Release type: Transcript

Date:

ABC Radio Melbourne Drive with Rafael Epstein

Ministers:

The Hon Dan Tehan MP
Minister for Education

SUBJECTS: Coronavirus and Early Childhood Education and Care Relief Package, Year 12 students

Rafael Epstein: Free child care, no longer means tested. It is an entitlement and not a need. They were the Prime Minister’s words today. They’ll basically keep an eye on the numbers by looking at the enrolments they had during normal times before the pandemic. Dan Tehan is the Federal Education Minister. He made this announcement with the Prime Minister today. Dan Tehan, thank you for joining us. Who qualifies for this new, free, non-means tested child care?

Dan Tehan: A pleasure to be with you, Raf. Well, everyone qualifies for it. But, what we want to do is make sure that those workers who are out there working during the next six months of the pandemic have access to child care, and have access to child care for free. We want those workers to be getting the assistance that they need. So, if they’ve got their children in child care at the moment, we want to be able to support them. We also want to be able to support those vulnerable children who need a continuity of care over the next six months. And, we want to make sure that all those people who have existing enrolment, and might have disengaged from their child care centre because of the restrictions that have been put in place – which has led to a loss of employment – that they can stay engaged, as well, with their child care centre.

Epstein: How do you make sure – you mentioned you want a priority for people who, obviously, still have a job – how do you make sure they are a priority at a child care centre?

Tehan: So, we’re going to write into the Ministerial Rules, which will determine the business continuity payment, which will be the way we will start paying child care centres as of Sunday night. And, so, we will write that into the rules, that there are three priorities that we would like the sector to give. The first is to those parents who are working and need their children cared for. The second is for the vulnerable children who have been accessing care, and, we want to see that continue. And, then, the third will be for those who have existing enrolments.

Epstein: Did you ever think you’d be announcing free, non-means tested child care? In the context of an election, of course, you were very derisive of Labor’s plans for free child care. Did you – and I realise these are different times – did you ever think you’d be announcing this?

Tehan: Raf, I never thought that we would be dealing with the dual track of a pandemic, and the economic consequences that pandemic has led to of a scale like this, no. So, these are extraordinary times, which mean that we have to put different measures in place to deal with them. And, I think what we’ve done today recognises how important it is that those who are working to help us flatten the curve – and make sure that we, as a nation, can deal with this pandemic – I think that they deserve our willingness to say to them, ‘We want to make sure that your children can be looked after as best we can in the sense that you’re used to taking them to, and that you will get that for free.’ I think it is the right policy for the right time.

Epstein: So, you don’t regret calling it communist in the past?

Tehan: Well, there was very different circumstances to those comments which I made. They were around subsidising the private wages of people. But, look, can I say, I don’t want to go back into what happened during the election campaign, because what we’re dealing now is with a pandemic …

Epstein: … Absolutely …

Tehan: … and, what we need to be doing is – and can I commend all my state and territory colleagues from all different political persuasions, because with this also goes some regulatory relief as well for the sector, as they deal with the pandemic – all of us are putting politics aside. All of us are working in the national interest. And, that’s very much why the Prime Minister and I made this announcement today.

Epstein: A practical question: If I am a, if I pulled my kid out a few weeks ago because I was terrified of, I don’t know, I’ve lost my job or something, do I just rock up and re-enrol? Do I receive that money, or does the child care centre receive that money?

Tehan: So, what we’ve done with, there was two parts to today. For, under the old system, which we’re still currently operating under, which will finish on this Sunday night, what we’ve made a decision is that for any child care provider who does not want to provide parents the gap fee dating back to 23 March, they don’t have to. They no longer have that requirement. So, my hope is that that will lead to parents to re-engage with their service. And, what we’re also hoping is if they do re-engage with their service, we will be working very tirelessly behind the scenes to make sure that any paperwork that’s required is limited. We’d like to make that as minimal as possible. If not, it won’t require paperwork. So, we would like to see them re-engage with their centre. And, the reason we want to do that is, even if they don’t need to get their children into care at the moment …

Epstein: … They might need to …

Tehan: … six months down the track, we want them engaged with their child care provider. So, as employment picks up, as the economy picks up, as we …

Epstein: … Sorry, Minister. Does that mean that the child care centre would continue to get the subsidy, but not the full payment, even if the child is not enrolled? Is that what you’re talking about, or have I got that wrong?

Tehan: No. So, under the new system, we’re moving away from the way the subsidy works at the moment, which is paid to the parent, and then the parent provides that through to the child care centre. What will happen as of Sunday night is there will be, we will take a base period, which is the fortnight leading up to 3 March. We already have it within our system – the fees that the centre was paid up to the hourly rate cap – and then we will provide 50 per cent of that amount to every centre who remains open through the pandemic.

