Topics: Crackdown on dodgy family day care providers; Mobile phones in schools; Schools funding
Kieran Gilbert: More than 150 dodgy family day care providers have had access to child care subsidies cancelled or suspended. This is part of a major blitz of the family day care system. The Federal Government says it’s saved taxpayers around $1 billion in subsidies that otherwise would have been paid.
On this, I caught up with the Education Minister Simon Birmingham. Minister, thanks so much for your time. Looking at this level of fraud in the family day care sector, extraordinary. And this crackdown’s going to stop $1 billion in subsidies; those numbers are quite hard to get your head around. Just how much fraud was being undertaking there?
Simon Birmingham: It is very significant, Kieran, and we have seen reprehensible behaviour in terms of providers claiming subsidies for children who didn't exist, who weren't present at the time the care was being claimed for, who were even in some cases overseas at the time. So, this has really been a case of taking action to clamp down ahead of our new child care subsidy starting on 2 July. But it's also been part of a continuous pattern. We've really invested time and effort over the last few years in strengthening the rules and regulations around child care to make sure it was easier to catch people and prosecute them where we can. We've done that, we've caught a number of people over a period of time; we've now undertaken this six month integrity surge ahead of the new child care system coming in place to make sure it's clean.
Kieran Gilbert: Well, it looks like it's obviously very widespread, that sort of practice, but the sector needs that to compliment it, doesn't it, in terms of that family day care? It's crucial.
Simon Birmingham: Look, the overwhelming majority of Australia's childcare providers, including family day care providers, do the right thing; provide great high quality care and education services to our children. We can't allow a few rotten apples to spoil the whole bunch, but we do need to make sure that those rotten apples are pushed out of the system. We've acted in that way. You know when Labor was last in government; there were just a few hundred checks on child care providers and no cancellations of services. We've now undertaken 4000-plus in the last year and, of course, are acting against 150 services to make sure the system is clear and as clean as possible ahead of what is a $2.5 billion additional investment we're providing to families starting from 2 July.
Kieran Gilbert: The New South Wales Government, on another matter, is looking at undertaking an inquiry into banning the mobile phone from school classrooms. It seems a no-brainer to me. Why would kids have access to their own phones? It's such a distraction if they're trying to learn.
Simon Birmingham: Look, I really welcome this initiative by Rob Stokes and the New South Wales Coalition Government. A few months ago I put on the record that it was my view that personal mobile phones have no place in the classroom, that the distraction that can be created in terms of devices and access to social media and everything else, as well as the risk in areas of cyber bullying and so on too, is all too great, and that we really ought to have a much better approach and policy, and that we shouldn't put the pressure on classroom teachers or individual principals to have to set the rules in this regard, that it ought to be a clear consistent policy approach, and I hope that's where the New South Wales Government goes.
Kieran Gilbert: Well, yeah, the bullying is one thing - and obviously it's a very big concern - but the fundamental starting point should be the fact that they need to be there to learn, to focus on the teacher and the subject, surely.
Simon Birmingham: Absolutely. There’s a place for technology in the classroom in terms of…
Kieran Gilbert: Can you introduce a national ban on that?
Simon Birmingham: Well, we can't really; we don't have the constitutional powers to regulate what happens in schools. In the end, running schools is a state responsibility. But I've made my position, and that of the Turnbull Government clear, which is that there ought to be very clear rules and regulations that make sure personal mobile phones are in no way a distraction in school classrooms around Australia. And the New South Wales Government, as the manager of the largest school system in the country, now looks like they are showing leadership in that regard, and that can only be good news not just for our kids but also for principals and teachers in terms of knowing that when children are using technology and devices in the classroom. It’s for good and to get good educational outcomes rather than as a distraction.
Kieran Gilbert: And finally on the National School Resourcing Board looking at the way that the Gonski reforms are going to be introduced in terms of your needs based funding approach, do you like what they're saying at this point? Those stakeholders obviously have been talking to Fairfax, and it's in the front page of The Sydney Morning Herald and other papers today, and suggesting that the way that the Government needs to approach this with non-government schools is to look at the tax paid by parents at those private schools in order to work out how much government funds should be flowing. Does it make sense to you?
Simon Birmingham: Look, I'm not going to prejudge this report until I receive the final copy of the report which is due at the end of the month. What we've asked the National School Resourcing Board to do is have a look at one element of school funding. Overall school funding’s growing by around a billion dollars year on year into the future, so significant yearly growth in terms of the level. The fastest rates of growth go to the neediest schools, mostly in terms of public schools who are not affected or impacted by this review. This review looks at one element as it relates to the non-government school sector the so-called SES school, which essentially assesses how much more money we give to schools, to school communities who are least able to afford to towards their fees so that we target that investment to those low income school communities. Now, it's then a case of looking at how you assess what a low income school community is, and the SES board will give us that advice shortly.
Kieran Gilbert: And this tax comparison looks like it’s what they're thinking about. And this, according to the analysis this morning, would help ease the pressure with you and the Catholic sector because this is the sort of direction that Catholics have been saying they want to see.
Simon Birmingham: Well, the Turnbull Government will stick to our principles, and our principles are to ensure that we treat all school systems and sectors fairly, and that we don't discriminate across state borders, we don't discriminate between different parts of the nongovernment schooling sector, that we adopt a principled approach to ensure that it is needs based funding as the Gonski panel recommended. That's what we acted on last year. There was this one outstanding element, and which we undertook the review of. We'll get that back shortly and we'll act in response to those recommendations.
Kieran Gilbert: The Education Minister speaking to me earlier this morning.