Subjects: Coronavirus and Early Childhood Education and Care Relief Package, Schools
Leigh Sales: The Education Minister Dan Tehan is with me from Canberra. Minister, I’ll get to home schooling later. But, can I just firstly get you to clarify a couple of points on the new child care system. If you are paying fees for a child care place, but, currently keeping your child at home to self-isolate, does this change mean that you will retain your place, without having to pay anything, if you choose to still keep your child at home?
Dan Tehan: It does, Leigh. So, if you have a place with a child care centre, and you want to keep your children at home, then you will get that continuity with that centre through the pandemic.
Sales: And, on that point about the continuity – because presumably some people want to keep their kids out the whole time until the crisis is over – child care rules allow you to keep your child out for 42 days, before you lose your place, and that’s already been extended to 62. What’s the situation now if you choose to self-isolate that goes beyond that 62 days?
Tehan: Well, you, sorry Leigh. What we’re doing, as of this Sunday night, is we’re putting a completely new system in place. So, what we’ve said to parents, is, up until this Sunday night, you had those absences and we increased that level of absences. But, we’re putting a new system in place as of Sunday night. So, we’ll be mothballing the old system, and putting in place a completely new system. So, what a parent will be able to do in that situation is, they’ll be able to keep the continuity with their child care centre, but they don’t have to attend, and they will not be being charged fees. But, what we want centres to be concentrating on is ensuring that all those people who are working, that child care is free and is available for those people. And, everyone with those existing arrangements with their child care centre will get that continuity of care for their children. Because, what we didn’t want to be looking at was a situation where health workers, workers who are making sure that we’re getting food supplied to our supermarkets, aren’t faced with the daunting task of having to try and find a new centre for their child. We want to make sure that they’re getting that continuity of care for their children.
Sales: So, just to repeat that back to you, so it’s completely clear for people at home. If you need to send your child to child care, your child care centre will be open for you. But, if you choose to keep your child at home, that place that you’ve got will still be available for you down the track, when this pandemic is over?
Sales: Okay. Child care is now free for everybody. The Prime Minister today said that he thinks that every job is essential, that everyone is seen as an essential worker. He also said there’s no risk to children of going to school or day care. Won’t a lot of people see all of that as a real incentive to send their children back to child care?
Tehan: Look, our hope is, if they need to send their children into child care, then that, those places will be available to them, and they will be able to do so. Why we have completely reshaped the child care system in the space of the last seven to 10 days is because parents were taking their children out, and that was putting enormous pressure on the system. So, we’ve changed the arrangements, changed the system, reshaped and redesigned it in the space of the last 10 days. And, can I say to all those officials and the sector who worked with me in doing this, an incredibly big thank you. We’ve reshaped and reworked it so that we have a financially viable sector for the next six months, as we meet the challenge of this pandemic.
Sales: Okay. To look more broadly at schools and parents having their kids at home, if there’s no health risk of students going, why don’t we flip the focus and find top quality ways to protect teachers and educators, so that we can get schools fully reopened as soon as possible?
Tehan: Well, we have been taking the advice of the medical expert panel – that panel which is made up of the state and territory medical experts and the Commonwealth medical expert – taking their advice as to what we should be doing when it comes to ensuring that children are safe at school, and that teachers and principals are safe at school. And, we continue to take that advice …
Sales: … And, before we get out of time, before we run out of time, I just want to know why then wouldn’t we move to a model where we are heavily protecting teachers and educators, so that kids can return to the school, because the PM said today the kids are safe?
Tehan: Well, we continue to seek the advice of the medical experts as to what we need to be doing to protect our teachers, to be protecting our educators in child care centres, and ensuring that we’re doing that. And, I’ve met with all education ministers this afternoon, and we agreed that we’ll continue to ask for regular advice from the medical experts. So, we’re continuing to put the procedures in place that we need to look after our teachers, and we need to look after our educators. And, we will continue to do that.
Sales: Just before we run out of time, Minister, what chance do you give students of returning to school in term two?
Tehan: So, we’ll work with the state and territories who have the jurisdictional responsibility for this, and we will make sure that we’ve got the best possible arrangements in place, so that they will continue their education in term two. Because, as …
Sales: … But, not at school? Not physically at school?
Tehan: What we’ve made very clear is that we want the option to be there for those who can’t safely look after their children at home, to be able to go to school, and get their education at school. And, all the states and territories are committed to doing that. And, we will continue to work with the states and territories to ensure that we’re getting the best learning outcomes we can for our children this year. The pandemic’s going to take a lot away. But, as the Prime Minister has said, we want to make sure that education, to the best of our ability, isn’t one of them.
Sales: Minister, appreciate your time this evening. Thank you.
Tehan: Thanks, Leigh.