AM Agenda – child care

Monday, 26 October 2020

TOM CONNELL, HOST: Joining me live now is Amanda Rishworth, Shadow Early Childhood Education Minister. Thanks for your time. You made this a focus last week of Parliament with questions to the government, you zeroed in on the current cap of $189,000, that’s a family’s income. So what does Labor think of a family that’s earning $189,000?

AMANDA RISHWORTH, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION AND DEVELOPMENT: Well what we don’t want to see is for a family that’s earning that amount of money to have a disincentive built in so that they actually can’t afford child care. That’s why Labor has been really clear that we want to remove this cap, because it is a built in disincentive for people to access more child care. That disincentive means that for the second income earner, usually women, when they work the fourth or fifth day, they’re either working for nothing or actually having to pay to go to work. So that is what we see as a real handbrake on our economy.

CONNELL: In terms of who else it helps, it would be up to a family earning $530,000. That’s a lot of money isn’t it?

RISHWORTH: We see early childhood education the same way as other essential services, if you look at Medicare and other important programs. This is about a service to support women going back to work and about economic growth. So it is a family that is well off, but we don’t want to see a disincentive for the second income earner.

CONNELL: It’s not quite the same as Medicare. I mean anyone can qualify for that, there are still qualification limits to your plans.

RISHWORTH: In the first three years we are looking at our boost to families. And then in the long term, we are asking the Productivity Commission to look at a universal subsidy.

CONNELL: $530,000 though I mean, that family situation is $28,000 better off. Is that is that a comfortable argument to mount?

RISHWORTH: But it’s not about being better off if you don’t use child care. I mean, what we’re talking about is putting children into child care. We’re raising the subsidy to 90 per cent for low income and middle income earner, that means they will pay only 10 per cent of their child care costs, so they are getting a boost. But we see this as something that all families can benefit from.

CONNELL: I understand that and there are other benefits, but just that particular aspect, how much better off a family on half a million would be. Labor’s had a lot of arguments about the income tax.

RISHWORTH: It’s not $28,000. That family is likely to be, it all depends on the combination, but a couple of thousand dollars.

CONNELL: But the argument Labor keeps mounting on income tax cuts is that they’re tax cuts for millionaires.

RISHWORTH: This is an entirely different proposition Tom. What this proposition is is a bit like Medicare –  you get a subsidy to your doctor and you pay a gap fee. We see child care as critically important to the economy, and that’s why it’s not just welcomed by families, it’s why it’s welcomed by business as well. Because they know if they’ve got a productive worker, a skilled worker, and they are actually really important to the business, now if that skilled worker is the second income earner and says “I just it’s not worth my while to come in for day four and five” then that’s bad for the business, as well as for the family.

CONNELL: So if you’re getting more people back to work, you need more workers. Where’s the plan to have more child care workers?

RISHWORTH: Well we’re giving people a lot of notice in terms of the election, it hasn’t come and we won’t be getting elected tomorrow, we hope to be elected in May 2022 and this policy is due to come in in July 2022. So we’re giving people notice. But that’s a question for the government – why has the government ripped up the workforce plan in early education and care that we put in?

CONNELL: The question for you is you’ve got a system that you say we’ll get more women back into work and more days, where’s the plan for more workers?

RISHWORTH: Well we will roll out now policies as we go but –

CONNELL: But that should surely be rolled at the same time. You’ve got one policy, you say more people will get back to work, it has to come with it a policy to get more child care workers.

RISHWORTH: Because we have already indicated our desire to improve our skills, to improve our attainment in vocational education. But the government should be doing that work now. I mean, that’s the truth of it, they ripped up Labor’s early workforce plan, they ripped it up and have put nothing in place. But we are signalling that we are interested in expanding this area, supporting this area, and people should be attracted to that.

