Interview - 720 ABC Perth with John McGlue - Draft Productivity Commission Report, VET in schools, Universal Access funding

  • Assistant Minister for Education

720 ABC Perth – John McGlue
13 August 2014 4:39PM

SUBJECT/S – Draft Productivity Commission Report on child care, VET in schools roundtable, Universal Access funding

JOHN MCGLUE:     Well the Abbott Government is currently reviewing how early childhood services are delivered, and how assistance from the Government for these services is paid. And today, the minister responsible joins me in the studio. She’s happy to take your calls, 1300-222-720 is the number. You might have a question about the availability of childcare, the assistance you’re eligible for, and the changes that are coming. There’s a productivity report – a Productivity Commission report out there for discussion at the moment. The Government’s considering that, consulting, and some changes will be nailed down come early next year. The Minister – Assistant Minister for Education, Sussan Ley, welcome to the program.

SUSSAN LEY:         Thank you for having me John, and good afternoon to you and your listeners.

JOHN MCGLUE:     Why are you in Perth?

SUSSAN LEY:         I’m in Perth to conduct a Vet in Schools roundtable, to visit my colleagues and talk childcare, and to pick up the views and the interests of WA families and childcare educators about how they’d like to see the system redesigned. We all know it’s not working, what would – I’m asking the question: what would you like it to look like?

JOHN MCGLUE:     And what are people telling you? What are the key messages you’re getting?

SUSSAN LEY:         Look in WA it’s inflexible, it’s expensive, and it’s hard to get a place in the centre that you want that works for you. People told me this morning, I was – I had a childcare roundtable with my colleague Ian Goodenough in the electorate of Moore, and they said: look we’re designing our work around the childcare that we can get; we should be able to have childcare that fits our working life. Fly-in fly-out workforce is a perfect example. You come back on a swing and your child is booked into the centre, so you pay whether the child goes or not, and you as the person who’s just come home, you want to spend some time. You don’t want your child to go to childcare that day. So the inflexibility is … you know, that’s an example of what was highlighted to me. And we want a system that works for families and serves their needs, and doesn’t cost a fortune.

JOHN MCGLUE:     1300-222-720. Sussan Ley, the Assistant Minister for Education. She’s got the brief on early childcare, and there are big changes coming in how childcare is going to be funded in Australia. We’re probably around six months away from when the Government is going to announce those changes, I’ll question the Minister on that shortly. But if you’d like to put a question to her, 1300-222-720, she would be delighted to hear from you.
Just on those changes, Minister, the Productivity Commission has issued its report; it is pretty extensive and comprehensive. It’s made some significant suggestions and the Government is, what, going to take another six months to figure out what to do?

SUSSAN LEY:         Well no this is a draft report, and actually the Productivity Commission here, last week, had their first public hearing in Perth. They bring their final report down in October to us. We told them they just had a year to do this large piece of work, because we do want to get our skates on. Once they give us the recommendations we’ll be in a position to take something to cabinet next year, and look at it potentially in the budget in 2015.

JOHN MCGLUE:     Well one of the recommendations in the draft report which has been made is that the mainstream childcare support should be a single child-based subsidy that is means tested, activity tested, paid directly to a family’s choice of approved services for up to 100 hours a fortnight. In my mind, the key thing there is about means testing and activity testing. How do you feel about that recommendation? Does it make sense to you?

SUSSAN LEY:         It does make sense but I’m very cautious about means testing because it doesn’t matter what your income is childcare is rapidly becoming unaffordable, and I don’t want to be in a position where the Government says to a family: you’re entire out-of-pocket costs will be met by you, because families simply will not return to work. And it’s usually, but not always, the women, and we by the way do want women to participate in the workforce because we are losing their talents very much in the childbearing years. So I’m cautious about that.

The work test is interesting John, and it comes up in every round table I have. At the moment you can get childcare for 24 hours a week and have no work, study, or training whatsoever. So sometimes working parents say: hey there’s a place in the centre that’s been taken up by a non-working family. But then I recognise that the non-working family might have a need for respite care, or they might want their child to socialise with other children, they might have a family emergency and so on. So, the Productivity Commission has clamped down on that work test and said unless you’re working for 25 hours a fortnight, if you’re doing that you’re in the door otherwise you’re out. I think that’s quite a challenging recommendation, and one of the reasons the PC is seeking feedback is they want to know what people think.

