Doorstop with Anthony Albanese – early education and care

Tuesday, 09 June 2020




SUBJECTS: Government’s announcement of rolling back JobKeeper for early childhood education centres; early childhood education; support for essential workers during the coronavirus pandemic; trans-Tasman bubble; Josh Frydenberg’s $60 billion JobKeeper bungle.

ALICIA PAYNE, MEMBER FOR CANBERRA: Good afternoon. I am Alicia Payne, the Member for Canberra. And it is great to be here at MOCCA, one of our fantastic early childhood education and care centres here in my electorate, and to welcome our Leader, Anthony Albanese, and our Shadow Minister for Early Childhood, Amanda Rishworth, today. Now, the way that this Government have managed early childhood education care through this coronavirus pandemic has been an absolute shambles. First of all, for too long we had no assistance for this essential service to keep running until pressure from Labor made them step up and do something. But their response then was this headline of free childcare which unfortunately didn’t support those centres to provide that childcare for free properly. The latest is that they have announced from the 12th of July, we are going to snap back to the expensive fees that we had before the pandemic and that these essential workers are going to be pushed of JobKeeper earlier than everyone else. Now, clearly the economy is not going to snap back but they are snapping back to the old system. Parents who may have lost their jobs will be on reduced incomes, they are going to be forced to pay the fees that they were paying before. So, it is great to have our Leader and Shadow Minister here today to meet with workers here at MOCCA and discuss this issue. And I would like to hand over to Anthony Albanese. Thanks.

ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Thanks very much, Alicia and thanks for welcoming us to your electorate. And to Amanda Rishworth who is doing a fantastic job advocating for the interests of those who are early childhood educators but also the parents and, of course, the kids themselves who need quality early childhood education in this country. I do want to make some comments about the quite extraordinary decision that has been announced by the Government yesterday. There are two issues here; one is the impact on childcare centres and providers, the fact is that this is a one size fits all response to a complex issue and to a diverse set of providers that will have an impact. What we will see is a snap back in terms of a shutdown of some childcare centres as a result of this. What we will see is that parents will struggle because they are snapping back to the old system that already had, we know, one of the highest cost childcare systems in the world. We know that it’s not good enough. And it comes just days after, four days after Scott Morrison said, very clearly, in a press conference on June the fifth, you can guarantee that, that is JobKeeper, that will be there until the end of September. Yes, a one-word answer, a one-word breach. Because the answer, of course, is no. Because JobKeeper will end for early childhood educators in just a couple of weeks’ time. Completely unacceptable that the Prime Minister has breached this promise. And why is it that early childhood educators aren’t being given the respect that they deserve? They look after our littlest Australians. They look after their welfare. They look after their education and here they are being treated with disdain. They are being left behind. And what it will mean, as well as the impact, particularly, on women wanting to return to the workforce as the economy recovers, the idea that we are in a position to just snap back now is completely unacceptable and one that shows a Government that is out of touch, a Government that is prepared to leave people behind.

What we are seeing throughout the rollback period of this already is that the Government, in its rollout of the support packages and now in its rollback are making mistake after mistake after mistake. Whether it is the $60 billion so-called accounting error, which Mathias Cormann has dismissed today as just a little blip. Whether it be the issue of superannuation funds being stolen by criminals without people’s knowledge. Whether it be the gaps that are there any JobKeeper program with sectors like arts and entertainment being left out completely. Whether it be the Government’s Robodebt scandal with $721 million plus more to come having to be paid back. Whether it be the housing package which is designed so that no-one will be eligible except for those who were already going to build a house or already going to renovate a house with $150,000 plus worth of renovations. This Government is botching up recovery that is needed to get us back into the black, not in the sort of statements that the Government has made when they made their Budget speech last year, but in terms of the fact that we are in an economic recession for the first time in 30 years. That requires a coherent and considered response. We are not getting it. And the response to early childhood it is just a prime example of that.

