Tuesday, 04 September 2018
SUBJECT/S: Cost of child care, Peter Dutton’s au pairs
LAURA JAYES: Let’s go live to Amanda Rishworth who is the Early Childhood Spokesperson for Labor. Thank you so much for your time. Now this oversupply it would seem hasn’t seen fees come down. In some parts of the country parents are still paying $170 a day, that’s before subsidies are taken out, is there anything that can be done to bring down fees?
AMANDA RISHWORTH, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION AND DEVELOPMENT: Obviously one of the issues is that it costs money to run a child care centre, and we’ve seen some new child care centres come in areas where there is already oversupply. What we’re not seeing is where there is need necessarily new centres developing there and in other places where there is oversupply already perhaps there hasn’t been a focus on doing due diligence in terms of is childcare available. There is another issue a lot of parents tell me there is always high demand in areas where there is high quality early education. Centres that have a good reputation invest in high quality education always come under high demand. So I think there is a range of things that attract parents to centres, and a range of things that impact cost and the cost is deeply concerning. The government said their solution was this benchmark price. That hasn’t necessarily seen in recent figures a downward pressure on fees. So that’s not working.
JAYES: Alright, well you could very well be in government within six to nine months, let’s just pretend you are for a moment. What is Labor’s plan to sort out this issue. As you say 326 child care centres have opened across the country in just a year. Has there been any oversight into where the centres have been able to set up or has it been left up to the market?
RISHWORTH: It has been left to the market and what we have in the early education sector which is quite different from all the other areas of education is just letting it to the market to determine this. I am certainly looking carefully at how the Commonwealth could be involved in this space as well as states and territories. States and territories have a significant impact when it comes to planning.
JAYES: What kinds of things are you talking about there?
RISHWORTH: In terms of states and territories I’ve been speaking with different peak bodies about planning laws but at the same time you don’t want to come to a situation where it is government regulation that leads to a shortage of child care places. So it is a difficult issue to tackle but unfortunately in this sector we have in many areas whether it is price, whether it is accessibility, we have really just let the market rip and it is failing parents so I’m looking very carefully at what can be done. I would be very keen to work with my state colleagues around the issues of delivering a high quality early education sector. Like I said, for some early education centres that I go to, there are other centres around, but they are particularly popular because of the very high quality early education agenda that they offer.
JAYES: Ok, you’ve mentioned the high quality early education agenda a couple of times now, is there a price disparity with these high quality centres as you described them?
RISHWORTH: There isn’t necessarily a quality disparity in some places. In other places there is. What I find the high quality is in centres that put particular focus on meeting the quality framework and exceeding the quality framework. That sometimes comes with a cost barrier, a cost impost, it also comes with having to attract experienced staff, so a range of factors go into quality.
JAYES: Is Labor still pushing for child care workers, early learning child care workers to have a greater level of qualification?
RISHWORTH: At the moment we are implementing the quality framework which did require certificate 3 and diploma level qualifications and we stand by the quality framework. We think the quality framework over the last ten years has driven a huge improvement and set a benchmark for centres.
JAYES: Has it driven up prices as well?
RISHWORTH: It has been there to ensure there is high quality and I think –
JAYES: What’s it done to price? If government is requiring a higher level of education, obviously those workers are at a higher standard, therefore is there a price that’s being pushed to parents?
RISHWORTH: They are not getting paid a significant amount more. We’ve got child care educators on $22 an hour so I don’t you can argue that there’s been a huge jump in wages as a result of the increase in professional standards and that’s one of the issues –
JAYES: The cost of child care isn’t going down so what is behind this increase in child care costs. It’s not in keeping with inflation, I think it was double from memory?
RISHWORTH: Over a period of time if you look at education costs overall they have gone up higher than inflation. If you look at what was called the education price index, I think that was the name of the index, it actually was increasing much more than CPI because it does cost to get levels of education resources in there, but what the government did it is promised with its benchmark price that it would put downward pressure on fees and it hasn’t done that. We saw just recently up to 10 per cent increase in fees –
JAYES: What can you realistically do if you do get into government in the next six to nine months? What can you realistically do to bring prices down or at least stop the increase?
RISHWORTH: I don’t have the silver bullet. There’s a range of things I’m talking with the sector about ways that you can support parents. The main way that parents are supported now through the Commonwealth is the subsidy –
JAYES: You don’t see any need to change that new subsidy structure?
RISHWORTH: I’m looking at it very carefully. As I repeatedly said we do have concerns with the activity test, which lets you have access to subsidy, but we are looking at a system that has been scrambled over many years. If I had my time again would you set it up like this? Probably not.