JOHN MCGLUE:     And no doubt you are telling them. 1300-222-720. We’re talking childcare, and childcare for your kids. It’s about to change, no doubt it’s the one thing we’re certain of is that there will be change. Quite the nature of that we don’t know yet, but the Minister is giving some clues. She’s happy to talk to you - about the affordability of childcare as well, which is a big issue for people and whether or not childcare is affordable for you. The Productivity Commission and the Minister keen to hear your experience. 1300-222-720.

Can I ask you about the phrase the approved service provider, or approved services, which the Productivity Commission mentions. And essentially that is I think something which many Australians are keen to see redefined or panel-beaten into a different shape. And it’s this: that for many people they wonder why it is that you cannot get a childcare subsidy, for example, for a family member who’s looking after the children in the family home. To what extent would you like to see major changes in that area?

SUSSAN LEY:         Well I’d like to see people who do work shift work, emergency workers - and we have a huge hospitality industry here in Perth - able to get the childcare they need. And sometimes that might be in their own home. And that is something that we will seriously consider, and certainly the PC talked a lot about in-home care. And people can call it nannying, but I want to get away from the class warfare type of response that often happens when you say the word nanny, because if you’ve got two children, the cost of getting them in the car, getting them to childcare, picking them up at the end of the day, worrying because the centre closes at six o’clock and your boss might want you to stay back late, all adds up to you not going to work at all.

And what I’m saying is if in fact we do support, through Government subsidy, in-home care, it will be within the formal regulated, or as you say approved, system. We won’t be funding somebody to come to your house, working unofficially and unstacking a dishwasher, and doing a bit of child-minding in the process. This is early education and care; it’s a high-quality product. And we want families to participate in it, and if they’re to receive Government subsidies it has to be within that formal framework.

JOHN MCGLUE:     Fourteen to five on Drive, you’re with John McGlue. 1300222720. We’ll come to your calls in just a moment. Sussan Ley, the Assistant Minister for Education is my guest at the studio, she’s got responsibility for early childhood services, and there are big changes coming. Happy to hear from you, and she’s happy to take on board your suggestions; she’s here in Perth trying to learn more about what West Australians want to – want in their childcare services, amongst other things. 1300222720. Let’s go to Paul, Minister. G’day to you.

CALLER PAUL:      How you going there guys?

JOHN MCGLUE:     All well thank you. What would you like to say Paul, or what would you like to ask the Minister?

CALLER PAUL:      I just wanted to ask the Minister, we actually have a couple of childcare centres ourselves, and one of the problems I’ve seen at the moment is that we’re being told that there’s going to be acutally  teach – we need teacher qualifications, we need to be employing a teacher within our childcare centre. And what I’d like to ask the Minister - as a teacher myself I’m aware of the wages – how are childcare centres supposed to be able to afford to pay a teacher, when the ratios are also going to be a lot less, how are we going to be able to afford a teacher with their holidays 12 weeks a year, within the childcare system?

SUSSAN LEY:         Paul I’m sympathetic and it’s something I hear often. As you know, the National Quality Framework is owned now by your government, by the WA Government. I talked to your ministers about this and for example, am encouraging a system where if you can’t get that teacher you can have a waiver in place, or the category of person that can be considered a teacher can be extended, so that you don’t face this difficulty both in access and payment. It’s a huge problem that the wages in childcare compared to the wages in schools – actually it’s not so much the wages, it’s the conditions, the holidays, the hours of work – mean that we’re losing good-quality early childhood teachers to the school system. And you’ve identified a really important problem. I’m working with state and territory ministers to fix it.

JOHN MCGLUE:     Paul, many thanks for that. 1300222720. Sussan Ley let’s go to Dee, who wants to talk about the fact that women at home need some help as well. Dee, welcome to drive.

CALLER DEE:         Hello. I’m also a trained childcare worker who’s no longer in the industry for the reasons Paul was talking about, And also as a mother who knew that my children needed socialisation as well with other children. Yeah, playgroups meant everything only goes so far, and I needed to access childcare occasionally for my children, and yeah, it is expensive as a single wage earner, and yet I respect that childcare workers don’t get paid enough.


