Interview - 774 ABC Melbourne with Patricia Karvelas - Overseas au pairs, child care reforms.
- Assistant Minister for Education
774 ABC Melbourne – Patricia Karvelas
SUBJECTS: Overseas au pairs, child care reforms.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: Australian nannies, that is, domestic Australian nannies, are saying that these au pairs are not the answer to the child care crisis and calls for them to be allowed to stay in Australia for up to a year should be ignored. This Australian Nanny Association says that the – the Productivity Commission has recommended changing the system to allow overseas nannies to come for longer should be rejected, and Assistant Education Minister Sussan Ley joins us to talk about that and lots of other things in this space. Welcome to the programme, Minister.
SUSSAN LEY: Good afternoon, Patricia.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: Do you support au pairs having longer visas so that families can have longer continuity with them?
SUSSAN LEY: Well, generally, yes. They are able to stay in the country for 12 months, so it makes sense that they have the same employer and the same family. That’s in the interests of the family and the children. And can I say, even though they’re supposed to stay six months and then move on, they often, in practice, don’t. So the PC is really formalising something that’s taking place already with that particular recommendation.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: So you think that – one of the problems, I think, that families are experiencing is that they do – it’s quite elaborate, at the six-month mark, to keep the same nanny, and children obviously have a bond often with that nanny. Do you think that whole system and that visa arrangement should be improved?
SUSSAN LEY: Look, I do support that generally. I mean, it’s only one tiny piece of the puzzle in addressing the nation’s child care crisis, because I don’t think the answer across the board is au pairs; I think it is that we have a formal regulated system, whether it be in your home, in someone else’s home, or in long day care or pre-school. So – but, look, I do support parents’ choice, and many parents are just making this decision and it’s not for the government to say, “you will have a certain type of child care and you will have a certain person looking after your children”. It’s ultimately up to them. But as the Minister supporting our high quality system, I want to make sure it’s as flexible and affordable as possible, and, right now, it just isn’t.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: The Productivity Commission has also recommended in its interim report spending more money on child care. They say that we need to spend more money on child care if we are to help more families in need. Have you told them that you are unwilling to look at that option? Are you still pushing for them to stay within the same funding envelope?
SUSSAN LEY: Well, actually, that was their terms of reference in the first place, and – I mean, they are independent and they – they should and – and have said what – what they want. But let’s remember that the existing envelope over the next four years is 31 and a half billion dollars. So we aren’t talking about a small spend by the Commonwealth, we’re talking about big spend. Within that very strong financial position, I believe lots of policy changes can be made to support families much better than the current system, so I’m pretty relaxed about the dollars. [Indistinct]…
PATRICIA KARVELAS: [Interrupts] But, Minister, I will put this to you. Even if you are relaxed about the dollars, ultimately, if you’re spending the same amount of money, let’s say the same funding envelope, it means a reorganisation of that funding. It means that some people will lose some money and some people will get some extra money. Do you think that that’s fair and do you concede that some families will ultimately miss out?
SUSSAN LEY: No. I don’t see it as a very fun game at all, because when families participate more in the workforce, they earn more and can spend more on child care, and their whole family dynamic – the – the budget changes, and that’s what we don’t know. We don’t know who is not working in the job they were trained for, the hours that they want, the days that they want, because they can’t get child care. So there’s a pent-up demand which – which all of the statistics are screaming at us about, and when we solve that problem we’ll have women saying, “it’s okay. I don’t need to do my part-time bookkeeping so I can pick my children up from school; I can get back into my job as a chartered accountant,” for example, “that I had before I – I,” you know, “I left the workforce”. So, you know, for every year that trained women – this is university-trained women – don’t participate to the level that they – they – they’re qualified, they cost the country $8 billion. So we’ve got a big picture here, and that’s why the Productivity Commission is looking at it, because it’s a workforce participation issue just as much as it is a child care and early learning issue.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: They’ve also suggested that you take money from the Paid Parental Leave Scheme and spend it on child care. Is there any – any way you might do that, particularly given that senate seems very unenthusiastic about your scheme?
