SUBJECT: Child care reforms
GRANT GOLDMAN: New South Wales residents are being encouraged to have their say about making child care more affordable, flexible, and accessible. Yeah gee, it's tough isn't it? New figures show the number of children enrolled in the state has actually increased by over 100,000 in just six years. Wow. You little procreators out there, aren't you? Yeah, 100,000. Federal Assistant Minister for Education Sussan Ley, who has responsibility for child care, said over 350,000 children were enrolled in formal, approved child care services in New South Wales in September 2013, compared to about 100,000 less in September 2007. It's amazing, isn't it? Ley says it's more important than ever that New South Wales families have their say on the Productivity Commission’s inquiry current draft report into child care and early childhood learning reforms before submissions close on September 5. Sussan Ley joins us on the phone. Morning Sussan.
SUSSAN LEY: Good morning, Grant.
GRANT GOLDMAN: Yeah, look, a number of New South Wales families, as you would know, and you've said as well, are struggling to access affordable and flexible child care places. It's tough out there.
SUSSAN LEY: Well they are. And it doesn't matter whether you live in the eastern suburbs of Sydney where the cost is extremely high, or out in my electorate of Far West New South Wales where it's a bit lower, affordability is the number one problem for every family and that's why we're fixing the system that we inherited from Labor where costs just skyrocketed and parents just can't get the places they need. And this is about, mainly, parents returning to work; not being able to afford to because they can't afford child care, but still needing the income and not wanting to stay at home.
GRANT GOLDMAN: Yeah. So, that's the thing we've got to face now. The days of the 50s and 60s when I was growing up where mum was always at home, and she was the home carer and had everything organised, and you'd get home and dinner would be ready – because times are tough these days both people have to go out to work, that seems to be the consensus of opinion. So more child care places than ever before are needed.
SUSSAN LEY: Well that's reality. And to pay off a mortgage in Sydney you definitely need two parents working.
GRANT GOLDMAN: Actually I also need my grandparents' inheritance as well, but that's another story.
SUSSAN LEY: And – but I – women participate in the economy, women work in jobs, but women's contributions are special and unique. And it may be that they only work two days a week, that might be all they want to do, but we don't want to miss out on their contribution. And the economy doesn't want to either. So it's government's responsibility to provide policies that allow the right work-life balance depending on your circumstances. And at the moment parents are just struggling to meet – to work within a system that, you're right, belongs to a previous generation and not the 24-7 economy that we all live in now.
GRANT GOLDMAN: Yeah. I got to say something here. You know, I've had a number of children, some names I can't even remember, but I've got to say, child care has improved from back in the early days when it was pretty much just a child minding centre. But child care is done so well these days and they are good learning centres. So that would attract more people who actually aren't working, but they want their child to start learning now.
SUSSAN LEY: Yes.
GRANT GOLDMAN: So that could be the added problem, because child care is actually so good now.
SUSSAN LEY: That's absolutely right. It's early education and care, that's the full sentence.
GRANT GOLDMAN: Yeah.
SUSSAN LEY: It's not babysitting. And we've got really high-quality early learning in Australia, and children benefit. So, parents are often encouraged to have – for their children to spend more hours. It is number one about returning to work, but at least it's, you know, parents are confident that while their children are there they are learning, they are being educated, they are meeting a lot of social and emotional targets, and when they start school they are absolutely ready. And that's the key because if children start school ready, they are off and racing; if they start school behind they often never catch up.
GRANT GOLDMAN: They'll be behind for the rest of their lives at school, that's true. Yeah – I'd like to know though why New South Wales has the highest number of formal approved child care services in the nation?
SUSSAN LEY: Well I think it reflects the population, and…
GRANT GOLDMAN: I suppose – is it just the population?
SUSSAN LEY: And Sydney being such a large city, so centres are meeting the need. But the demand is still much higher than the supply in many areas. So there’s waiting lists a mile long, some parents are saying, you know, we’re travelling half an hour, an hour out of our way just to drop the children off in the morning, we’re on the waiting list of three centres that we actually drive past…
GRANT GOLDMAN: And sometimes you’ve got to beg to be on the waiting list.
SUSSAN LEY: Sometimes you’ve got to pay to be on the waiting list!
GRANT GOLDMAN: Oh really? No, that’s a bit red hot, to pay to be on a waiting list?
SUSSAN LEY: Well, I mean, there are costs associated with it, but look, I mean centres make their own…
GRANT GOLDMAN: Really? A cost? They write someone’s name down…
SUSSAN LEY: Grant, I think you have to pay to be on the waiting list for some private schools, too.
GRANT GOLDMAN: Well, that’s tough these days too.
SUSSAN LEY: But what I want to emphasise to parents is that they’ve got until the fifth of September to have their say through the Productivity Commission inquiry. So every [indistinct]…
GRANT GOLDMAN: So how do they do that?
SUSSAN LEY: They can log on to www.pc.gov.au...
GRANT GOLDMAN: Yeah?
SUSSAN LEY: And it’s as simple as sending an email. And look I, as minister here, from all of the peak bodies with beautifully written pieces of paper and submissions that arrive – but what I really love is reading the short, sharp emails from families and from parents. People inside the system who say: this is what it’s like for me. So you can actually do that through this process…
GRANT GOLDMAN: There you are, well I tell you now, you’re going to get a couple of letters from our family because I have a five-year-old in child care; very, very happy with it, but it is expensive, no doubt about that. And the sad part is, while the wife goes out to work, she might earn $60,000 a year and half that goes to childcare [laughs].
SUSSAN LEY: Well some mums tell me they’re working for under $100 a week and they don’t mind because it’s about keeping your place – term in the workforce…
GRANT GOLDMAN: It’s also keeping women sane, because they like to get out of the house a bit and away from the children for a while, it’s good for them.
SUSSAN LEY: What we’re here to do is to support families’ choices and I don’t think the policy settings at the moment are doing that. That’s why I want to improve them.
GRANT GOLDMAN: Perhaps you’re right, good. Whereabouts are you, by the way?
SUSSAN LEY: Well I’m in my office in Canberra, but I’m on my way to Sydney to do a few child care visits. I always like to see what’s happening on the floor, sit down, play with the children, talk to the educators, find out how they’re feeling and so I know that when we do design new policy, it works for everywhere I go.
GRANT GOLDMAN: Well, you’re to be commended for that, that’s the approach that people would be looking for. Lovely to talk to you, thank you.
SUSSAN LEY: Thank you.
GRANT GOLDMAN: All the best. She’s got a lovely voice, too, isn’t it? Sussan – she could be on radio – Sussan Ley. What are your thoughts about child care? I think they do – in the main – a fantastic job, just a little bit expensive, right?