Doorstop – government’s child care snap back

Monday, 08 June 2020

AMANDA RISHWORTH, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION AND DEVELOPMENT: Today we’ve heard from the Government that they plan to snap back to the old, high-fee child care system. We heard from the Minister today that despite knowing that families are under financial pressure, they just want to snap back to high fees and a complex system. This snap back will snap families. We know that families are doing it tough. We know that there is immense financial pressure on so many. What we have in this country is one of the highest fee child care systems in the world. Indeed in the most recent data we saw an increase of 7 per cent in the most recent year of data – 7 per cent increase in fees. And what this Minister wants to do is snap back to that old, high fee system.

This could well act as a handbrake on the economy. If women and families are not able to access affordable child care, how are they going to get back to work? How are they going to actually participate in the economy? How are they going to be able to make ends meet? What we know is for many families, the cost of child care prior to this pandemic was out of reach. It was too expensive and too difficult. And now with this announcement from the Minister that he wants to just snap back, many families are just going to shrug their shoulders and say it’s all too hard.

What we need from this Minister is a plan, a plan that can deliver accessible, affordable child care that meets the needs of families, especially during these difficult economic times. Just going back and saying to families that it doesn’t matter what’s happening, it doesn’t matter about your work situation, we are just going to add those fees onto your cost of living pressures, it’s just not good enough.

REPORTER: What’s the alternative then?

RISHWORTH: Well there’s been a number of plans put out there by think tanks, policy institutes. The Minister hasn’t considered any of these. In fact, he hasn’t made any real alterations to the fee system. And as I said, we know that we had a 7 per cent increase in fees, that’s three times CPI in the most recent data.

REPORTER: Does Labor want free child care to go on forever?

RISHWORTH: What we want is a system that works for families. What we’ve got is a snap back to the system that was designed for pre-pandemic. What the Government doesn’t seem to understand is parents are facing financial hardship, and the Government said bad luck, you’re going to face the same fees you faced prior to this. One of the most expensive in the world.

So the Government had a number of options on the table, and they chose none of them. They chose not to change the CCS percentage, not to look at which groups might really need free child care, like I said there was a range of proposals on the table and they chose none of them.

REPORTER: (Inaudible)

RISHWORTH: I’m not in Government, what I’m saying is there was a number on the table and the Government chose none of them, they chose just to snap back.

REPORTER: The Minister is saying the sector wants this in part because we’re seeing up to three quarters of kids back in care now, do you anticipate that we might see those attendance numbers drop?

RISHWORTH: We don’t know because the Government has basically done no real modelling on this and no real investigation. And what we had was a sector under significant pressure because the Government announced free child care, but didn’t fund it. So we had a sector begging the Government for financial relief just to keep their doors open, so it’s not surprising that they would take any money from this Government because they were under significant financial pressure. But the Government hasn’t done any modelling or any significant research on what demand might be once this free child care goes away. What I’m most worried about is the impact it’s going to have on families, who are worried about their cost of living pressures, worried about getting back to work, and having child care costs as a barrier to getting back to work is a terrible outcome.

REPORTER: What is a manageable CCS percentage then in your view?

RISHWORTH: Well there are a number of options on the table –

REPORTER: (inaudible).

RISHWORTH: It’s a complex system with a lot –

REPORTER: (inaudible).

RISHWORTH: He did say it’s a complex system, that’s why I don’t know why he’s snapping back to it. He’s snapping back to it, there’s a range of different financial pressures on families, they are underemployed, facing unemployment. Quite frankly it might be a variety of percentages that he needed to look at, but he didn’t look at those and what we’ve got is families facing this same significant fee hikes and pressures that they did previous to this pandemic.

REPORTER: So when will Labor (inaudible).

RISHWORTH: Once again I’m not in Government, but the Minister announced free child care and they didn’t fund it. What we’re saying to the Minister is design a system that actually meets the needs of families – affordable and accessible – and this Minister has not done that. They’ve snapped back to the old system, they’ve snapped back immediately with no relief for families.

REPORTER: (inaudible) the miscalculation of Jobkeeper, should that be put towards child care to reform the system, give more support during this time? What’s your view on that?

RISHWORTH: Families want to get back to work, and if a job’s available then the cost of child care shouldn’t be a barrier. Unfortunately by snapping back to the old system it will be a barrier for many families, not being able to get back to work because of the cost of child care.

REPORTER: What do you make of the Minister’s admission that the transition payment will be slightly less than the sector would be getting through Jobkeeper?

RISHWORTH: The Minister has not been able to explain why he is moving from Jobkeeper to this transitional payment. The Government promised to keep Jobkeeper going and a few days later they’ve broken that promise. So obviously we will be looking very carefully at the impact that this will have on early educators. We don’t want to see early educators lose their job, they have provided an essential services through this pandemic, they’ve turned up to work day after day looking after children, allowing essential workers to continue doing their jobs. So we’ll have to consult with the sector widely, but it is concerning that the Government has broken its promise only a few days after they promised to keep Jobkeeper going.

REPORTER: Isn’t it the case that there were concerns about eligibility in the sector and casuals weren’t covered, so it might even be better for the sector?

RISHWORTH: As I said I will be consulting carefully with the sector to see the impact on the centres and indeed importantly the educators. They’re the ones who have been turning up and doing their jobs. We do know that it was poorly targeted and 33 per cent of educators were missing out, but we don’t know the impact of taking that payment away and replacing it with another payment, and I will be consulting with the sector. But like I said the Government did make a promise that they would keep Jobkeeper, they’ve broken that promise. And equally, I want to work with the sector to make sure educators still have jobs.

REPORTER: (inaudible) weeks ago showed that if free child care were to be turned off parents would have to reduce or actually pull their children out of child care. What’s your response to that now that this has happened today, what will be the impact on the sector?

RISHWORTH: I have great concerns that parents will be sitting around their kitchen tables, doing the maths and working out that child care will just be too expensive for them. As I said we’ve snapped back to the old system that was one of the most expensive in the world, an increase of 7 per cent over a year in the most recent figures. So I think a lot of parents will be having to make difficult decisions. Do they take on an extra shift and pay for child care, or do they not? I am very worried that by just going back to the old system and not designing anything new or putting any new measures in place, that families will just find child care unaffordable.

REPORTER: Do you think the pause on the activity test for people who’ve lost work during the crisis is going to actually help those families, so they can get more subsidised care for the amount of activity they’re doing, but will it actually help them?

RISHWORTH: I think it’s an important step in terms of ensuring that those people on Jobkeeper and Jobseeker are able to actually get subsidised care, but I am still worried about the cost. I’m worried about the cost of child care despite the suspension of the activity test. So I am worried that it’s not going to do its job and actually make early childhood education and care more accessible for those families.

REPORTER: (inaudible).

RISHWORTH: They are two options on the table, I’m not going to come and try and make Government policy from Opposition, but what I would’ve urged the Government to do is consider some of the alternative policy options on the table, alternative directions. The Minister himself said this was overly complex and the system wasn’t necessarily fit for purpose, it’s what the Minister himself said. So to have changed that position now shows that he is not in touch with Australian families.


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