TerritoryFM 104.1 Mornings - Interview on child care reforms

  • Assistant Minister for Education

SUBJECT:  Interview with Sussan Ley, Federal Assistant Minister for Education about child care reforms.

DARYL MANZIE:     Now there’s an opportunity for you to have your say in the hearing or the study that’s being carried out into childcare - the Productivity Commission’s inquiry – they’ve done a draft report already and they’re looking for submissions regarding that report.  Now, we’re joined by the Assistant Minister for Education in the Federal Government, Sussan Ley, and she’s here to, I guess, trying to sort of get people to become involved in this inquiry.  Sussan, welcome to the show.  Hello, hello.

SUSSAN LEY:         Hello.

DARYL MANZIE:     Yep, hello, there we are.

SUSSAN LEY:         Yeah we are.  We’re back.

DARYL MANZIE:     Welcome, welcome [laughs]. Okay, now look, tell us a little bit about why it’s important for people to become involved in this?

SUSSAN LEY:         Well, we’ve promised this huge review of the childcare policy settings and we’re well underway –  the Productivity Commission is well underway.  It’s brought down a draft report and everyone has until Friday this week to have their say on that draft report or, indeed, on how they think the future should look when it comes to childcare and early learning for them.  And then we’ll get a final report in October and we’ll come up with bold, brave policies early in 2015 to fix what I really think is a mess – a childcare mess that we inherited from the Labor Government, particularly, Daryl, when you look at fees.  They went up 53 per cent in the six years of Labor and so, you know, the territory figures are proving that childcare is becoming unaffordable for a lot of families.

DARYL MANZIE:     Well, I mean, it is very expensive and I guess we’ve seen a big change in the last couple of decades.  I mean, once a upon a time childcare was carried out by mums, friends, families, small groups and now it’s become part of an educational process with measurements and people with very – you know, very well qualified people with both teaching and childcare degrees and obviously that costs money to keep that sort of system going.  Is it beneficial - I mean, on the face of it, it sounds terrific, but is it beneficial for the kids compared to the way it used to be done?

SUSSAN LEY:         Well, you’re right, it is a new quality system, and it does cost  money and that’s because you have more educators and they’re better qualified, so obviously fees go up.  But what we’ve got to make sure is that fees don’t go up past what parents can afford.

Look, it is a better system, particularly for disadvantaged children, but we in the Federal Government – I mean, I’m not saying, look, this is better for children than any alternative form of care and certainly I’m not going to say its better than being at home. We fund childcare because parents need to go to work.  That’s the number one reason.  We also recognise we need to have an early education focus and we do.  But remember that what we’ve got now is what Labor left us, a one size fits all.  So we’ve got to broaden this out.  We’ve got to allow, for example, parents that are working shifts, and there’s a lot of that in the hospitality industry.

I was just talking to Natasha Griggs, your local MP, about the increasing activity in that sector, and that’s after hours, so we’ve got childcare that principally looks after people nine to five, five days a week.  That’s not the economy we’re in now.

DARYL MANZIE:     That’s for sure.  And I guess the other thing that is really important to understand is the fact that everyone needs two people working now.  If they’re buying a home and they’re trying to get on in the world, you need the two jobs and, of course, that means the children have to be looked after, and I don’t think any mum wants to leave their kids unless they feel satisfied that the system is providing maximum benefit for them.

SUSSAN LEY:         And that’s a good point.  When I had three children under five, and I was working, and studying and helping on the farm, you know, all I wanted to know was that my children were safe, and happy and well looked after.  And, yes, the early education is important, but, for parents, it is peace of mind.  And mother’s are rushing around;  it’s a very busy time of life when your children are small;  you’re trying to pay off the mortgage and if you don’t have extended family support – and a lot of people in the territory don’t – so they can’t rely on grandma when, you know, things go upside down or a child gets sick.  You know, we have a policy responsibility to get this right, to give parents the choice, that I believe they’re not getting now, and the option so that they can participate in the workforce to the extent that they want to go back to work two days, or three days, or full-time, depending on the, you know, stage they’re at with their family and their children.

