AM Agenda – Early Childhood Educators Day, JobKeeper and early educators

Wednesday, 02 September 2020

TOM CONNELL, HOST: For more on this I’m joined by Shadow Early Childhood Education Minister Amanda Rishworth, thanks for your time. It’s actually, which you noted today, Early Childhood Educators Day. It’s a cliché but I think it’s fair to say their work has been particularly appreciated by parents with a lot more kids running around at home, particularly still in Melbourne at the moment.

AMANDA RISHWORTH, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION AND DEVELOPMENT: Absolutely, I think anyone who has had their children home has even more appreciation for the work early educators do in childcare centres, not only caring but educating. I tried some home schooling and I wasn’t very successful at that. So today is an opportunity to say a big thank you for all the work they do, especially as they kept turning up in the pandemic. Things like social distancing are impossible in a childcare centre, they did put themselves at risk and continued to turn up. So it is an important opportunity to say thank you to them.

CONNELL: We’ve had JobKeeper of course taken away from childcare providers, the first to go. The numbers were returning at the time to childcare, they’ve obviously plummeted in Victoria since. Your saying that jobs have been going in Melbourne and Victoria in particular. The Government has put in money I should note as well, $32 million in Victoria on top of an extra $115 million already there for this transition. What evidence are you basing these jobs going on?

RISHWORTH: I’m basing it on the thousands of people contacting the Union who are saying they’ve had their hours cut, been stood down. I myself am getting many, many calls from people saying that they’ve been working for 20 years and now suddenly as a result of JobKeeper being cut, they are no longer getting the work or level of hours they were previously getting. Because the Government did say before the Victorian wave that the job was done, the numbers were back, and they ripped JobKeeper away. Now that isn’t a very nice way to actually say thank you to our early educators, and it’s actually had real life consequences particularly in Victoria, with educators being reportedly stood down, their hours cut, their pay packets cut. There is no direct connection with the money the Government has been giving to delivering wages and outcomes for educators. So if a centre has to pay their rent, they will make the choice to stand down a casual worker, and they are certainly the reports we are hearing.

CONNELL: Do you have anything beyond anecdotal evidence? What sort of numbers are we talking in terms of people having fewer hours or being stood down in Victoria?

RISHWORTH: I am being overwhelmed by reports of educators being stood down. The Government hasn’t released those figures, they could release those figures. But what we know is the Government has had weasel words when it comes to the so-called “educators guarantee”. What they said was that as a result of getting this extra payment, that they would guarantee workers wouldn’t lose their jobs. But of course what they didn’t guarantee was that their pay packet would be the same, that they wouldn’t be stood down without pay, that casuals wouldn’t have their hours cut, and these are all the experiences going on. Now I would urge the Government to release that data, because there is strong evidence coming from the sector that this is happening. And indeed the United Workers Union that represents early educators have got a petition with over 10,000 signatures indicating that this is a problem. It is the worst time to have ripped JobKeeper off these educators in the middle of a recession.

CONNELL: We’ve had Australians with a taste of course of free childcare during this pandemic, I’m sure people liked it getting something free of charge, but it does come at a big cost. There is a growing push from business to consider this, where is Labor at on either free childcare or something very close to that? Are you looking at this closely?

RISHWORTH: We are looking at all options on the table, to look at how we can deliver more affordable, accessible childcare. What the Thrive by Five coalition has indicated is that there are just too many barriers at the moment in the current scheme to allow children to access childcare, and one of the large barriers is a financial barrier, it just costs too much. And one of the things that the Government has made really clear is that over time the benefit to families has been eroded. Only two years ago they were bragging about out of pocket costs being 10 per cent down, now its only 3 per cent down. So what we’ve got is an erosion of the benefit of childcare, the cost becoming more and more a barrier for people to access childcare. And so what the Thrive by Five organisation has said is there are clearly accessibility issues as well as affordability issues when it comes to childcare, and they’re saying they want to see those barriers brought down, and that’s certainly something that I want to see and I am working towards.

CONNELL: But does this mean looking at something as I said either free childcare or something along the model being proposed that it would be 95 per cent paid for, perhaps tapered off at quite a higher level so high income earners begin to lose some subsidies, but still have it at such a high level that almost all families are benefiting? Are you looking at something like that?

RISHWORTH: We are looking at all the options on the table Tom, what we want is to see childcare affordable in this country. I’m working through it, obviously we’ve got to make sure that it fits within our budget parameters, we need to be responsible in our budgeting. But certainly childcare, when it comes to families, this is a big chunk of money coming out of their pay. And it’s actually the worst time to have really unaffordable childcare, because as people look to going back to work, hopefully –

CONNELL: Sorry we’re nearly out of time, sorry to jump in there we’re a bit short on time. Whatever you’re looking at right now, will it be billions more into childcare each year? Does Labor see this as a spending priority area right now because of the benefits you’re talking about for getting people back into the workforce, education outcomes and so on? Is that the indication that this is going to be a priority?

RISHWORTH: There is no doubt the double dividend from childcare is great, whether that’s workforce participation or the investment in our children at the most critical time. We are seriously looking at this issue, and I will sit down with anyone to look at how we can make this system more affordable and more accessible for children and families.

CONNELL: We’ll see perhaps what’s in the future, Amanda Rishworth thanks for your time today.

ENDS

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