Tuesday, 19 May 2020
PETER STEFANOVIC, HOST: Now a report into the “free child care” package has found it has succeeded in rescuing the sector, but a review will be needed as demand increases. The findings come as the Education Minister indicates the scheme is unlikely to extend beyond the end of June. Joining me now is Shadow Early Childhood Education Minister Amanda Rishworth, Amanda good morning to you thanks for joining us. So what is your reaction to these payments and this help possibly not extending beyond June?
AMANDA RISHWORTH, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION AND DEVELOPMENT: I’ve had a very mixed reaction from the child care sector. One of the things the report did say is one in four didn’t believe the package has helped them to stay viable, and that’s because the Government didn’t fund the package properly. But of course just a snap back to the old system could equally cause headaches for both providers and families. We know families are doing it particularly tough at the moment, and we know that prior to this pandemic we had one of the most expensive child care systems in the world. So to assume we can just snap back without having a good look at affordability for families and indeed accessibility for families is going to be a problem. So while I absolutely recognise the government has to do something, because there’s many families currently being locked out and many providers just hanging on with the skin of their teeth, we do need to probably rethink what the system looks like after June.
STEFANOVIC: Why wouldn’t it help all providers, because basically everything was paid for?
RISHWORTH: No it wasn’t actually, what providers were getting was 50 per cent of their revenue as at 2 March and then Jobkeeper. What they’ve had to do is cobble that together and work out how many families they could take. Now if you had some staff that didn’t get Jobkeeper, or your centre has particularly high full or part time staff, you couldn’t meet your ratios. What many services were having to do was turn families away. So it wasn’t actually funding free child care, they were saying here’s the money we’re going to give you, try and make that work and you can’t charge gap fees. Very different than properly funding free child care.
STEFANOVIC: It was always going to be a short term measure though, and as the Treasurer said recently there’s no money tree out there, so money doesn’t grow on trees. So isn’t it right that as people start going back to work, that they should have to revert back to the old system and they should have to pay?
RISHWORTH: Firstly I would make the point that the Government has tried to say the $1.6 billion is “unsustainable”, but actually they had budgeted to spend $2.1 billion on child care in this quarter. So it’s a bit disingenuous of the Government to say this is somehow unsustainable. But we do need to look at how we transition back. To say we are just going to snap back to the old system and, as a result, charge families very high fees in a time when many will find themselves in less work, underemployed, perhaps not having any employment at all but still want their children to access an early education, I think we need to have a serious look at it because we haven’t gone back to business as normal, despite demand for child care going up.
STEFANOVIC: So what would be the key point if you were to decide how we transition back? Extend it for a few months or even longer than that?
RISHWORTH: Well if it was to be extended it needs more funding put into it because the system is not meeting demand at the moment, it’s not meeting families’ needs for many that are trying to get into the system. But I think we have to have a careful look at really delivering on some key principles. One is affordability and the other is accessibility, and if we look at the old system we’ve got a very rigid activity test, which is the amount of work that parents have to do to qualify for this subsidy. Also an income test, for which parents need to know their exact income. All of these factors have changed with COVID, so I think the Government has to look very carefully at the principles of affordability and accessibility as we move forward.
STEFANOVIC: Shadow Early Education Minister Amanda Rishworth, appreciate your time this morning thanks for joining us.