DARYL MANZIE:     I mean, it’s – yeah look, it’s going to be difficult, isn’t it because if you expand the service to cover shift workers, it means that it’s going to cost more because of the penalty rates involved there.  But, also, you know, parents just – are at the stage now where they can’t afford the childcare maybe for the whole five days a week and they’re looking for friends or family to try and maybe take a couple of days out of the sort of cost structure.  What sort of rebates or assistance is liable to come for parents out of this review - and keep in mind, of course the territory, I think, provides a greater level of assistance from the State Government to subsidise childcare than any of the other states.

SUSSAN LEY:         Yes.  And good on the Territory Government for providing that subsidy for, I think, the nought to twos.  You’re right, it’s not seen anywhere else.  Look, everything’s on the table.  I mean, the Productivity Commission has proposed this model of the deemed cost of care.  So the question is what’s the real cost and then what should government pay to help families and you know, that’s what we’re going to – you know, that’s what we’re going to solve in the next few months.

But I will say this:  affordability is a problem no matter what your income level.  So it’s not about saying, you know, parents don’t have to pay – don’t need to receive government support over X dollars.  Because if you’re talking about fees close to $100 a day, I mean, most families really can’t afford that.  So we do have to get the balance right when it comes to supporting everyone to go back to work the hours that they want in the job that they want.

And, you know, one of the terms of reference for the Productivity Commission was in-home care.  Because you talk about penalty rates which is – you’re right, it makes it incredibly expensive.  Family Day Care looks after children in the educator’s home and in-home care in the child’s own home.  And we’re looking at that closely because if you’ve got two children, by the time you pack them into the car and you commute to work and you drop them off and you pick them up, the best thing for your family is probably to have someone at home.  And we need to examine that closely.  It would be within the formal quality regulated system.  But I think it’s an option we – and it is an option we’re looking at.

DARYL MANZIE:     And, of course, the Productivity Commission is looking at the productivity of the workforce and, of course, if both mum and dad are working they’re producing more for the country and how does that offset the cost of, subsidising childcare?  I mean, it’s very – it’s a very difficult thing to work out.  If people are interested, Sussan, what do they – can they jump online and have a look at the draft report if they haven’t had a look at it yet and…

SUSSAN LEY:         They can.


SUSSAN LEY:         It’s all on the Productivity’s webpage, www.pc.gov.au.  You can follow the links to childcare and you can actually just send an email.  You know, I get a lot of formal printed submissions, beautifully bound and I also love reading the short sharp emails that get sent to the PC that say, you know, I’m mad as hell, this is what my life is like and, please, will you fix the problem.  And that makes me feel that, yes, we do have a responsibility and we will get this right.  And it is a time of life where we must support young families and it’s female participation in the workforce that we’re missing out on.  When I talk to women who say, well, I’m going back to work two days a week in a desk job but I’m actually trained, for example, as a nurse and I could be working.   You know, I’m not able to do the job I really trained for because it’s out of hours or I can’t get childcare.  Then I know I need to fix the problem.

DARYL MANZIE:     Sussan, look, thank you very much for joining us and, also, look, thank you for coming up to the Territory – although it’s a good time of the year to be here – but we certainly appreciate the fact that there is something looking into this because, you know, I think you would have found by now [indistinct] is the overriding concern people have and that’s a challenge in getting that one right.

SUSSAN LEY:         It is.  And I love my visits to the Territory.  I’m back there doing a vocational education in schools roundtable in a couple of weeks.  So see you all then.

DARYL MANZIE:     Okay.  I guess, look, Natasha will throw a prawn on the barbie for you, I’m sure.

SUSSAN LEY:         Look, Natasha keeps me – keeps me making regular visits and makes sure that I understand what really is going on because it is so different from, as you all say, down south.

DARYL MANZIE:     That’s right.  Indeed.  I didn’t want to embarrass you by throwing that in.  Thanks very much, Sussan.

SUSSAN LEY:         Thanks, Daryl.

DARYL MANZIE:     Thank you.

SUSSAN LEY:         Thank you.

DARYL MANZIE:     Sussan Ley there.  Assistant Minister for Education.  And, look, that Productivity Commission Inquiry, you know, you can whinge about all these things and the costs and all that, but unless you contribute to maybe some solutions, well, there’s no good whinging, so roll up your sleeves and have a bit of a look at it.  The website, if you just jump on it, the Productivity Commission website; www.pc.gov.au and just chase up childcare through it all and you’ll be able to have a look at what’s going on and have your say.


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