AM Agenda – masks, JobKeeper and early educators

Monday, 20 July 2020

SUBJECTS: Masks; JobKeeper taken away from early educators.

ANNELISE NIELSEN, HOST: Joining us live for other news of the day is Shadow Early Childhood Education Minister Amanda Rishworth, Amanda thank you for your time.

AMANDA RISHWORTH, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION AND DEVELOPMENT: Great to be with you.

NIELSEN: Really significant developments in the management of coronavirus in Australia, in particular masks now compulsory in Victoria. Are you worried that this spread could continue right up the eastern seaboard?

RISHWORTH: It’s definitely a very tense time, and it’s a time for vigilance and caution. What the medical advice has said is that particularly where there’s community transmission, masks are really important. There’s been some research come in talking about the role that they can play, so it’s certainly something that needs to be used in our armoury against this virus.

NIELSEN: We’re talking about the early childhood education sector which is your remit and your Shadow portfolio, today is the day that the JobKeeper subsidies for the child care sector in particular end. But this is a time when the Government says 74 per cent of child care centres across the country are subscribed which is awfully high considering the pandemic. Do you think that this is the time to be winding back on government subsidies?

RISHWORTH: Of course demand went up for child care when it was free. Wat we know is that a lot of people, hours after the Government announced their free child care package, tried to get into early education and care. That ended last week and so what we’ve got now is a lot of uncertainty for providers and the sector. What happens if we see further outbreaks like we’re seeing in Melbourne across the country? What security will there be for staff? So there is great concern across the sector.

In terms of the amount of money that services are getting, they are taking for some services a very big cut when JobKeeper goes away, and my question is will we see more early educators lining up at Centrelink as a result of this? It is the wrong sector I think to be trialling the early wind back, because the Government’s done no research into what will happen once fees comes back and what will happen to demand. There could well be a reduction in demand, leaving early educators very vulnerable to losing their jobs.

NIELSEN: Why should there be this ongoing targeted support for child care sector? This is a pandemic where the economic impacts are being felt right across the country, they’re still eligible for other government support, like you said JobSeeker, JobKeeper as well. What makes child care special that it should get that ongoing special support?

RISHWORTH: First of all they’re the first group to be cut off from JobKeeper, so they’re getting special support in a way that probably they didn’t want and that was to be the first to be cut. But look the child care sector is critically important to our whole economy, it is an essential service. We saw this as one of the services that had to keep going to ensure that essential workers could go to work. They’re still operating in Victoria because without them the doctors, the nurses, the shop assistants, the aged care carers, they can’t go to work. So this is actually an essential economic pillar in our society if we want to keep functioning.

So it is critically important to our economy, and of course the Government does invest in early education and care, it is something that for many years does receive government subsidy. And if this sector was to fail, then we would have an economic crisis on our hands. So this is a critically important part of our economy that allows the economy to tick over. But of course they have had special treatment – that special treatment involves having JobKeeper ripped away.

NIELSEN: One of the key purposes of this targeted support for child care was to make sure that essential workers could keep going to work in this time. We do know that those essential workers largely are still going to work and are still getting their normal income. So isn’t there a risk that in continuing this targeted support, you’re subsidising an industry that is keeping people who don’t have jobs having their children in child care when they could be at home looking after them and not having that cost worn by the Government?

RISHWORTH: Of course during the acute crisis it was essential that those workers could get to work, and if services shut down, whether it’s free or they have to pay fees, if there’s no services then they just can’t go to work. But now as the economy recovers we need to see people starting up their small businesses again, we need to see people getting back to work, taking on the extra hours. And if child care is not available, if services have shut down because they don’t get enough support, they’re not viable anymore, or indeed the fees are too high, what you’re going to see is a lacklustre restart of the economy.

So we have Melbourne where it’s critical that essential workers can get to work, and if services shut down then those workers won’t be able to work. But in other parts of the country where we need to restart our economy, having care for little children is critically important. You can’t spend time rebuilding your small business if you can’t get into child care, there’s no services available or the fees are too high. So that’s why child care is important, apart from the fact that it’s also important that children get the best start to life. Evidence has shown over and over again that investing in early education and care not only helps workforce participation, but also helps children get a better start to life. So it’s a two-pronged benefit and we need to invest in it now if we’re going to have both the immediate, short-term boost to the economy, but also a long-term boost.

NIELSEN: And just finally there has been quite a bit of commentary about whether it’s safe to have schools open at this time and safe to have child care centres open at this time. In Victoria where people have been told they have to wear face masks to go out, do you maintain that it is safe to have child care centres open?

RISHWORTH: What we need is early childhood education centres getting the best possible support, they need the personal protective gear that is required, they need to have support with cleaning. What I’ve been hearing from services is that they are taking this very seriously, they’re doing extra cleaning, they’re taking measures like not having parents into the premises, but they have said they’ve had to put on extra staff to manage that. So when we look at why centres need extra support, this is another element that requires extra support and attention. And so I think they need to be supported to take all the measures and all the medical advice that has been indicated – they’re doing that but they do need support to do it.

NIELSEN: Amanda Rishworth, Shadow Early Childhood Education Minister, thank you for your time.

RISHWORTH: Thank you.

ENDS

More News

Sunday, 19 July 2020
Early educators robbed of JobKeeper
Friday, 17 July 2020
A week of child care failures for the Government
Tuesday, 14 July 2020
AM Agenda – child care snap-back