SUBJECTS: Coronavirus and Early Childhood Education and Care Relief Package, Year 12 students
Patricia Karvelas: For more on today’s announcement, I spoke to the Education Minister Dan Tehan a little earlier. Dan Tehan, welcome.
Dan Tehan: Thanks, Patricia. Great to be with you.
Karvelas: Under this arrangement, will child care be free for any parent that wants to send their child there, even if they are working at home?
Tehan: So, the idea is that we will, as of Monday next week, be moving to a new system. And, if parents have an existing relationship with a child care centre, and their child is attending that centre and they’re working from home, yes, they will get free child care. We want as many people being able to work as we possibly can, and we want them to be able to access child care, as they need to make sure that their children are being looked after while they’re working and helping us deal with the pandemic, the coronavirus pandemic.
Karvelas: How about parents studying or looking for work – will they get it for free?
Tehan: Well, if they have an existing relationship with a child care centre, and they’re sending their children to that child care centre, yes, they will get it for free.
Karvelas: So, they don’t have to be working?
Tehan: No. If they’ve got an existing relationship with the centre and their children are attending that centre, then they will get it for free under this arrangement.
Karvelas: Okay, that’s really interesting. So, that means essentially anybody who sends their kids currently to child care will get it for free?
Tehan: That’s correct.
Tehan: That’s correct.
Karvelas: Alright. That’s pretty broad. In fact, I think when Labor announced what was essentially free child care for lower income earners during the election campaign, you described it as communism. Is this communism?
Tehan: Well, I think there was a different arrangement that they were suggesting. But, can I just say, we are facing a global pandemic. We need all our nation’s workers there, helping us deal with this global pandemic. And, what we want to be able to make sure is that their children are being looked after while they help us flatten the curve and deal with this pandemic. This is extraordinary times. And, as a result, we’ve had to redesign certain policy frameworks, including when it comes to child care, to make sure that we can deal with these extraordinary times.
Karvelas: You mentioned already engaged. Just say you are a working parent, you haven’t so far engaged with child care because, maybe your mum looks after your children, but, now, grandparents are meant to be, well, kept away from children, that’s the advice. Can you get child care for free if you turn up to a centre and say, ‘I actually need free child care now’?
Tehan: If the availability is there and the centre has availability, then, yes. And, one of the things we want to do is to be able to help those parents get access to child care. So, we will be putting in place a Child Care Finder apparatus to make sure that you can contact the Department of Education, and we will try and assist and help you. But, of course, there has to be room available at a centre for you to be able to access it. Obviously, preference is being given to those who are currently working and using child care for those children who are vulnerable, and those who already have enrolments. But, where we can help and assist others who now need child care to help us fight the pandemic, then we will be doing what we can to try and find places for those families.
Karvelas: Just to get some clarity, how about family day care, which is another child care system, of course, where you can have children looked after in homes, and also after school care – is that all free too?
Tehan: That’s correct.
Karvelas: So, any kind of child care that’s subsidised by the Government will now be free during the pandemic?
Tehan: Yeah, that’s right.
Karvelas: Early Childhood Australia says even with assistance, some jobs will go from some centres. Do you accept that?
Tehan: Well, we are doing everything we can to put in place new arrangements which mean that as many centres can stay open as they possibly can, and as many workers will keep their jobs. So, for instance, with the JobKeeper, 60 per cent of a centre’s costs, on average, are wages. So, with the JobKeeper payment in place, plus this, we think that centres should be able to remain open, and they should be able to keep holding on to their workforce.
Karvelas: But, do you accept that some jobs may go?
Tehan: Well, these are small businesses on the whole. 80 per cent of operations are small businesses who run one centre. 90 per cent operate either one or up to five centres. So, I can’t speak for every single individual small business across this sector. But, what we have designed is a package, and we designed it in consultation with the sector, to put in place a way, put in place a system which enables the sector to operate during this pandemic. We had a system which was in place. Now, obviously, it wasn’t fit for purpose for a pandemic. What we’ve done is reshape the system so that it can help the sector get through this pandemic.
Karvelas: How about centres that have already closed their doors, as they have? Do you know whether this new system, free child care, will mean they can reopen?
Tehan: That’s our hope, Patricia. So, obviously, these will be individual business decisions that each centre will have to take. But, our hope is that this will incentivise those businesses to reopen.
Karvelas: If parents are in, let’s just say, two days of care, and they want to increase their days to five, because, let’s just be blunt, this is now free. Can they do it?
Tehan: If the availability is there, and they can come to arrangements with the centre, then yes, we hope that they will be able to. But, of course, the centres will have to look at their existing arrangements, have to look at their existing capacity, and work this through with parents.
Karvelas: Isn’t there a slightly contradictory message going on here? Parents have been told that they can’t take their children to playgrounds. In fact, they can’t have play dates anymore. But, you want them to go back to child care, after many parents have withdrawn them, because you say that they’re safe places for children. But, at the same time, kids can’t even play together. How are those two messages consistent?
Tehan: Well, the Government’s position all along has been to take the advice of the medical expert panel, and the medical expert panel has said for our children, whether it be in a school environment or whether it be in a child care environment, that they are safe places for our children to be. So, we will continue to take that expert medical advice. They look at a variety of things, including what’s been happening overseas, what practice is overseas, who they think is transmitting the virus. They take all these things into consideration in making their judgements, and the Government has said all along, we will continue to listen to the medical experts, and what they advise – that’s what we will abide by. Because, when it comes to these types of things, there are a myriad of voices and opinions. You’ll have an opinion. I’ll have an opinion. The best thing we can do to get through this pandemic is listen to that expert medical advice, and that’s what the Government will continue to do. And, they’re quite clear in their direction that it’s safe for child care centres to remain open, and for schools to remain open.
