Gary Adshead, 6 PR: Productivity Commission hearings into child care

  • Assistant Minister for Education


SUBJECT/S:  Productivity Commission hearings into child care

GARY ADSHEAD:  We touched on this earlier in the week. It’s in relation to childcare in Australia and where it should be heading or what issues need to be addressed, and there’s been a Productivity Commission inquiry and a draft report into this, but today there are hearings in Perth to look at what people want from that draft report and which areas of it should go forward and the Government should tackle head on. At the moment, Assistant Minister for Education Sussan Ley, who is the minister responsible for childcare, is in WA to discuss this further, and she joins me on the line. Thanks very much for your time, Minister.

SUSSAN LEY:  Good morning, Gary. Lovely to be on your program.

GARY ADSHEAD:  Thanks for coming. Now, just quickly, there are a lot of issues around childcare, we know, but one thing that is a constant on this program is the amount of money that childcare workers get paid. It does seem for the responsibility that you give them, they seem to get less per hour than the cleaner that you might employ to clean your toilet.

SUSSAN LEY:  Look, it’s constantly raised with me, and as the sector has become more professional - and we understand this is not babysitting; this is early education and care - I’ve always said to educators there’s a strong rationale to have that looked at. And in fact, there’s a case proceeding through Fair Work Commission right now and – or, hearings happening probably quite soon. So the Federal Government doesn’t set the wages of the childcare workforce. We don’t in fact set the wages of anyone, unless they work for us as federal public servants. So we’re quite happy for this matter to be determined by the Fair Work Commission, the independent arbiter, if you like, and see what it comes up with in its conclusions probably later this year or early next year.

GARY ADSHEAD:  Alright. So some of the issues you’re looking at, then, on top of that, are the expense of putting your kids into childcare. What are the concerns that you’re hearing about that?

SUSSAN LEY:  Well, parents say to me, I can’t afford not to go back to work, and then when they look at the cost of childcare, they say, I can’t afford to go back to work. So they’re caught in this conundrum of rising costs, which under Labor went up 53 per cent, and out-of-pocket costs went up 40 per cent in the last four years of Labor, so we’ve inherited a fairly broken system. Not only that but flexibility – we’ve got a lot of people in the West who are part of a fly-in, fly-out workforce, and a lot of people who work shift work, particularly in the hospitality industry, that support so much of what happens in Perth. And it’s just impossible to get care in those out of – or, out of the ordinary situations. So the system that we have now was effectively built on the nine-to-five, five day a week workforce from a generation ago, and this Productivity Commission inquiry is all about new settings for the next generation.

GARY ADSHEAD:  Can you tell us whether it’s on the increase; that people using childcare, there are figures that show it’s increasing in a large way?

SUSSAN LEY:  Yes, there are. I mean, we’ve got more than a million Australian families using childcare. We’ve got 28-and-a-half billion allocated just in childcare benefit and childcare rebates from the Budget for the next four years…

GARY ADSHEAD:  Twenty eight – sorry. Twenty eight billion?

SUSSAN LEY:  Twenty-eight-and-a-half billion just in childcare benefit and rebate. In fact, the total cost in the Budget, because we fund some other things as well, is closer to $31 billion. So we are making a huge investment in this, and we’ve got to get it right. And we’ve got to get it right for families because if you can’t afford to go back to work – or, let me put it this way. People are building their working life around the childcare that’s available instead of the other way around: making childcare fit their working life and their working hours. The PC is making its final report in October. It’s independent from government. I don’t know what that final report will say, but what I know is I want as many West Australians as possible to have their say as we lead up to that conclusion, and they can do that up until 5 September. And if you want to just send a quick email to the Productivity Commission, that’s fine. Doesn’t need to be a long, complicated dissertation. Just please have your say.

GARY ADSHEAD:  Yeah, well if they want to call through now, 922 11882. Feel free to call through if you’re listening and you want to speak to the Minister. I don’t think you’ll have a problem with taking some calls if they do come through. What’s wrong with the childcare system that you see? If you want to share your views on it, 922 11882. At the end of this, are you hopeful, seriously hopeful that’s it not just going to be another wasted opportunity?

SUSSAN LEY:  It won’t be a wasted opportunity. We said in opposition the first thing we would do in this policy area was launch a Productivity Commission inquiry and that’s across the whole of the economy. It’s looking at the whole system, because this is about women’s participation in the workforce; sometimes men’s participation, but usually women. It’s about women going back to work after having children, not losing their place in the workforce because they’ve had to step away for too long, or more importantly, being able to go back if they want to, to the job that they’ve left. Too often I meet women who say well, I was a nurse or a frontline emergency worker, I’ve had children, I can’t go back to that shift work that I love and that I’m so good at, I have to go back to the, if you like, boring desk job in the same employer, because that’s the only way I can get childcare. Now, we’re losing the talented contributions of so many Australians, particularly women, after having children and I know that that adds – you know, we’re losing economic productivity as a whole because of that. So that’s why we’ve asked the Productivity Commission to look into this. It’s got to be an economy-wide view of the whole system.

GARY ADSHEAD:  Has anyone come and said how about the fact that day care, given that we know that now we’re looking at that being early education of our children at young ages, could become part of the education system? That, like we see kindergartens that might be attached to the primary school that then might be attached to the high school and they go through from there. That actual day care becomes public – because it does seem to be all about private businesses that run these centres. Do you think that we’re ready for that? I know that that’s the model in some European countries, where it’s the sort of the first day of school almost.

SUSSAN LEY:  Look, it is the model and it’s also very expensive and what I want to focus on is parent’s choice. The WA Government does it very well in having that pre-school year inside the school system; I actually applaud that.     And it is quite messy, the transition between what might be long day care and into school, because it’s two different areas of funding, but I think it’s up to governments to get that right; for state and federal governments to manage that transition through sensible policy. And what we do is fund childcare benefit and childcare rebate to parents to enable them to go back to work. And because of the new quality – the new quality framework inside the childcare system, it’s become all about early education. And yes it does need to be better streamlined and I know the Productivity Commission is looking into recommendations around that.

GARY ADSHEAD:  Alright. Well look, we will put out the website there if people want to call in and – or call in and also send an email in relation to this. Thanks very much for joining us today Minister.

SUSSAN LEY:  Thanks for having me on the program.


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