expensive.

SUSSAN LEY: Well, we’ve got to be aware that there is a price above which parents will not pay. There are 10,000 au pair visas in Australia at the moment and the au pairs are actually appearing at the hearing today as well, cultural au pairs, because people are moving away from the current system into other arrangements.

PHILIP CLARK: Which is about flexibility, because an au pair gives you more flexibility.

SUSSAN LEY: Well, it’s about choice and there’s nothing wrong with that. However, I’m a strong supporter of the formal regulated system and the quality education and care that we have developed is, if you like, a very strong, very good product, it’s excellent for children, but you’ve got to – we’ve got to be aware that there is a price over which parents won’t pay or worse, they won’t return to work. I talk to parents every day who say I can’t afford to stay home but I can’t afford to go back to work either.

PHILIP CLARK: Yeah, it’s a common dilemma isn’t it?

SUSSAN LEY: Common dilemma, and then you couple that with ‘I don’t have childcare at the centre near my home or work’, it makes it even worse. So I’m already working with my state colleagues to remove regulation and red tape, and to some degree that will bring back that pressure on prices. But we’re asking the Productivity Commission and people for their feedback so that we can fix the system.

PHILIP CLARK: What about plans for the childcare rebate, and how’s that going to affect parents in Canberra? If you’re axing the rebate, the costs are simply going to be higher, aren’t they?

SUSSAN LEY: Well, there’s no suggestion we’ll axe the rebate. The rebate might turn into a payment that’s called something else. That’s, by the way, what the Productivity Commission has suggested that the benefit and rebate be combined and…

PHILIP CLARK: What, into some sort of voucher idea?

SUSSAN LEY: Well, they’re saying that it would be paid directly to the centre based on the deemed cost of care. So one of the things we have to work out through this process is what is the real cost of childcare? I mean, there are some centres that offer a lot of extras, and at the moment the rebate is available for you, as a parent, for whatever the cost of childcare is. It might be $130 and you might be in a very premium centre in the Eastern Suburbs of Sydney. What is the real cost of care? And the PC has come up with a complex table and a way of calculating this which they’ve asked for feedback on. I mean, the good thing about their process at the moment is they’re saying to families in the sector this is what we think might work but you tell us what you want, and it’s good that they haven’t just said this is the way the world should look. That’s why I’m really encouraging people to have their say before submissions close on 5 September.

PHILIP CLARK: I’m speaking with Minister Sussan Ley. She’s the Assistant Minister for Education. We’re talking about the Productivity Commission’s inquiry into childcare and early childhood learning. It’s got public hearings in Canberra today bef… this is all prior to the Government, of course, making some more considered decisions on the future of childcare. It’s a basic – look, it’s not just an equity issue, is it? It’s a basic productivity issue. We ought to be getting more women into the workforce because – not because of equity – well, equity reasons aside, it’s just a simple productivity issue, isn’t it? You know, we’re holding back the country’s productivity by preventing women from participating fully in the workforce, and that’s what childcare’s about.

SUSSAN LEY: We are, and it’s frustrating that we’re losing the talents and the imagination and the contribution of so many women, and it usually is women. There are some men, of course, who stay home and there are some situations where the woman is the major breadwinner as well. So we’ve got all sorts of different families in this mix, but where there are children and there is work we need high quality childcare and we just need it to be available and affordable. And, you know, I’m really excited by the Productivity Commission process, by their new and different recommendations and ideas, but also by the ideas that are coming back to us through this process from people who have thought about this and who are overwhelmingly emphasising that they need this fixed, they need the hours of work that they can’t now get. I talk to women who are working two days a week as a bookkeeper when they’re trained as an accountant because that’s all that they can manage and, again, as you say, Philip, it’s a productivity issue.

PHILIP CLARK: Okay, alright, but at the bottom line there’s not going to be a reduction in assistance to parents for childcare as a result of this process from the Federal Government.

SUSSAN LEY: Well, we’ve got $31.5 billion in the funding envelope over the next four years. We’ve said to the PC you have to find a solution within this funding envelope and that makes sense, but that’s a very strong financial position that we are in if that’s what we have on the table, and we do. So it might look different, but I recognise a few things. One is that childcare is becoming unaffordable no matter what your income is, so this is not about cutting people out of the system. This is finding a way for the system to support everybody, because it’s a very simple fact if you do the sums and you’re going back to work for $20 a week or even $20 a day, you’re probably not going to do it.

PHILIP CLARK: Alright. Sussan Ley, good to talk with you.

SUSSAN LEY: Thank you having me.

PHILIP CLARK: Appreciate your time. Thank you.


PHILIP CLARK: Sussan Ley, who’s the Assistant Minister for Education.


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