CALLER DEE:         It’s a big problem. And I think it’s very complex, and the childcare industry businesses need to make money, parents at home need help, people working part-time need childcare; I think there’s a whole new industry could be set up with people monitoring childcare in the home, and – a bit like aged care, you know, like … aged care facilities are offered to people by organisations. You know, we could do it with childcare as well I think.

JOHN MCGLUE:     Dee thank you-

CALLER DEE:         In the home, yeah.

JOHN MCGLUE:     Dee it’s lovely to hear from you, thank you for that. Let’s get a response form the Minister about what you’ve said Dee. And, well what do you say to her Sussan Ley? There’s a number of issues raised there, and I think Dee would be pretty representative of a number of people in the community.

SUSSAN LEY:         Well, Dee, the good news is that the Federal Government’s investing close to $32 billion over the next four years, so we’ve got a funding envelope sitting there. I won’t be able to get any more money out of Joe Hockey, but I’m not going to have to give any up, that means we can reform and reshape the system within that funding envelope and free it up and do some of the things that you’re hinting at, I believe, once we get through this Productivity Commission process.

But you also make a good point and I’m very careful, as a mother now of adult children, to make judgements about when another mother might need to access childcare; because the reasons are complex and we shouldn’t be making those statements or judgements. So, I’m confident that post this process, we will still have the ability for mums who aren’t actually working to still use early education and care for some of the time for their children.

JOHN MCGLUE:     1300-222-720 is the number; Dee, thank you for that. Cynthia raises a question on text, says: why aren’t childcare centres on school premises, and by the way, Cynthia says, kindly stop referring to stay-at-home parents as not working; raising kids is unpaid work.

SUSSAN LEY:         Cynthia, good point and I like to think of it as, as women we sometimes are one and sometimes the other. I stayed at home with my children for some of the time and then I went to work and then there was a combination of various study, work, part-time, etcetera. So I would never seek to put women - or men for that matter - in categories relating to what they’re doing and I know full well how hard it is with three children under five at home. Now, the point you were making was about…

JOHN MCGLUE:     About the childcare centres being located…

SUSSAN LEY:         At schools.

JOHN MCGLUE:     … in school premises.

SUSSAN LEY:         Well the education – this is one of the complexities. The education system runs kindy in WA, but a different department and essentially the Federal Government, fund childcare. And over the years, childcare and early learning have become closer and closer to school as we recognise that it’s not just babysitting but there is an educational aspect. So, if the education department would like to branch into childcare, I’m happy to have the conversation. I suspect that they wouldn’t, it would involve buildings, infrastructure and funding and that’s always what we come down to when we have these discussions between state and federal. Most important thing is it works, it’s located where parents need it and it has the transition that you need from the childcare setting, to kindy, into school.

JOHN MCGLUE:     Cynthia, I hope that helps. Are you going to meet – Sussan Ley, are you going to meet Peter Collier, the WA Education Minister on this trip?

SUSSAN LEY:         No, but I’ll be having a telephone hook-up with him on Friday, when we have a teleconference of ministerial council. So, we’ll have a chat then.

JOHN MCGLUE:     Seven minutes to five on Drive; you’re with John McGlue. My studio guest is Sussan Ley, the Assistant Minister for Education. She’s got responsibility for early childhood services and big changes coming to those early next year, the Minister is indicating, on the back of a Productivity Commission report which is itself recommending sweeping changes as to how those services are funded in Australia. 1300-222-720. Let’s go to Mike, who wants to make a point about teen parents and the kind of challenges they face. G’day, Mike.

CALLER MIKE:       Hi, how are you going? Yeah, just we’re in the middle of setting up a young parents’ centre and childcare facility at Port School down in Freemantle area. We work with at-risk students there and we’ve had quite a few students in the past that have – the girls have fallen pregnant and it’s quite commonly known that when school students have babies, they drop out and disengage from education. The statistics in WA, and there’s certainly some new ones been released in the last couple of weeks, are quite high, and certainly in the sort of 13, 14-under bracket.

I’ve been sitting in on a young parents’ education network group as well, once we’ve been in the phase of research and looking into what we do and how we do it well. And there’s not one government agency that’s sitting over teen parents, per se. Education is obviously trying to do their school bit, there are sort of, health services trying to do their bit, but not one agency is actually overseeing what’s going on and there’s some good work, the Balga Teen Parents’ Centre is a very successful project, Eyes Wide Open in Mandurah is very successful. There’s also other projects in Midland. There’s not anything, certainly like we’re trying to set up, like the Balga model, where it’s based within the sort of school, linking to the school very closely, in that Freemantle, Coburn, Melville area and we’ve purchased two properties in the front of our school.

