Interview with Virginia Trioli, ABC News 24, PCI Draft Report, PPL scheme, child care policy

  • Assistant Minister for Education

VIRGINIA TRIOLI: Now, as I mentioned at the top of the program, the Productivity Commission has now released its draft report looking at this issue, how childcare should be funded, the payment of it, the affordability of it and just how many women and men might be able to get back into the workforce if childcare is shaken up in this country.

Sussan Ley is the Assistant Minister for Education and she’s responsible for childcare. We spoke to her about this before the federal election, and she joins us now again from Canberra. Sussan Ley, good morning. Good to see you again.

SUSSAN LEY: Good morning, Virginia.

VIRGINIA TRIOLI: The report recommends a single means tested payment, and we'll get to that in just a moment and talk through in detail what the draft report suggests, but also it's important to mention here what the draft report says about the Government's proposed paid parental leave scheme, and let’s have a look at a quote from the draft report which was released overnight. It says: it’s unclear that the proposed changes to the paid parental leave scheme would bring additional significant benefits to the broader community beyond those occurring under the existing scheme. Sussan Ley, it suggests that it really won't bring any more women back into the workforce. What's your response to that?

SUSSAN LEY: Well, the paid parental leave scheme and childcare policy are two separate things and I've always seen them that way and we, as a government, have certainly taken this PPL policy to two separate elections. That is about workplace participation. I mean, childcare's about looking after your children when you go back to work. PPL is about having children in the first place, having those vital 6 to 12 months to bond with your baby and having a workplace entitlement that doesn't put you, as a woman, further behind over your working life.

So I certainly don't see the two as needing to be considered together, particularly in the context of solving the nation's childcare crisis.

VIRGINIA TRIOLI: Well the Productivity Commission certainly does, and if it's looking at the issue of child care, and that's always been the criticism of your scheme, that really the pressure point is about actually supporting women back into the workforce. So if the Productivity Commission says you need to look at this and actually consider this isn't the way to go, does it shake up your thinking at all?

SUSSAN LEY: Well, look, this is their draft report. They will take further submissions and ideas from people and they will travel the country before the final report in October. And it's interesting that in this draft report they've actually asked for a lot of information to come back to them. They've asked for a lot of ideas about the cost model that they've proposed.

They've also, by the way, said that the red tape and regulation in the current system is pushing up costs, and I note from the piece you had earlier that there's just huge stress in the system because of the unaffordability. We've got to remember that childcare costs went up 53 per cent under Labor and out of pocket costs went up 40 per cent. Well, Labor just kept adding money and we know that adding money doesn't fix the system. This is a once in a generation chance to actually get it right. So this is pointing the way forward but there are many more conversations, ideas and discussions to be had before the final report in October.

VIRGINIA TRIOLI: Just before we get to the details of what's been proposed here by the single means tested payment, I do just want to finish off this conversation about the criticism that’s been made by the Productivity Commission about the paid parental leave scheme. It does look like it’s unlikely to pass the Senate in its current form anyway, but it goes on to say, the Commission, that there's merit to diverting some of the funding to early childhood care to meet the Government's objectives of more mothers back into the workforce and it says such a move could add up to a further $1.5 billion a year to Australian Government assistance for early child care programs. Now, that's surely something you would support?

SUSSAN LEY: Look, I don't support combining the two and looking at them, if you like, through the same prism. Yes, they…

VIRGINIA TRIOLI: But given that your – just to jump in there, given that your proposal really, to be honest about this, really looks like it just can't get through this Senate in its current form, isn't it time to take up the expertise of the Productivity Commission and follow their route in, if you say you want to get more women back into the work force?

SUSSAN LEY: There's lots of aspects, Virginia, of our budget that are having difficulty getting through the Senate. It doesn't mean that we don't stand by each and every one of them and we will persist and we are optimistic that we can pass our budget and by the way, the PPL is not in this current budget, it doesn't come in for another 12 months. But it's just vital that we…

VIRGINIA TRIOLI: It sounds like you're not backing it too strongly yourself either if you're waiting 12 months?

SUSSAN LEY: I’m backing it. I'm backing it very strongly because it's the right policy for the modern woman in a modern workplace and a modern generation, and I guess I get frustrated when people don't see the difference between childcare policy and paid parental leave. This is about those vital few months with your baby. It's about the opportunity to be able to have children, the number of children that you want, not drop in salary so that you have to consider can I pay my mortgage, do I have to stay in the workforce, you know, what am I going to do to manage all of these things. It's about being able to say I can do that, I can have the number of children I want, I can take those vital few months off to bond with my baby. When I go back to work, this is a workplace that will be - you know, this is a government that will support my childcare choices.

VIRGINIA TRIOLI: Okay, well, let's get to the point of returning to the workforce, which is what the Commission’s looking at. That single means tested payment known as early care and learning subsidy, they suggest it could be used for the first time for registered nannies, nannies that are qualified. Do you agree with that?

SUSSAN LEY: Look, we asked the PC to look at in-home care, or nannies as they're often called, as one of the terms of reference, and we already have family day-care, which is care in the family’s home. The PC went to New Zealand, looked at the model there. What we need to do is solve the crisis of finding childcare for shift workers, for those who know they might work beyond the time when the childcare centre closes. This is after all, a 24/7 economy, not a 9 to 5 working week any longer.

But I will say this: if, and if, we end up including nannies or in-home care in the child care system they will be regulated, they will come under the same set of regulations that monitors and manages the child care system now. But by the way, there is too much red tape and regulation in that, as the PC pointed out.


SUSSAN LEY: But we support the integrity of that regulated system and all childcare subsidies will be paid under it.

VIRGINIA TRIOLI: Let's move quickly through a couple of other proposals. It dismisses proposals to make childcare a tax-deductible expense because it says that would favour the wealthy, do you agree with that?

SUSSAN LEY: Look, we asked them to look at tax deductibility. It's still on the table. It’s on the table if people want to have further say about it.

VIRGINIA TRIOLI: So it sounds like you have a different view on that. You would like tax deductibility to be considered for childcare?

SUSSAN LEY: Look, tax deductibility had a lot of currency before the childcare rebate came in, and the childcare rebate has effectively made tax deductibility less of an issue. But the system has to be more affordable. What I want is for the families that your previous commentary talked about to look at our new policies when we bring them in, and I hope that's early next year, and say yes, childcare is now more affordable. I don't have to worry about do I go back to work two, three days a week and then simply fall off the cliff in terms of not being able to find or pay for childcare. We want women to participate to the level that they want to and we want to give families choice.

VIRGINIA TRIOLI: One more observation, then, on something that’s been proposed by them. This is the preferred scenario of the Commission. Families with a gross income of 60,000 or less would get a maximum 90 per cent subsidy. Families with incomes more than 300,000 per annum would receive a base rate of 30 per cent. Does that seem about right to you?

SUSSAN LEY: Look, they're the Commission's numbers and they're just one of the proposals they've put forward, Virginia, and I note that they're actually asking people to input on their own costs. So they [indistinct]…

VIRGINIA TRIOLI: So what's your input this morning?

SUSSAN LEY: That it is all on the table and that ultimately it needs to be affordable for all families; that we know that adding money doesn't solve the system; that we want to build in flexibility by having lots of different options on the table and this is an exciting part of the journey forward. So we haven't got long to wait until October, until the final report, and I look forward to bringing some new initiatives, some policy ideas to Cabinet early in 2015 - a once in a generation opportunity, as I said.

VIRGINIA TRIOLI: Sussan Ley, good to talk to you again. Thank you.

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