AM Agenda – child care snap-back

Tuesday, 14 July 2020

ANNELISE NIELSEN, HOST: Joining us live is Shadow Early Childhood Education Minister, Amanda Rishworth, thank you for your time. The child care subsidies coming to an end yesterday, going to put a lot of pressure on Australian families. What are Labor’s concerns?

AMANDA RISHWORTH, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION AND DEVELOPMENT: It is going to put on a lot of pressure now that families are actually paying the fees they were prior to the pandemic. And of course those levels of fees were very high, and there were many families struggling with affordable child care before this pandemic. We are now in a deep recession, families are doing it tough and it is absolutely the wrong time to snap-back to the old child care system with fee levels designed for quite full employment. And we know many families are relying on JobKeeper, they’re relying on mortgage moratoriums, a whole range of things to help balance the books during this difficult time. Then to actually now have to find the money for child care and pay it, I think a lot of families will actually be making the difficult choice to withdraw their children from early education and care.

NIELSEN: What the Education Minister has said is they found in this period that there was significant pressure put onto child care providers because they were already being over-subscribed by so many families. If there simply aren’t the places there, what do you expect the Government to do in the meantime?

RISHWORTH: Well what the Government did is they announced free child care and didn’t fund centres for free child care. What we had is centres that could only take up to 50 per cent of their capacity during the pandemic because the Government was only paying them 50 per cent, and they weren’t able to take any revenue from anywhere else. So there were many centres that were licensed for more places, but because of the Government’s funding arrangements they could not take more children on.

What I think the Government needs to do is recognise we are not back into pre-pandemic employment, our economy hasn’t recovered. The way the Government talks is that demand has gone up because of free child care and therefore it’s time to snap-back to the old system. Well what we’ll see is a lot of children being taken out of early education and care and not being able to access it, and a lot of families trying to balance what is often a bit of work, a bit of family responsibilities, not being able to balance at all. My biggest concern is as we exit this really difficult time, there will be families and parents, particularly women, who will say no to work because they can’t afford child care, and that is really going to hamper our economic recovery.

NIELSEN: Would you support targeted support for Victoria in particular or other States that have to go into those kind of strict lockdowns again, that they get access to special child care subsidies that other States don’t?

RISHWORTH: Obviously Victoria has been an example to show that we are clearly not out of the woods yet, there is clearly a lot of difficulties. And what we know is the Government is removing JobKeeper from all early educators as of next Monday, even those in Melbourne. So there’s a real concern in early education and care in Melbourne and Victoria as a whole.

But I think the problem is much wider than that, it is an economic recovery question. Do we want families when they are trying to reorientate, trying to look for work, trying to re-organise their business – I’ve had mums talking about changing their business models desperately in response to this pandemic, they need time to do that and they need child care to do that, but they don’t have any revenue because they’re re-orientating their business. So this is about economic recovery just as much as it is about the crisis of the pandemic, and the Government needs to be flexible enough to respond to both.

NIELSEN: There’s been a lot of discussion about the effectiveness of wearing face masks at this time, it’s recommended in Victoria if you can’t keep a safe physical distance. Do you think child care centres should be required to wear face masks when interacting with children, parents?

RISHWORTH: Obviously that is a matter for the health authorities, I don’t pretend to be an expert on that, it would depend on what the health advice should be. But of course what I would say is if the health advice is to wear a face mask, whether that is in a child care centre or aged care centre, then there shouldn’t be a shortage. If that is the directive, then absolutely we need to make sure that those workers get the personal protective equipment. So really I would be guided by the health advice, but if that is the health advice because you can’t socially distance, then we do need the Government to step up and make sure personal protective equipment is available for those workers.

NIELSEN: Amanda Rishworth thank you for your time.

RISHWORTH: Thank you.


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