We’re turning one side into a childcare facility and we just had our building approval happen today from the City of Coburn and the other side we’ll be turning into a young parents’ centre, which will offer a multitude – a multi-agency approach from all the different agencies working with young mums – and dads, because they get forgotten as well; the teen mums and dads.

JOHN MCGLUE:     So Mike, it’s sounding like, if I can paraphrase it, it’s sounding like you believe there’s no over-arching kind of organisation sitting above this particular sub-section of the market?

CALLER MIKE:       No, certainly not this teen parent area.

JOHN MCGLUE:     Okay, let’s hear from the Minister and see what she’s got to say, Mike.

SUSSAN LEY:         That’s really interesting, Mike, and as you correctly identify, there’s lots of departments, both state and federal and their associated agencies in the mix and I’m interested to learn more and I’m happy for you to contact me on that basis. But, as you’re talking, I’m thinking, well for those teen parents, my concern is that the children are in high-quality childcare while the parents continue school, or education, or enter the world of work. And we do have a program you may be aware of called JET; Jobs, Education and Training. And that’s a fee assistance program for, often, those young parents. And I’d like to know that it’s working well in the context in which you describe, but I’m genuinely interested in what you talk about, so feel free to contact me.

JOHN MCGLUE:     There you go, Mike, an invitation from the Minister to get in touch with your ideas. It’s four to five on Drive, Sussan Ley, the Assistant Minister for Education in the Federal Government is my guest in the studio. Let’s get some more calls before we head towards news. We’ve heard lots from teachers and staff working in the area, but I’m obviously keen to hear from mums and dads as well. Let’s go to Jeff, g’day to you.

CALLER JEFF:       Oh hi John. I’m just wondering if you can ask your guest whether the Federal Government is going to continue to fund the difference between 11 hours and 15 hours of kindergarten provision. As I understand, that funding runs out at the end of this year and is yet to be committed to for 2015 and beyond.

JOHN MCGLUE:     Minister?

SUSSAN LEY:         Jeff and other listeners, forgive this politically-sounded response. The Universal Access policy is being reviewed for its effectiveness in delivering what it set out to do. I said to state ministers, if state ministers get to me the information, I’ll get this done. Unfortunately, the data that was sent to us from various states - and WA was very good, by the way - didn’t match the information that we required, so the process has taken longer than it should have. At the moment, that report is with all the state ministers and they’re deciding whether they’re happy with the contents and so on. The conversation I mentioned we’re having on Friday will cover some of this and I hope to be able to make an announcement soon.

And I recognise that for those that deal with the enrolments in the kindy group next year, that’s of concern given that we’re already at August, but I’m frustrated by it, because I – the national partnership contained the requirement to have this review, state’s didn’t give me the information in the form that we needed it, the data that actually demonstrated what had happened and how it had happened, so hence, it’s been dragged out. But I really do want to bring it to a conclusion as soon as possible and make an announcement.

JOHN MCGLUE:     Two minutes to five, let’s see if we can get one more call in. Ian has been waiting patiently; g’day to you.

CALLER IAN:           Hi John, hi Sussan. Just making a point about stay-at-home mums. My wife – we decided that my wife would stay home and rear the kids and I did it intermittent as well. And just a suggestion that maybe there might be the opportunity for some income splitting to recognise how important child-rearing is and for those who choose to take that financial hit of only one income, that maybe there could be some income splitting or something like that to reward people who do that.

JOHN MCGLUE:     What about that, Minister?

SUSSAN LEY:         Well look, that has been raised over the years. I was in the tax profession before parliament, briefly and it was very popular there. In one sense, it does make sense, but it would have to go into a complex tax review and have all the associated Treasury modelling. But, we do support single income families and we want to make sure that we continue to do that through the family tax benefits that we do provide already.

JOHN MCGLUE:     Minister, thank you so much for coming in and for taking calls, thanks to everybody for putting all those questions to the Minister. Sussan Ley, thanks for your time.

SUSSAN LEY:         Thank you.

JOHN MCGLUE:     And we will see the outcome of the deliberations on early childhood services early next year; is when they are being promised.


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