Interview with Justin Smith, 2UE

  • Assistant Minister for Education


SUBJECT/S: Productivity Commission draft report on Child Care


JUSTIN SMITH: Sussan Ley is on the line, Assistant Minister for Education Sussan, thank you for your time.

SUSSAN LEY: Thanks for having me on the program, Justin.

JUSTIN SMITH: The draft Productivity Commission report into childcare, have you had the chance to have a good look at it?

SUSSAN LEY: I’ve had a look at it, and I’ll be having an even better look at it over the next few weeks. It’s going to be alive until we have a final report in October. In the meantime, people can make submissions; they can attend public hearings; so there’s further conversation to be had.

JUSTIN SMITH: Yeah. Well, let me just give you this simple question. As far as you’re concerned, how much childcare should actually be subsidised for people? How do we need to work that out?

SUSSAN LEY: Look, that’s a really good question, and part of the reason we have the PC looking into this is so we can find out what the real cost of childcare is; and then look at the system that the government can afford. And we’ve said it needs to be in the existing funding envelope; that’s $28.5 billion over the next four years, so it’s substantial. We’ve got considerable scope to reform the system, because we know the one we have now that we inherited from Labor is just not working for modern families.

JUSTIN SMITH: Where – what part of the paid parental leave scheme going to be playing in all of this? Because it doesn’t seem like we can have what the Productivity Commission is suggesting, and the paid parental leave scheme. Or do you think they can both live side by side?

SUSSAN LEY: Look, the Productivity Commission is making some suggestions to government. And what government does at the end of this process is up to us, although we value their thoughts, we value their input, and this is not the final report.

JUSTIN SMITH: No, no, it isn’t. But your boss has made it kind of known that he’s keen on this paid parental leave scheme, and he’s probably not going to back down.

SUSSAN LEY: And I am too, Justin, I really am. It’s a different policy. It’s about helping women to have children when they’re ready to; and it’s about workplace entitlement for women. And childcare policy is about what happens when they return to the workforce and how they find somewhere for their child to be cared for in those vital early years [indistinct]...

JUSTIN SMITH: [Talks over] I know you need to wait for this full report, but in broad terms, what can people expect from your government around childcare? Can they expect some means testing for this, can they expect some good solid subsidies, what are people going to get out of you?

SUSSAN LEY: They’re going to get more flexibility. They’re going to be able to find the childcare they need, the hours they want, at a price they can afford. And that’s the undertaking that I make, because at the moment this policy that – well, the policies we’ve got now belong to a generation ago when we had a nine to five working week, let’s face it, and people had weekends off. Now we’ve got round the clock work, people are struggling to manage a long daycare setting where they might have to stay back for their boss; they might work shift work; they might not know what their working hours are from one day or one week to the next...


SUSSAN LEY: ...and the system is just too inflexible to cope. So we’re finding that – and it’s usually women. Women are not participating in the workforce; they’re doing two or three days part time. The economy is missing out on that employment and that productivity, and it’s not suiting them or their families. So simply, families can expect to have more choice and more availability when it comes to childcare.

JUSTIN SMITH: There’s also a suggestion in the report that nannies, and particularly – this will be the hot button issue for you, that grandparents could get paid by the government to look after kids; but only if they do a TAFE course, if they get TAFE qualifications. What do you think the chances are of you getting this one across the line?

SUSSAN LEY: Well the point is that we will not provide taxpayer-funded subsidies to something that’s outside the regulated system. So nannies or in-home care, whether it be grandparents or family daycare that does this at the moment; that is all – that will all need to be inside the formal national quality framework that we have, and that’s a good thing.

JUSTIN SMITH: So you think that – you do believe that grandparents will need to get some form of the TAFE qualifications before they can get a subsidy?

SUSSAN LEY: Well in order to get a subsidy anybody will need to have – will have to come under a formal regulated system. I mean, that’s important. There are lots of informal arrangements that happen already, and obviously the government doesn’t want to interfere in those, because we accept that it’s a parent’s right to decide what they do. But we do have a strong, rigorous quality framework around childcare in this country. I think it’s got a bit out of hand with red tape, and I’m doing a lot to fix that. But inside that system, we need to make sure that taxpayers’ money goes to something that is, if you like, accredited.

JUSTIN SMITH: Would it be a little bit easier if we started looking at funding the centres, instead of trying to subsidise the parents? Would it be a lot easier if we could just make it so much cheaper for parents – would that not be a better way to do it?

SUSSAN LEY: Look, it might be, and I welcome all ideas, as does the Productivity Commission. But I think we need to get away from the government providing a one size fits all, and not necessarily getting it right. So if the funding follows the family – which is does at the moment, that does make sense. And ultimately the family pays the centre for their child’s place, but we just need to make sure that those places are available where they need to be, and how they need to be. Because at the moment we’ve got waiting lists in Sydney, in some parts, of 200 children; and we’ve got other parts of the country where shift workers just can’t find someone to look after their children. We’ve got other areas where there’s excess capacity. It’s different everywhere, and rural and regional Australia is just as important as metro Australia.

JUSTIN SMITH: Sussan thank you, it’s good talking to you.

SUSSAN LEY: Thanks, Justin.

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