SUSSAN LEY: No, there’s not, because they’re two separate schemes and, if you look at the – you know, somebody’s life experience, there’s a time when they step away from the workforce to have children and there’s a workplace entitlement associated with that. That’s the Paid Parental Leave. Going back to work after you’ve been home with your children or – or whatever your circumstances are, going back to work and needing somebody to look after and educate your child is a totally different policy for a totally different time of life, and, you know, I completely reject the assumption that somehow they’re the same. Because women’s circumstances are different depending on what they are and what they’re doing, and let’s not forget there’s a lot of households now where the woman is the chief breadwinner. You know, the old fashioned the man earns the pay packet and the woman does a little bit here and there and – and has children and so on – look, some families are like that, no problem, but many are not. So if you’ve got a woman as the breadwinner who also has to bear the children, for her to cease work, take time off, that family’s budget is not going to survive unless the workplace entitlement policy that we are proposing is in place, and why should that woman be treated differently in terms of her stepping away from that workplace than she would if she had long service leave, annual leave, sick leave. You know, that’s my very strong view.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: Have you told the Productivity Commission, in their final report, to ensure again that the money that’s ultimately spent on child care does not increase?
SUSSAN LEY: Look, I haven’t told them anything. I have a great respect for Wendy Craik as the main commissioner, and they’ve had a number of submissions back to them - 1300 the first round. The draft report – submissions to the draft report closed last week. They’ve got another whole range of comments. Look, I’m going to leave it to them. Because after all, this is their report. We will respond to it, and that will be government policy, but I’m more than happy for them to have their say in the way that they want to.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: On 774 Drive. Give us a call - 1300 222 774. I’m talking, of course, to the Assistant Minister for Education in the Abbott Government, Sussan Ley, who’s got a pretty big project in front of her, looking at how to reform the child care sector so that more parents are happy. Is this all something you’re going to be working towards to deliver in next year’s budget?
SUSSAN LEY: Yes, I believe it is. I mean, we won’t have everything on the table for the entire new way forward, if – you know, and the direction we’re going to have by budget. But I think we’ll be making some major statements, and I think you will see the direction that the Abbott Government is going to have in child care. And we haven’t got there yet, because at the moment we’re still in this Productivity Commission inquiry phase. They report at the end of October. We respond early next year. And I’ve asked them to be bold and brave. And the reason is because this is not about tinkering around the edges of the current system. It isn’t working. It just isn’t. And I’ve read so many of the quick emails comments to the PC. People have just sent them off on their way on the train or bus to work, or in a coffee break, and I have heard loud and clear the frustration of families, saying “the system is not working for me. Please fix it.”
PATRICIA KARVELAS: 1300 222 774. I’ve got a SMS from Bill here that says: “Patricia, I’m astounded. Nannies are trying to maintain their high rates by blocking reasonably priced alternatives.” And that’s in relation to the au pairs, the opposition to the au pairs getting longer visas. You’ve told us on the programme that you believe au pairs should get longer visas. Do you think there should be an expansion more broadly of bringing in overseas workers generally to do these child-caring roles, so that there are more workers. There is a shortage in this area. And also, a broader range of in-home care models.
SUSSAN LEY: Well, in short, no, I don’t think we should be looking to the overseas workforce to solve our child care problem. But in suggesting…
PATRICIA KARVELAS: [Interrupts] Why not?
SUSSAN LEY: Because we have – we have youth unemployment rate that in parts of rural Australia is close to 25 per cent, we have training opportunities for Australian young people in child care and early…
PATRICIA KARVELAS: [Interrupts] Of course, and you also – actually, the sort of TAFE training, you’ve got another hat, don’t you, within your portfolio?
SUSSAN LEY: Yes, I do.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: Would you like to incentivise more people to study these child care training courses, to try and, you know, rejig the unemployment figures we’re watching, and we’re seeing?
SUSSAN LEY: Absolutely. Absolutely. But it isn’t a career for everyone. You have to have a natural love and affinity with children, but a lot of people do, and they haven’t necessarily thought of this as a career. And there are – you know, there is a pathway, from certificate to diploma to early childhood degree. And when you meet people who’ve – it’s usually women – who’ve made that pathway, you’ve seen what an enormous contribution they make to bringing up the nation’s children. And – so look, formalising what is actually happening informally with au pairs is probably a sensible thing to do. And parents – some parents will always make that choice. Now, the Nanny Association, by the way, is talking a little bit differently, and they really don’t like to be confused with au pairs, because what they’re saying is they’re happy to come under the existing formal, regulated system and be the nanny in your home, if you like, transferring the quality that exists in our long day care centres into someone’s home. So it’s formal and it’s regulated. And look, it would have to be. It would have to be if it came under our subsidy arrangements in the future.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: Assistant Minister for Education Sussan Ley, thanks for joining the programme.