AMANDA RISHWORTH, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION AND DEVELOPMENT: Well, thank you very much. And I would like to extend by thanking all the early educators here at this centre, but right around the country, for the work that you’ve done during this pandemic and the work you do every day in supporting our youngest Australians. What we’ve seen from the announcement yesterday by the Government is a snap back to an old system that is incredibly expensive and will price many families out of being able to afford care. What we know is that there are already families making the difficult decision about whether or not they can actually afford to continue the early education of their children. Families, we know, doing it tough and the decision by the Morrison government will only make it tougher. Equally, there are early educators right around this country scratching their head about why the Prime Minister broke his promise in actually stopping JobKeeper stopping early. There will be educators right around the country worried about the jobs in the future. We will work with the sector to make sure educators don’t lose their job. But at the moment there will be many educators very worried about the future. There are a number of options that the Morrison Government could have taken. And, as Anthony said, it is a very diverse sector, a one size fits all doesn’t actually work, but instead we had a Government that is going to put a handbrake on economic recovery. If women cannot get back to work, not because there is no job for them, but because they can’t get early education and care, that will be an absolute travesty. And indeed, it will be a job crusher for those women. So, it is a bad decision for the Government. And I really, really hope that they end up reviewing it.

ALBANESE: Thanks very much happy to take questions

JOURNALIST: Do you think the Government has been meddling to much with the private sector and private business in all the restrictions that were imposed on childcare providers?

ALBANESE: Well, what we have here is, and speaking to the workers here this afternoon, is that they regard themselves quite rightly as essential workers. But they’re special, because they’re essential workers who allow other essential workers to do their job. And they’ve seen us through this crisis. If there’s one sector that deserves praise along with others, it is this one. Because without this one, nurses couldn’t go to hospitals, police couldn’t have done their work, emergency service workers couldn’t have done their work, supermarket workers couldn’t have done their work. These are essential workers. They’re deserving of respect. And they haven’t got it. And from this Government to single them out to be removed from JobKeeper before anyone else is quite frankly extraordinary.

JOURNALIST: To maintain the free childcare and allow the system to expand to meet the growing demand would have carried a major, major price tag. So, you would have to pump way more money in. Are you saying that’s what was necessary? You would back a lot more money going into the childcare system right now?

ALBANESE: The Government said it. This is the Government’s policy. The Government announced and confirmed last Thursday that everyone would continue to receive JobKeeper until September. It’s the Government that established the system of free childcare for this period, backed up by JobKeeper. It’s the Government that have withdrawn it without notice or expectation. And it is reasonable that many working parents out there have planned on the basis of the rules that were there. People who watched Scott Morrison on the news last Thursday saying that, guaranteeing in a one-word answer of ‘yes’ that JobKeeper would be there until September.

JOURNALIST: Would you propose to keep JobKeeper for these workers until September, or other measures as well?

ALBANESE: Well, we will have a comprehensive early childhood plan at the next election. What we’re concerned about now is snap back, is the immediate impact. And the big news is we won’t to be in Government over this period up until September. So, what we’re saying is, clearly, the Government has not thought it through. We’ve said very clearly, not just when it comes to early childhood, but to other sectors as well that we need a transition plan. That the idea of snap back will snap the economy and keep it in recession for longer than is necessary. We have said that clearly and consistently. The Government is characterised by its complacency. And when it comes to snap back the idea that you can just take things off on a particular day and there’s been barely any notice of this snap back given by the Government.

JOURNALIST: Not every centre was able to get JobKeeper and there were childcare centres who were able to get JobKeeper for all their workers other than those with visa issues or casual employees

ALBANESE: All the weaknesses in the JobKeeper program that we continued to point out as well.

JOURNALIST: But isn’t it fairer now to have this guarantee of a quarter of the fee revenue to go to every centre regardless of whether they were eligible for JobKeeper?

ALBANESE: The fact is that arrange of centres will be worse off as a result of this. There was no consultation. You had a paper go out, which didn’t allow the managers of childcare centres such as the one here to actually fill in the documentation and put forward their ideas. This wasn’t a consultative process. You had the head of the largest childcare provider in Australia this morning indicates a lack of consultation and a real concern about going forward. Bear in mind, the Government only produced a package due to the pressure that was on from Amanda and from the sector. And the Government was reluctant about acknowledging that this is an essential component, not just of family life, and work life balance. It’s essential for our economy as well.

