Thursday, 19 August 2021
LEON DELANEY, HOST: Shadow Minister for Early Childhood Education has raised concerns about what she says is a crisis in the early learning sector. She’s also worried about the slow rollout of vaccines and the impact on young people, who have not yet had the opportunity to be vaccinated. The Shadow Minister Amanda Rishworth is on the phone now. Good afternoon.
AMANDA RISHWORTH, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION AND DEVELOPMENT: Good afternoon. Great to be with you.
DELANEY: Thanks for joining us today. So, obviously, we’ve got lockdown here in Canberra, we’ve got lockdowns across New South Wales, we’ve got lockdown in Melbourne. There’s a lot of people affected by COVID-19 at the moment. What’s been the impact on early childhood education?
RISHWORTH: That’s a really important question. What we’ve had is State and Territory governments ask people to keep their children at home, which is, of course, really important. But without specific support from the Federal Government, those centres have had to continue, in many instances, to charge families the fee, even though they’re not going to child care, to ensure that their centre can have their doors stay open to service essential workers. So while the government was slow to allow centres to waive gap fees, many centres haven’t been able to do that. So families are getting child care bills for care they’re actually not accessing. So it is a really tough situation. Either the service has to take a hit and maybe stand down educators, maybe threaten their viability, or parents are forced to pay for care they’re not actually getting. So this is a really stressful time, and I’ve been calling on the government to implement a sector specific support package to ensure that early learning and care can keep operating.
DELANEY: Last year during the initial lockdown, there was a package put in place that effectively provided free child care for everyone. And that seemed to work really, really well. Why shouldn’t we just do that?
RISHWORTH: Well, that certainly was one package that worked well. But the government also implemented a package to Victoria last year, that also worked very well. So there are two examples in which could be used. The sector and families I think preferred the package in Victoria, that provided a waiver of gap fees, it provided a requirement for early learning centres to keep their educators employed, and stay open for essential workers. That package was probably the preferred path way. So the government knows how to actually respond to this, they are just choosing now to. And it’s very, very concerning. New South Wales is almost the canary down the coal mine because they’ve been in lockdown for so long. And what some centres are saying is we’re just not sure how are we going to keep going. So this is really concerning right now for those essential workers that need care, but I mean we hope we get out of lockdown soon, and when we do people need to be able to go back to work. And if centres aren’t there to support children, then we’re going to have a real drag on our economy.
DELANEY: Indeed. And, of course, with a lot of talk about the Delta variant of COVID-19 being more of a threat to younger people than perhaps earlier variants were, there’s a lot of focus now on the idea that younger people, including children, should be vaccinated sooner rather than later. Some steps have been taken in that direction, but nothing really for school aged children yet. And certainly, I don’t know what the situation would be for people under the age of 12, I don’t think we’ve even spoken about that at all have we?
RISHWORTH: No we haven’t. Look at the moment under the age of 12 is still a question of getting the medical advice, and good research. But certainly the age group of 12 to 15 is really important. And I really think we need to have a plan outlined by the government, by the Prime Minister, about how we roll that out. The TGA has approved the Pfizer vaccine for that age group. And I was just looking at the figure today, 30 per cent of the cases in New South Wales in the current outbreak are under the age of 19. And in Melbourne at the moment, 45 per cent of active cases at the moment are children and teenagers. This is a population that’s been left pretty much unvaccinated, and we really need to, I think, be ready. This is being considered by ATAGI. As soon as ATAGI gives that green light, we need to be ready to get gabs in those young people’s arms. I think it’s really important we get that plan out there.
DELANEY: But the problem with Pfizer has been establishing adequate levels of supply, hasn’t it?
RISHWORTH: That’s right, and while we haven’t had a lot of transparency, one of the reasons we haven’t seen that Pfizer out there is because of supply. Around the country only some areas are giving access from 16 to 39. Even just now that’s only opening up for people to get vaccinated. So it is a challenge. But if we look at the type of transmission that’s happening in schools, it’s happening particularly in high schools very quickly. A lot of parents are going to want to know how can we keep our children safe, and in particular stop that transmission. So I think there needs to be a plan about how we do that, and have that transparent for parents who are very, very worried at the moment.
DELANEY: Thanks very much for chatting today.