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Minister for Education Dan Tehan interview with Ali Moore, ABC Radio Melbourne

Ministers:

The Hon Dan Tehan MP
Minister for Education

SUBJECTS: COVID-19 and child care in Victoria, Year 12 students in Victoria, Universities and ATAR

Ali Moore: Well, Dan Tehan is the Federal Education Minister, and he joins us now after a long Cabinet meeting. Dan Tehan, welcome to the program.

Dan Tehan: Ali, how are you? Lovely to be with you.

Moore: You’ve announced some additional payments for child care centres. But, to what extent are they going to be enough to cover all the overheads? You just heard Shea Quirk there. People are being stood down without pay.

Tehan: So, what we’re doing is we’re providing to the sector, on average, 80 to 85 per cent of the revenue that they were getting before we went into the COVID pandemic. And, we’re providing additional absences to parents, so, 30 days of additional absences, so they can get through these next six weeks, if they’re required to keep their children at home. And, as long as the provider waives the gap fee – which, the feedback that I’ve got from the sector is that they are doing – then that means parents can keep their children at home at no cost. It also means that they keep their place. Now, importantly, we’ve been providing the sector with a Transition Payment of 25 per cent of their revenue before we went into the pandemic. Now, we’ve increased that by another five per cent. And, with that comes employment guarantee, where they must provide employment to early childhood educators …

Moore: … But, Minister, employment guarantee, as Shea pointed out on our program earlier, is very different to ensuring they continue to be paid. They’re still employed. They’re just stood down.

Tehan: So, what I would say to Shea is that you have to be provided with a shift. And, so, I would ask her to contact the Department of Education, and I’d be very happy to look into this matter, because all the consultation – we did extensive consultation with the sector over the last 48 hours – they are committed to the employment guarantee. And, if there are instances where workers or early childhood educators aren’t getting shifts, then if they could please contact the Department of Education. Because, as part of the condition of them accessing the Transition Payment, which we’ve just increased from 25 to 30 per cent of their revenue, pre-us entering the pandemic, they have to be providing shifts for early childhood workers …

Moore: … So, what’s the definition of that? Because, of course, they’re going to have less children to look after. Let’s say I have, usually, on average, 15 shifts a week. Suddenly, it becomes two shifts a week. Is that enough to satisfy the employment guarantee obligation?

Tehan: Well, it’s going to depend on the circumstances of the provider. As we found with JobKeeper, over 30 per cent, nearly a third of the workforce, weren’t eligible for JobKeeper. So, we worked with the sector to put in place a payment which all providers could access, and they committed to this employment guarantee. Now, all the feedback that we’re getting is that providers, child care sector providers, want to ensure that they maintain their workforce, because they understand that we have six weeks, sadly, in Melbourne, that we’ve got to deal with on these Stage 4 restrictions – and, let’s hope it’s only six weeks – then, the demand will come back into the sector again, and they need the workforce there to do it. That is what’s happened right across the rest of the nation …

Moore: … I understand that, Minister. But, I just, I’m just trying to clarify what amounts to, you know, meeting that obligation for employment guarantee. Because, you say they can’t be stood down, they’ve got to be given shifts. But, you know, what’s to stop them giving a child care educator one shift, where normally they get a lot more, and that still leaves the child care operator significantly short when it comes to rent and everything else they need to do, because they can’t access JobKeeper.

Tehan: Well, Ali, because of the nature of each individual provider, it’s very difficult to determine exactly what that would mean for individual child care providers. But, what I have is a very clear commitment from the sector, from the consultations that were undertaken, that they want to honour that employment guarantee. And, if that employment guarantee isn’t being honoured, we’d say to early childhood educators, please get in touch with the Department of Education, federally, because that means that that provider isn’t honouring their employment guarantee. Now, it will vary depending on the employment nature of each of the individual providers. But, what we have put in place is a system which means that all parts of the sector can access this Transition Payment. Whereas, previously, a third, and, in some instances, it was even more, of people who were, of those early childhood educators, weren’t able to access JobKeeper. So, everyone agreed that this was a more equitable way for us to provide that employment guarantee to the sector.

Moore: Yeah. I understand that. Now, you, obviously, giving this incentive to child care operators, so that they don’t charge the parent gap fee. But, you made it very clear this morning that you can’t legally enforce the waiving of that fee. Why not? I mean, we’re in a State of Emergency in Victoria.