JAYES: You see a problem at the lower end, the activity test, the government argues there is a safety net there for at risk children. What about at the other end of the scale, some women might be university educated, they might have a middle income job, but they’re now looking at their family budget and saying well it’s just not worth me going back to work even with the new subsidy structure. Is Labor offering anything to those particular women?
RISHWORTH: Our focus has been the low and middle income earners. We know that children that get investment in the early years, especially the two years before school get better outcomes at school, better outcomes in year three NAPLAN tests and a range of other social indicators. So our focus has been there. But, you’re right, in the past Labor when in government resisted means testing because it was often the woman, not always, but often the woman, that cut back her hours and didn’t progress in her career because of the cost of child care.
JAYES: And that still remains the case doesn’t it?
RISHWORTH: It does remain the case and KPMG put out a report recently that did speak about the fact that the new child care subsidy arrangements actually meant that going from three to four days there wasn’t much benefit for the second income earner, which is usually a woman. And certainly going to five days there was a disincentive to go back to work five days a week –
JAYES: And do you propose to do anything to fix this?
RISHWORTH: I’m looking at the whole system but I am focused as I said, with limited resources, on the low and middle incomes.
JAYES: So would you rule it out then?
RISHWORTH: My focus, as I said, is on low and middle income earners.
JAYES: If your focus is on low and middle income earners, historically that is fair enough but what about that problem you just articulated at the other end?
RISHWORTH: Well look Tanya Plibersek and I have been, when it comes to women’s workforce participation, there’s a lot of issues, child care and access to education is one of those –
JAYES: It would be the number one issue for a number of people, looking at that KPMG report, so if you are talking about getting more women back into work, there’s one tool available to government, to you in government, and that would be making those child care subsidies a productivity measure rather than a welfare one?
RISHWORTH: To be quite frank, I think they are both a productivity measure, not a welfare measure, but an education measure, and I like to think of balancing, when we come to early education as an input in early education as well as workforce participation and it has benefits for both. At the moment, as I said, our biggest concerns has been the activity test but I’m very keen to hear from parents as they are experiencing the new system about what type of impact it is having on them because as we know one in four families are worse off as a result of the governments changes.
JAYES: Ok let’s have a look at one final issue and Peter Dutton has been under fire for granting access to Australia for three au pairs, he has used his ministerial discretion, I am told that you have made 43 representations to Minister Dutton’s office since December 2014 on similar issues. Do you care to explain what those 43 representations were for?
RISHWORTH: There have been a range of different issues and I have to say I asked my office last week how many of those have been successful, and to their knowledge, they’ve said none. The Minister has chosen not to intervene on the 43 representations that I’ve made.
JAYES: Can you give us an example of what some of those 43 representations were?
RISHWORTH: Yeah. I’m happy to give you an example. One of the examples was an individual that wanted to come out on a tourist visa to visit their family. They had a sick relative here. They came from a country that was deemed a high risk in terms of not returning back on that tourist visa. We outlined all the reasons we believed and they stated that they would return on that tourist visa but it was still denied to this day. I did check with my office to say look we have made representations, I make representations pretty regularly. I asked them are they aware at all of any that have been successful and they said no.
JAYES: Did you make any representations on behalf of any au pairs?
RISHWORTH: I’m not aware of any representations I made on any au pairs. Most of them were in relation to whether it would be tourist visas, marriage visas, and things where people believed that they met the criteria and this is an important issue. They feel like they met the criteria for the visa, the Department said they didn’t, we were highlighting how they met the criteria.
JAYES: Ok, the representations you’ve made don’t seem any more serious or pressing than the au pair issue. I mean Peter Dutton has made the case that these are young women, he was satisfied that they weren’t going to be breaching their visa so he granted them access to Australia. Do you accept that for them to get a negative assessment would have affected their future travel to Australia and he just didn’t see that as fair?
RISHWORTH: I’ve made the point that I can’t get an answer in 24 hours or 48 hours, I certainly can’t ring up the minister and get these decisions changed at the border. We haven’t tried but I am assuming I can’t, these usually take some time but I would say that someone wanting to come to Australia to visit a very sick relative when they believed they didn’t have long to live is a pretty serious issue and certainly I haven’t been in that situation. They’ve waited months for an answer. I’ve asked my office whether or not any of our representations have been successful and they said no.
JAYES: Ok. Amanda Rishworth thank you for your time.
RISHWORTH: Thank you.