Interview - 612 ABC Drive with Tim Cox - Child care reforms

  • Assistant Minister for Education

612 ABC Drive with Tim Cox
28/08/2014 4:50 PM

SUBJECT: Child care reforms.

TIM COX: It can be tough to find the right childcare when you decide to go back to work after having children, or maybe when you move into a new area. It seems that that's especially the case if you are here in Queensland. New figures from the Federal Government show that while the number of childcare providers is on the rise, Queensland is not necessarily following the same trends as other states. So to talk you through what is taking place and perhaps why it's good afternoon to the Assistant Minister for Education Sussan Ley. Very good afternoon to you.

SUSSAN LEY: Good afternoon Tim, it's good to be on your program.

TIM COX: Start me off with some figures comparing Queensland to other parts.

SUSSAN LEY: Well in Queensland we've got 265,000 children enrolled in formal care, and it's actually an increase from the previous quarter in - the same quarter in 2007. So the number is going up. Some of the occupancy is not as tight in Queensland as other states because of a change in the time children start school, which leaves a bit more capacity in the pre-school year in Queensland long day care. But what we do see in Queensland, same as across the country, is a pressure on parents to find flexible child care that meets their working hours at a price they can afford. So that's extremely noticeable because Queensland, the economy relies a lot on hospitality, which is shift work, and also the mining sector which is fly in-fly out and so has unusual hours.

TIM COX: How flexible is childcare, just as an industry, as an economic entity? Can it move how it operates to mirror that sort of need, that sort of demand?

SUSSAN LEY: Well at the moment it can't because long day care has to be - which is what the Federal Government principally subsidises through the Child Care Benefit and rebate, tends to be open 7:00AM to 6:00PM. And family day care is available on - around the clock at weekends, but most family day care educators choose not to work those hours. And we don't have a product, if you like, that operates in people's homes to the extent that we probably need it. We do have some in-home care, but it's all - what this hinges on is what the Government provides families as a subsidy to help them with the cost of care; because if governments don't provide any of this then people effectively say: we can't afford to go back to work. And they're getting to that point anyway with the costs increasing the way they are.

TIM COX: So are you considering changing the way that sort of assistance is applied? The amount of assistance that's applied?

SUSSAN LEY: Well changes do need to be made, and that's why we've got this Productivity Commission inquiry. Final submissions close on 5 September and we'll have a report in October. It's been a rigorous, economy-wide, nation-wide, productivity-focused inquiry done by the Productivity Commission, because this is about workplace participation just as much as it is about early education and care. And those things matter to Government - and on a personal level it's frustrating when I meet, usually, women who are ready to go back to work in the job they're trained to do - they might for example be nurses, or police, or emergency workers - and after having a baby they've got to go back to the desk job, the nine to five, the office; we lose their talents, their imagination, their ingenuity, their productivity, and it's all because they can't get childcare.

TIM COX: Has the Productivity Commission hearing, or the Productivity Commission inquiry, heard enough from exactly the sort of people you're describing now?

SUSSAN LEY: Look it has, and it's already brought down a draft report, and for I think the first time they've actually taken brief email comments - they got about 800 of those, and people can actually email them now.

TIM COX: These people are too busy to do it any other way.

SUSSAN LEY: And I know, and that's what we said: look can you just knock something up and send it as you travel on the train or bus to work, we just want you to say how it is for you and the frustrations people are experiencing. And yes, we've got the peak bodies giving us beautifully printed submissions, but I really loving reading the short sharp comments from mum and dad, who are dealing with a ... classically chaotic period of life - you've got the mortgage to pay off, the children are small, you've got to go to work, you've got to find time, and we consider it - it's our responsibility as Government to provide a system that supports that, and gives families those choices.

TIM COX: Got to ask you quickly, if one of the things that's on the table for you, Sussan Ley, is perhaps that there needs to be more funding assistance for parents, and also perhaps for child care centre operators, to meet this demand for more flexible hours?

SUSSAN LEY: Look Tim it's not about adding more money. Labor actually did that while they were in Government and fees went up 53 per cent in their six years, and they added a bit more money. We've got 31.5 billion over the forward estimates. We're going to do what we do within that funding envelope, but there is scope to redevelop the system, to come up with new policies, and to make it work. And I'm absolutely confident that when it comes to the funding we allocate, that's a very strong financial position from the Commonwealth.

TIM COX: Good to talk to you, thanks for your time.

SUSSAN LEY: Thank you.

TIM COX: That's Sussan Ley, the Assistant Minister for Education. And if you go to the Productivity Commission website you will find details of the inquiry they are running.


For more information

Media Contact:
Non-media queries: 1300 566 046