Tehan: That’s true. It’s, we operate under the federal legislation, the Child Care Subsidy. And, under that legislation, we cannot legally require the gap fee to be waived. But, once again, the sector understands how important it is that parents stay enrolled, keep their children enrolled. So, and, what we’ve done is we’ve incentivised the child care providers to ensure that parents remain enrolled. So, they …

Moore: … So, you feel confident that no parent is going to have to pay a gap payment for child care that they won’t be getting?

Tehan: I am very confident, from all the consultations that I’ve undertaken, that the sector, across the board, understands how important it is that they waive the gap fees, so they maintain enrolments. Because, that will actually provide them with income. By maintaining those enrolments, we pay the Child Care Subsidy on those enrolments, which provides income and revenue for the sector. So, there’s an incentive for them there to do so …

Moore: … Because, if they charge the gap fee, people will simply withdraw their child?

Tehan: Absolutely. So, what we’ve done is we’ve put in the additional absences. Those 30-day additional absences, on top of what parents already get, which is 42 days for the whole of the calendar year. So, the whole thing is about incentivising parents to stay enrolled, and for the centres themselves to provide gap fee waiver.

Moore: We haven’t got a huge amount of time, so if it’s incredibly complicated we’ll let it go, Dan Tehan. But, I did want to ask, this is a federal area of responsibility, but the state has closed the centres?

Tehan: That’s right. So, the, well, they haven’t closed the centres, and this is an important point, Ali …

Moore: … No. I’m sorry. But, the state has said limited access.

Tehan: That’s right. They’ve kept, so, what we’ve done right through the pandemic is to keep centres open. And, we’ve kept 99 per cent of centres open across the nation. It’s remarkable what our child care providers and early childhood educators have been able to achieve through the pandemic. So, they’ll remain open. What we’ve seen is the state government limit movement within Metropolitan Melbourne, which is, obviously, impacting on parents’ ability to get access to child care. Now, that is perfectly within the rights of the Victorian State Government to do that under their pandemic powers. So, we understand that. What we’ve done is respond to that in a way that we know, or, we, through consultations, we think is the best way that we can keep as many providers open through the next six weeks. So, that care will be there for parents when we come out of Stage 4 restrictions, hopefully in six weeks’ time.

Moore: And, Dan Tehan just a final question. You’re well aware that the students in Victoria, particularly VCE students, are in a very difficult and different position to those in the rest of the country. Do you support Year 12’s in Victoria having a different arrangement to the ATAR?

Tehan: Well, the ATAR is a ranking. And, what we will need to do is take into consideration everything that’s been thrown at our Year 12 students in Victoria this year. Now, we’ll, obviously, work with the Victorian State Government and with other state and territory governments across the nation, with universities, with vocational education providers, to make sure that they understand what has happened in Victoria, and how we need to be there to support and help Year 12 students in Victoria. Incredibly …

Moore: … So, that’s, that basically is you haven’t come up with a decision yet on exactly how you can do it, except to work within the system that you’ve got?

Tehan: Well, we’ve made it very clear that they will get an ATAR. That there will be no Year 13. There will no mass repeating. We’ve made that very clear. Education …

Moore: … So, they will get an ATAR? There’s no alternative to that being considered?

Tehan: They will get an ATAR. And, Ali, can I say to all those Year 12 students, you’re having so much thrown at you this year. Please, focus on your study, focus on learning as much as you can. We understand how difficult it is for you. But, we will be there to support you. We will be there to support you to get an ATAR, and to make sure that you can go on and live your dreams. Those Year 12 students who are studying this year are the future in this nation, will help drive us out of this pandemic, set our nation up for the future. We need them. We want to be there to support them. We know it’s incredibly difficult for them. But, we’ve got their back, and all of us need to understand and support them during this pandemic.

Moore: And, make sure they get a fair go at the end of the year, Dan Tehan?

Tehan: Absolutely, Ali. Make sure they get a fair go at the end of the year. That is what we’ve been about since day one when this pandemic hit. And, I’m with you 100 per cent on that. Let’s give them a fair go. Let’s get behind them. Let’s support them.

Moore: Okay, Dan Tehan. Thank you for talking to us.

Tehan: Thanks Ali.