SUBJECTS: Child care, Job-ready Graduates package
Hamish Macdonald: Federal Labor says that the extra help for child care will boost female participation and productivity in the workplace, which could help fuel Australia’s economic recovery. The Education Minister Dan Tehan is in charge of child care policy for the Government. Good morning to you.
Dan Tehan: Morning Hamish. How are you?
Macdonald: Very well, thank you. Labor is promising an extra $6 billion for day care. That will work, won’t it, on two levels: helping families doing it tough in this recession. Also, though, getting Australia working again, as Anthony Albanese puts it.
Tehan: Well, ultimately, Hamish, every family is a taxpayer, and, once again, we’re getting from the Labor Party a $6 billion expense and no way to pay for it. And, if they’re baking it in, and we haven’t heard anything from the Leader of the Opposition as to how he’s going to pay for this. So, what we’re seeing is, ultimately, the taxpayer going to be paying more for something that the Labor Party has no way of paying for.
Macdonald: They, Labor, though, is targeting a bit of a sore point, though, for this Government, that it’s been a fairly blokey budget. Aren’t they?
Tehan: Well, no, let’s take child care, for instance. What we’ve seen in this Budget is $9.2 billion, growing to $10 billion over the forward estimates, for child care. We’ve seen this Government deliver $900 million for child care through the pandemic, which has seen 99 per cent of all providers across the nation remaining open and viable, and making sure that they can provide that essential care for children, especially for those essential service workers that had to work throughout the pandemic. There’s been a big focus on child care from this Government, right throughout this pandemic, and we are confident that the sector is ready, willing and able to support workforce participation as we grow out of the pandemic …
Macdonald: … With respect, Minister, you’re talking about the past, they’re talking about the future here and the recovery, and getting more people into work and enabling more women to return to the workforce. Why don’t you do something to support women back into the workforce, specifically?
Tehan: Well, because we put forward changes to child care two years ago. We’re implementing those changes, and they’re working. Overall workforce participation was at the highest on record in August 2019 for men and women. And, for women, under our system, workforce participation has increased from 58.7 per cent in September 2013 to 61.5 per cent in January 2020. And, that was a record.
Macdonald: But, you do acknowledge, though, don’t you, under the current system that we have with the subsidy cap, there is a disincentive for some individuals in a two person relationship with a kid to go back to work more than two and a half days a week. That the financial scenario under the current subsidy means there’s a disincentive. You accept that, don’t you?
Tehan: Well, under our system, what it does is it helps and supports those that earn the least to get access to affordable child care. And, it’s worked. 72 per cent pay no more than $5 per hour in day care, and for 24 per cent, it’s no more than $2 an hour. So, we have targeted our support to help those who earn the least. And, one of the things that the Labor Party …
Macdonald: … I understand that. I’m just trying to get you to speak to the disincentive that’s there. I mean, you would have read the, the figures yourself. This is not something that’s come from Labor. You acknowledge that there is a structural disincentive for people to work over three days, if they’re the second partner in the relationship?
Tehan: Well, ultimately, what our system does is target our assistance to those who earn the least. Now, it increases gradually, it’s scaled up as your income goes up. And, obviously, you get less support the more that you earn. But, that was the design that the Productivity Commission recommended to the Government, and that is what we have implemented, and implemented successfully. And, we’ve seen, as I’ve said, 72 per cent of families are paying no more than $5 per hour for their child care.
Macdonald: Just on the paying for this portion of the argument, is it really fair for you to demand Labor explain right now how they’re going to pay for it, when the Coalition can’t yet explain how it’s going to pay down the huge debt, the huge deficit?
Tehan: Well, if you have a look at the Budget papers, it’s very clear that all our measures are temporary, targeted, proportionate. And, most of the expenditure is occurring over the next two years to get us through this recession and out of it. What the Labor Party are doing, and they did this the last time they were in office, is they’re baking in extra expenditure, which means we’ll never be able to get the Budget back into balance. What we’re looking to do is, obviously, create jobs, grow the economy, so that we’re in a position to be able to start repaying back the debt as soon as we possibly can.
Macdonald: Your higher education reforms passed Parliament late yesterday. How many kids from poorer backgrounds who may have had their heart set on a law degree, or an arts degree, communications, or economics, are now going to be put off going to university because you’ve made it so much more expensive for them to do so?
Tehan: Well, Hamish, under our changes, 60 per cent of students will either see their, the cost of going to university reduced or stay the same. We’re going to see 30,000 extra students be able to go to university. So, we’re actually going to see more people being able to access higher education. And, importantly, for our nation, we’re going to see more people from regional and rural backgrounds be able to go to university. So, that divide that’s been there, where if you’re born in Sydney or you’re born in Melbourne, you’ve got double the chance of being able to go to university than if you are in regional or rural areas. We’re starting for the first time in over a decade to address that. So, we’re going to see more people being able to access higher education, and doing so right across our nation.
Macdonald: But, I’m talking about those individuals that were planning to do that. I just wonder if you can speak to their situation.
Tehan: Well, what I would say to those students who are thinking about doing law or doing arts, is think about some of the, doing some of the subjects which will help you be able to get a job at the other end and that are cheaper, as part of your degree. So, you could do a language, you could do IT. Anything in those areas, which will help reduce the cost of your degree. You’ll also have access to the best loan system in the world when it comes to going to higher education. Higher education costs are still lower than you’ll see in the UK, or the US. And, what we’re doing through our changes is we’re making sure that we’re giving access to the system, right across our nation, and ensuring that 30,000 extra students will get access to higher education, who otherwise wouldn’t have.
Macdonald: Minister, you have an arts degree, as I understand it. Would this have changed your direction in life?
Tehan: Look, and I’ve said this before, one of the things that I always wished I’d done was to do a language as part of my arts degree. Because, ultimately, when I came to apply to go the Department …
Macdonald: … But, would you still have done an arts degree?
Tehan: Well, I would have thought long and hard about doing subjects which would have helped me be more employable when I finished my degree. And, that’s what our system is designed to do. Hamish, we’re about to have, or are in the midst of, the biggest downturn since the economic depression of last century. Now, we’ve got to make sure that we are skilling young Australians to be able to take the jobs that will be there. And, this package is all about making sure we’re giving young Australians the skills to be able to take the jobs that will be there on offer when they finish their degrees. And, importantly, also, making sure for those Australians who have lost work and need to re-skill through our short courses or through them being able to get access to degrees to be able to take the jobs that are there and will be there as we come out of this recession.
Macdonald: We’ll leave it there. Dan Tehan, thank you very much.
Tehan: Thanks Hamish.