Karvelas: Goodstart Early Learning is the largest not-for-profit child care provider in the country. Their turnover of a billion dollars a year means they don’t qualify for the JobKeeper payment. Will you make an exemption for them?
Tehan: Well, I’ve been in discussions with Goodstart in the lead-up to this announcement. They’ll be no doubt looking at this announcement and see what it means for them. And, then, I will continue to liaise and discuss with them their particular issues.
Karvelas: Okay. But, just to be clear, are you looking at an exemption for them? Because, that requirement that they have to have a downturn of 30 per cent, that clearly is going to be an issue for them. Is that something that you would waive for them?
Tehan: Well, obviously we’ve put in place the JobKeeper arrangements. We’ve just announced this complete change in the way that child care’s going to operate in the country. So, let’s wait and see how they assess things, and I will continue to have discussions with
them. I was on the phone to them this morning, and I will continue those discussions over the coming days.
Karvelas: Be clear with me, Minister. Will you let them fall over, or will you look at every option to keep them going?
Tehan: Look, the Government’s view all through this pandemic has been to work with businesses, to work with the not-for-profit sectors, to make sure that we get the right outcomes, to make sure that we get good, sensible outcomes. Now, Goodstart is a billion-dollar company, they make $100 million a year …
Karvelas: … Sure. But, it’s reinvested into vulnerable children. It’s a not-for-profit.
Tehan: It’s reinvested back into their business. That is absolutely correct. So, what was put in place with the JobKeeper was arrangements whereby how it would work, and there was a cut-off threshold of $1 billion. So, we’ll continue to engage with Goodstart, and we’ll continue to liaise with them. No doubt that they’re looking at what’s been announced today, so they will do an analysis of that. And, I’ve said to them, I will continue to have discussions with them.
Karvelas: Minister, these child care arrangements, I’m sure many parents will be incredibly happy to have free child care. I mean, as I told you before we began this interview, my head nearly fell off, spun around. I’ve been covering this issue for so long. This has been something that parents have wanted for a long time. Could this become potentially a permanent arrangement, if you think it’s working?
Tehan: So, what we’ve said, and what we’ve made very clear, is that we’ve put these arrangements in place up until 30 June, and then we’ll do another three months after 30 June, and then we will reassess. So, our desire, our want, is to get us through this pandemic, and then we would like things to go back to normal. And, that would be when we would look at reintroducing the system that we currently have in place, that will change as of this Sunday night. So, that’s what the Government wants to do, is, we would love to be able to go back to the system that we had previously in place. But, obviously, for the next six months, while we’re dealing with this pandemic, we want those workers who are out there helping us get through this pandemic to be able to get the support that they need through free child care.
Karvelas: You’ve identified Year 12 as being your next big job, essentially. This is hugely stressful for Year 12 students. Really, my heart breaks for Year 12 students at the moment who are working hard, and don’t know what this year will look like. So, what sort of options are on the table for you? Should it go ahead as planned, and how should changes be implemented? Should, for instance, ATAR scores be suspended by universities?
Tehan: So, obviously the state and territories have a key role in how ATARs are set. So, what we’re doing through Education Council, which is the Education Minister’s COAG, is we are currently working through this issue. And, we want to make sure that we can put arrangements in place which puts certainty or gives certainty for those undertaking Year 12 this year. Obviously, there has been huge changes to how they thought Year 12 was going to go, to how it has gone. So, we want to work with states and territories cooperatively to do this. And, one of the fantastic things, Patricia, about dealing with this pandemic, is ever since
I’ve been Education Minister, the state and territories have had the same education ministers in place. And, we’ve built up really strong relationships, and we’re all absolutely dedicated to work together to solve the issues and the problems that need to be solved to get us through this pandemic. And, can I just say, on child care, obviously when it came to financial viability, the Commonwealth had a big role in how we underpinned the sector. But, all my state and territory colleagues have been working cooperatively to make sure that the regulatory framework is flexible enough to enable centres, also, to operate in this pandemic. So, they’ve taken on their role. They’ve said, ‘Look, leave that to us. Let’s try and get a nationally consistent approach there.’ And, I’ve said, ‘Okay. I’ll tackle the financial viability picture, and then we’ll bring all that together to make sure that we’ve got a sector that will get us through this pandemic.’ We’re going to do exactly the same when it comes to Year 12.
Karvelas: So, what’s your commitment to Year 12 students who might watching – and they are at home, so they could be watching? Is your commitment that, if, for instance, they have high ambitions, they want to go to university next year, they will go and have the right to get into those courses, despite all of this confusion?
Tehan: I think I would speak for all of us in saying we all want to make sure there’s a pathway there for those Year 12 students to either be able to get into higher education, get into vocational education, or get into the workforce, if that’s their desire. So, that’s what we would all hope. Obviously, uncertain times, but this is an absolute key focus for us going forward, because it’s so important for us to put some certainty into those Year 12 students’ lives.
Karvelas: Thank you so much for your time, Minister.
Tehan: Pleasure, Patricia.
Karvelas: That’s Education Minister Dan Tehan, who joined me a short time ago.