JOURNALIST: Didn’t you agree to give Josh Frydenberg the powers over JobKeeper, to cut people off, was that a mistake? Should it have been instead to have to go back to legislation?

ALBANESE: News flash, Labor doesn’t have the numbers in the House of Representatives. And we make no apologies for the fact that we were constructive. We put forward a range of issues of concern that we have with the legislation. It wasn’t our legislation. It was Government legislation. We didn’t allow the perfect to be the enemy of the good. We supported all three stimulus packages through which stands in stark contrast to the negative attitude that the Coalition had during the Global Financial Crisis.

JOURNALIST: What do you make of the Treasury Secretary accepting full responsibility for the JobKeeper error today? And also, the evidence that some businesses put their ABN and phone number in that box that was part of that mistake?

ALBANESE: Well, I think Australian hearing that, next time that someone gets pinged for making a mistake on their tax form and comes up with an excuse like that, and that’s somehow, okay, it’ll be an interesting precedent. The fact is under the Westminster system, the Treasurer is responsible, not bureaucracy. It’s his name on the door. And the buck stops with him. And the fact that the Government made an error of some $60 billion, an error that you could see from space, an error that overestimated the number of people who were on JobKeeper by 3 million people, the support that was given, the fact that no-one picked up that there were a whole bunch of businesses who had exactly 1,500 employees, not 1,510, not 1,493, but 1,500, I just find extraordinary. And quite frankly, the idea that Josh Frydenberg thinks it’s acceptable to have a public servant accept responsibility for a scheme that he has implemented and that under the Westminster system is just quite frankly pathetic. Quite frankly pathetic. Next, he will be saying that someone else made him say in his Budget speech last year, that the Budget was already back in black. That’s what we’ll hear from him next. And Scott Morrison, remember, his grand statement during the election campaign that the Budget was back in black in the future. I mean, really, this Government won’t accept responsibility for anything. Whether it’s this mistake, whether it be Robodebt, which was done on Scott Morrison’s watch, this grand scheme, and once again, in terms of errors not being picked up, perhaps if they had human beings looking at information then you wouldn’t have these sorts of mistakes. But it’s the Government that’s contracted out public service jobs, with the consequence that they don’t have proper oversight by human beings of what is happening.

JOURNALIST: I’m certain you are not going to announce detailed Labor policies for the next election today.

ALBANESE: You think?

JOURNALIST: Last election, your latest policy was free or basically free childcare for many more families. Is it fair to say that principle is still something that Labor backs? That you want to see?

ALBANESE: It’s fair to say that we will make our announcement in good time based upon where we are at the point in the cycle, what we’re concerned about. What we’re concerned about is immediate Government action now. If there’s not an appropriate response that provides support for the early childhood sector, then a future Government will inherit a sector that needs very different policies and reforms. So, it’s not a matter of an academic exercise. It’s not a matter of just timing. Policy begins from what you inherit. And what you inherit in 2022 is different from what’s there in 2019. We’ll make assessments. Our principle is very clear that childcare should be affordable, that childcare should be accessible, that people who work in childcare should be given the respect that they deserve as essential workers.

JOURNALIST: What do you think about the possibility of the trans-Tasman travel bubble now that New Zealand is lifting all their domestic restrictions?

ALBANESE: Well, New Zealand’s done very well, that is the first thing I’d say. Jacinda Ardern has done an exceptional job, and she’s an exceptional Prime Minister. And there was a great deal of criticism, compare the response of the New Zealand Opposition with the constructive way that we have conducted ourselves during this coronavirus pandemic. We’ve been constructive. We’ve put forward ideas. Where we think the Government’s got it wrong, we’ve pointed it out. But we haven’t, to refer to one of the previous answers, we haven’t said, ‘No, no, we don’t like that little bit, so we’ll oppose it. We will oppose the whole lot’. We’ve been constructive. Jacinda Ardern made strong decisions early. And that has had the benefit in that they’ve been able to remove the restrictions in New Zealand because it’s virus free now. That’s got to be an objective of where we want to get to. With regard to those decisions, they are decisions, of course, for New Zealand, as well as for Australian authorities. Thank you.


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