RN Breakfast – Labor’s child care transparency policy, Barnaby Joyce and the Nationals

Friday, 25 June 2021

SALLY SARA, HOST: Amanda Rishworth is the Shadow Minister for Early Childhood Education, welcome to Breakfast.

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

SARA: These new measures you say will provide some much needed transparency in child care. Why do we need that?

RISHWORTH: At the moment, we’ve got a very mixed market when it comes to child care, and fees that go up significantly for parents. We’ve had fee rises, just in the last year three times the CPI, and those are out of pocket costs. So the government gives some subsidy, but those out of pocket costs are actually acting as a barrier for women returning to work. So we need to do something about cost, and Labor’s already announced a policy around increasing subsidies quite significantly for families. But we also need to ensure that we know where that government money is going. And there’s a number of complex arrangements, including some private equity arrangements, where the taxpayer, families and the government are not really sure how that money is being spent.

SARA: The government already has a website that allows parents to compare child care prices, and it’s taken down the details of more than 500 providers who haven’t publicly reported their fees. Doesn’t that show the government’s already taking the issue of transparency seriously?

RISHWORTH: Well, I’m not sure how taking down information about child care centres helps parents. One of the problems is that a lot of the fees are not up to date on that website, or they’re not being provided. Taking that information off the website isn’t necessarily going to mean that families don’t find those child care centres, they just don’t have the information that they need. So we think a much better solution to this is for parents to be able to see what the fees actually are, and make sure that providers are providing that information about fee increases, but also how much of that is actually profit. So that, along with quality information, so families can make an informed decision. And that’s actually what families want. The Front Project has done a pretty significant survey that was released very recently, showing parents want to know this information.

SARA: Child care places can be hard to get in some parts of the country, especially in regional areas. If you’re adding red tape and reporting requirements, is there a risk that you’re going to scare some operators away from this sector? They go and do something else?

RISHWORTH: I think that many people would look at where demand is and see whether it makes financial sense for them to set up a child care place. But of course, what we need to do is we’re spending a lot of money on this, we’re spending $9 billion, Labor is planning to invest another $6 billion if we’re elected. And this is taxpayers money, and I think there should be an obligation to be able to see where this money is going and how it interacts with quality. Because that’s what parents want, they want to know that the fees are affordable, number one, but also what they are spending goes into quality care. Because that’s what makes a difference.

SARA: In addition to the overall measures that you have, what are the specific measures you’ve put in this plan for regional areas, where many parents are struggling to get a place?

RISHWORTH: Well we want to increase the amount of subsidy that we provide to families. That is part of our broader plan that we announced last year, significantly reducing –

SARA: But what about specific measures for regional areas. Are there any at all?

RISHWORTH: We believe that will increase demand. At the moment we have different levels of demand in different places, and that’s certainly something that I’m very alive to. There is over supply in some areas and that’s causing different problems. But really our focus is on making it more affordable for families. We believe that will drive up demand, but also the market will respond to that.

SARA: The government says your plan would also see subsidy rates increased and tapered for every family earning less than $530,000. Are those on the higher end of earning really in need of that kind of help?

RISHWORTH: When you look at some bills of up to $500, $600 a week for a child in child care, this is acting as a workforce disincentive –

SARA: For someone on half a million dollars?

RISHWORTH: That’s for a combined family income. It is absolutely working as a workforce disincentive. And that is not only not good for that family, it’s not only not good for women’s workforce participation, but it’s bad for the economy. We’ve got to remember, this support is not welfare, it’s actually about ensuring women can return to the workforce in particular, but families as well. I would point out, though, that our proposal not only helps the vast majority of families, but it also gives more support for low income families with one child in child care. They don’t get anything extra from this government. So lower income families with one child get more support, and indeed, low income families with two children actually get more support from our plan. So we are giving more support right across the income spectrum, and really it is the government itself that’s peddling this myth that somehow we’re only supporting high income families. We’re supporting more families right across the income scale, and more than the government plans to do.

SARA: Amanda Rishworth, returned Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce will soon replace Michael McCormack on the new Cabinet taskforce on women’s safety and security. Is that appropriate?

RISHWORTH: I think a lot of us were all scratching our heads yesterday when this news came out. I think it is reminiscent of Tony Abbott appointing himself as Minister for Women. A lot of people will lack confidence potentially in this taskforce, because I’m not sure that Australian women and particularly regional women, feel that Barnaby Joyce is their voice in the parliament.

SARA: Could it do him some good to be in that room?

RISHWORTH: Well, it could. But my understanding about this taskforce is it’s actually driving change, not arguing about change. This week, we had leaks from the National Party, or the joint party Coalition room, where it was argued that supporting women and families with the cost of child care was akin to outsourcing parenting. I mean, that is the type of attitude that we’re seeing. I would hope that this taskforce would be a drive for change, not be a place where we debate whether or not child care is outsourcing parenting. That is an insult Australian families.

SARA: What did you think about those comments?

RISHWORTH: I thought they were utterly outdated and really shameful. I mean, parents are out there juggling work and family. There is a lot of guilt felt by parents trying to meet that juggle, but they do it because they want to and they need to, and it is good for children, and it is good for the economy. So to have those sort of outdated views just really worries me, and it worries me about the direction that the government will go on.

SARA: You want to make large child care providers publicly report their revenue and profits, as we were saying earlier. What do you hope parents would actually gain from that?

RISHWORTH: What I hope parents will be able to do is actually have some transparency about what their child care centre invests in, and how that is linked to quality. We already measure quality, but we don’t know the interaction between where the profits are going and the investment in quality. So I hope that parents will be able to make a judgment about their centres and quality, where the money’s going, and what those fee increases they see, that are very large, are actually delivering.

SARA: How big do you think child care is going to be as an election issue?

RISHWORTH: I think this is one of the critical issues this election. I think this is one of the areas the Commonwealth has failed to reform properly to deliver. If we want an economic recovery that actually is inclusive and ensures that we’re able to get the biggest amount of growth, then child care is it. The economists are talking about it, businesses are talking about it, we’ve been talking about it for some time. I think this will be a critical election issue.

SARA: Amanda Rishworth, thank you for joining us on our Breakfast.

RISHWORTH: Thank you.

ENDS

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