CONNELL: But if the policy is to take effect from 2022 there’s no indication at this stage, you’d have extra workers by that stage. At that point you’d have a squeeze, you’d have oversubscription, you’d have people going “great subsidy I can’t get my kid into child care”.

RISHWORTH: Well at the moment there is different demand across the country. There has been early educators that have left during the pandemic and haven’t come back. So these are all things that we will absolutely consider. Let’s be clear, we’re not in government. This is the government’s responsibility at the moment.

CONNELL: I know it’s their responsibility. But if you’re going to put out a policy that gets more people into child care and more parents sending their kids to child care, and that’s starting in 2022, you have to have somehow the workforce there. You’re not going to be able to have an extra workforce by 2022 are you?

RISHWORTH: We will continue to work towards developing our policies around this. But I would say it’s the government’s responsibility, it’s the government’s responsibility to fix our vocational education system. We are sending a clear message to the community, a clear message to the country and a clear message to the government that this is our plan.

CONNELL: You can change the subsidies overnight, that’s not a problem. You can’t increase the workforce overnight.

RISHWORTH: Well at the moment there is, as I said, a variety of different situations in the workforce. Some centres are saying that they’re undersubscribed, that their demand is very much down since the pandemic. So they would certainly welcome an increase in demand because that would keep their existing staff employed. Others have indicated that they are at capacity and have said that they’ve seen a lot of workers leave and would be looking to encourage them to come back during the pandemic.

CONNELL: But that’s just the difference between pre pandemic and post. That doesn’t boost give the additional boost you’re talking about.

RISHWORTH: Well we will have more policies as we go ahead. But Anthony Albanese has indicated that early education and care is at the centre, as well as vocational education.

CONNELL: What about wages for child care workers? Is there still going to be that 20 per cent increase?

RISHWORTH: That is not our current policy.

CONNELL: So that’s gone?

RISHWORTH: That is not our current policy. And obviously early educators are underpaid, but there is a systemic problem with women’s workforce participation. Labor is keen to address that, but our current policy is not the same.

CONNELL: So if you’re a child care worker watching this, and you say well Labor was worried about this the last election to give us a 20 per cent pay rise, and now it’s gone.

RISHWORTH: We are still concerned about early education. But our focus and our policy settings are about recovering from this pandemic, supporting the economy to grow and not just snapping back to the old normal.

CONNELL: Is it no longer affordable given all the other spending priorities?

RISHWORTH: There are a number of issues in terms of women’s workforce being undervalued. And it’s not just in early education and care, it’s in aged care as well. But our current policy is not as the same as what it was at the last election.

CONNELL: So would there be one across the board that tackles what you say is lower pay for women in some sectors?

RISHWORTH: It is something that has been a systemic problem for a long time. And it’s certainly something that I know many of my colleagues are concerned about. We’ve got to look at how we support women and reduce the gender pay gap.

CONNELL: Right. So there might be a policy rather than 20 per cent in child care?

RISHWORTH: I’m saying that our philosophical approach has been that we need to reduce the gender pay gap. We’ve had a long history when we’ve been in government of doing that. But when it comes to early educators are not at the moment we do not have the same policy as we did before the election.

CONNELL: Again, for child care worker, what’s changed between the last election?

RISHWORTH: Our focus at the moment is to grow the economy, to have a growth in economic participation, to ensure that the second income earner is not disadvantaged. I will continue to work with everyone across the board to develop further the policies in this area. But this a critical economic recovery policy.

CONNELL: Money’s not limitless, so you’ve decided instead to spend the money to increase the subsidy for parents rather than workers?

RISHWORTH: This is our current policy, and it is about supporting families, growing the workforce in early education and care, and ensuring that families have the support and can actually –

CONNELL: So there wouldn’t be a policy to specifically increase child care workers at the next election. That’s all that’s gone at the moment>

RISHWORTH: At the moment we’ve announced our policy and that’s how it stands.

CONNELL: Alright Amanda Rishworth thanks for your time.


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