Epstein: Oh, wow. So, that’s like, that is a payment to half of their enrolment level, and, then, if they go back to normal levels, there is no extra cost for the parents. So, that’s the new system?

Tehan: There is no extra cost to the parents.

Epstein: Coming up, we’ve got a nominal holiday period. There might be people working from home. You can then send them back to child care, even if you’re working at home?

Tehan: You can. You can. So, we want to make sure that parents still have the option of child care through this next six months. Now, a lot of parents have decided to unenroll their children, and that was putting great pressure on the sector. So, what we wanted to do was put stability and financial stability back into the sector. And, you know, in the space of a week, we’ve redesigned the way the child care sector will work, so that we can get that viability back in. And, can I just say, and, you know, I wouldn't normally, but, if I could, just to all the officials in the Federal Education Department who have worked tirelessly over the last two weekends and through the week with me to put in place a new system that we had to completely redesign. There’s been some outstanding work that has gone into this …

Epstein: … We’ve got some remarkable public servants. If I can, Minister, I just want to rattle through some issues, because I need to get to the weather. A lot of people who work in child care are very worried that they’re exposed to a higher risk, especially in the child care centre. Tons of kids, tons of adults coming and dropping off their kids. What do you say to those workers about the risks they might be exposed to?

Tehan: So, we keep following the advice of the Chief Medical Officer panel when it comes to the safety around child care, both for families and for those educators who work in the sector.

Epstein: There’s no case of zero risk, is there? There’s still a risk.

Tehan: There is no case of zero risk for any of us. But, what we are doing and, through the medical expert’s panel, which is made up of state and territory chief medical officers and the Commonwealth Chief Medical Officer, is continually assess on a daily basis, the health safety when it comes to the child care sector, when it comes to the school sector, to make sure that we’re doing everything we can. And, we will continue to monitor what is occurring internationally. We’ll continue to monitor what is occurring here in Australia, to make sure that we’re doing everything we can to look after the educators’ safety, as well.

Epstein: So, a whole lot of child care workers might have been stood down because of low enrolments. Will they qualify for the JobKeeper payment? Do they get the boosted Newstart? Does it depend how many kids get sent back? Like, what happens to those staff?

Tehan: Well, it depends on their eligibility for the JobKeeper. But, for instance, we’ve had, over 200 child care service providers have decided to close over the last few weeks. My hope is, now that we’ve made this announcement, that they would look to re-engage, they would look to re-engage through the ATO around the eligibility for the JobKeeper payment. Because, this system has been put in place so it synchronises with the JobKeeper payment, to help the viability of the sector. So, my hope would be that they would assess this, they would assess the JobKeeper payment, and, if they think that it’s the right decision for them, that they would look to reopen and re-engage those staff.

Epstein: Two quick questions before I move on. Does this include the family day care? So, people who look after kids at their place – five or six kids? Does this deal include that?

Tehan: It does. It includes centre-based day care, family day care, in-home care, and outside school hours care services.

Epstein: Broad political question. As the Minister for Education and part of the Federal Cabinet, Anthony Albanese wants some sort of broader scrutiny for the Government. Maybe some sort of Senate Committee. This is what he said to me about an hour ago.

[Excerpt]

Anthony Albanese: I certainly think we need some form of scrutiny, in the form of parliamentary scrutiny, and we’ll be pursuing that issue as well next week in the Parliament.

[End of excerpt]

Epstein: Minister, could you have a Senate Committee or a House Committee of politicians, with opposition in it, questioning public officials? Do you think that could work?

Tehan: Well, at the moment, what the Prime Minister has said to the Leader of the Opposition, that he’s happy to set up weekly briefings to work with him.

Epstein: So, they want something above that.

Tehan: Yeah, look, I really think at this time, what the focus has been of the Government, of the National Cabinet, is to be making sure that we’re able to make decisions, make decisions quickly, that are going to help deal with the pandemic. And, that’s the focus now. Whether we need to be putting things like Senate Committees together or House Committees, or joint Senate-House Committees, who gets on them, you know …

Epstein: … Is this an idea or not?

Tehan: Well, look, I think, at the moment, we’ve got so many other key focuses. For me, it’s what we do about Year 12 now, and I’ve been working with state and territory education ministers to provide certainty for Year 12 students. They’re across the political divide – all the education state and territory ministers that I deal with. We have a great consensus going to deal with the pandemic, at the moment. Putting things in place which, sort of, limit your ability to deal with that, I’ll leave it, ultimately, up to the discussions of the PM and the Leader of the Opposition. But, I just think we’ve got bigger things to focus on at the moment.

Epstein: Really appreciate your time today. Thank you so much.

Tehan: Thanks, Raf.

Epstein: That’s Dan Tehan, the Minister for Education.