TRANSCRIPT 2GB Sydney – Ben Fordham 22/07/2014

  • Assistant Minister for Education


SUBJECTS: Draft Productivity Commission report on Child Care


BEN FORDHAM: Closer to home and the nation’s childcare system is set to be overhauled. A draft report by the Productivity Commission has made a series of recommendations to repair our childcare system, including fixing long waiting lists, high costs and inflexible hours. The report found many Aussie families are struggling to find flexible childcare which meets their needs. How many times have we heard that? They’re talking about big changes including nannies and grandparents being paid by the government to look after children if they get certain TAFE qualifications. And also the current array of childcare subsidies could be replaced by a single, means-tested payment given directly to the parents’ provider.

The Federal Government has welcomed this report. They are pointing out it is only a proposal at this stage. And the Federal Government wants to know what you think about the whole thing. Sussan Ley, Assistant Education Minister, joins me on the line right now. Sussan, good afternoon.

SUSSAN LEY: Good afternoon, Ben and to your listeners.

BEN FORDHAM: Thank you for talking to us. This is one of these issues that’s almost like an echo, isn’t it? Because I’ve heard so many parents talking about the problems they have with childcare.

SUSSAN LEY: Look, it is a barbeque stopper and that’s why I’m so excited that we’ve got the draft report from the Productivity Commission, the final one in October, new legislation I anticipate before the Parliament in the first half of next year. That’s really important because for stressed families, stressed by exactly what you described, the cost of childcare and the availability, the fact that it’s not there when you want it; we are building a better system.

BEN FORDHAM: The number of women who work has increased in the past two decades from 57 per cent to 66 per cent. So that means the bill for childcare costs grows as well.

SUSSAN LEY: Look it does. In fact, we’ve put aside $28.5 billion over the next four years to fund childcare; that’s what we expect it will cost. But within that funding envelope, if you like, we’ve said to the PC: can you suggest to us how we might do this better? Because the policy settings that are in place now belong to the last generation, not the next. And that was when people worked pretty much nine to five, five days a week.

We’ve now got the 24/7 working economy and I talk to mums and dads who really struggle with the long commute to work, with getting children up and to childcare, some of them take them in the car or on the train, then they worry all day that they might have to stay late at work and they’ve got to pick up their little ones before the childcare centre closes and then face the long commute home, then get everybody fed and into bed and start it all the next day. It is exhausting and the system that we inherited from the Labor Government, where costs went up 53 per cent and out of pocket costs went up 40 per cent for families, just proved that it needs a rebuild.

BEN FORDHAM: [unrelated item – announcement of girl hit by car]

If I can go back to Sussan Ley, the Assistant Education Minister: when you hear about grandparents and nannies taking a bigger role, potentially in this new system; let’s focus on grandparents first of all. How can they help?

SUSSAN LEY: Well they currently do, in fact they do an incredible amount and as childcare costs go up, people tend to rely on grandparents more, so somebody will say: well I’ll try and persuade mum to do an extra one day for me or help me out on a Thursday and a Friday and grandparents step up, they’re magnificent. But hey, they’ve got lives to. So, we do want to help the whole extended family.

Look, what the Productivity Commission said was, in response to let’s make it flexible around nannies or in-home care: yes, but it needs to be inside a regulated system, the national quality framework that we already have, and if grandparents can fit in terms of the qualifications then absolutely, that makes perfect sense.

BEN FORDHAM: This would take a lot of pressure – as you say, they already do a lot, grandparents, when it comes to looking after those grandchildren, but if they were to be trained up, certain requirements and going to TAFE to get those qualifications, and then if they were to be receiving some kind of payment by the government, that would take a lot of pressure off the rest of the system, right?

SUSSAN LEY: It would, but what we also want to do is expand the workforce, so this is about workforce participation. In April there were 165,000 people who were not in the workplace or weren’t in the workplace as much as they would have liked to be because they couldn’t get childcare. So that’s a clear statistic and my gut feeling is that is only going to increase as the system becomes more inflexible and harder to access, and let’s face it, more expensive.

Because I talk to mums who say: I’d love to go back to work after having my child, I’ve worked out that I can do two or maybe three days a week and after that it’s actually not worth it for me. Now, that’s a person who’s educated, who’s got a quality job or just needs the cash coming in, or it could be a range of reasons and the system is actually almost preventing them from doing it. So, we need to fix that and then we’ll have more work being done, we’ll have better employment, we’ll have better economic output, so it’ll be better for the nation as a whole.

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