Wednesday, 8 April 2020
SUBJECTS: George Pell, Coronavirus and schools, Child care
Chris Kenny: Let’s cross to Canberra now and catch up with the Federal Education Minister Dan Tehan. Thanks for joining us, Dan. I want to get into some big education issues in a second. But, first up, as a Victorian, I think, from recollection, a Catholic, also certainly a Richmond supporter, your thoughts on George Pell? It’s something you must have watched very intently and be very concerned about.
Dan Tehan: Yeah, look, the High Court has made their decision. George Pell is a free man. I think it was a, seven nil was what the High Court came down on. So, I think all of us has to understand that the legal system has spoken and George Pell is a free man, and I think he should be able to enjoy that freedom.
Kenny: I should just explain the reason I mentioned Richmond. George Pell, famously a Richmond supporter, played for Richmond, very much part of the fabric of that Melbourne community. But, there are big issues here, Dan Tehan. And, there was a fantastic interview earlier this afternoon where my colleague Kieran Gilbert spoke to Father Frank Brennan, a leading legal figure inside the church. He made some really telling points about the Victorian judicial system, the role of the police, the role of the public prosecutor, and the role of the appeal courts. Now, I don’t want you to get into any, too much detail, there, but you must share those concerns? Even at a Federal level, there must be concerns that there needs to be room for reform around some of the practices in pursuing these cases?
Tehan: Well, Chris, Frank Brennan is someone that I respect greatly, and when Frank Brennan speaks like that, I think people should listen. I won’t go into any more detail, but can I just say that Frank Brennan is someone who I think has got very wise thoughts, very wise judgement, and when he speaks like that, I think people should listen. And, I think, my understanding also was that George Pell played one game for Richmond. So, he was, he did play for that great football club. But, I think this is something that you will hear more of, and, I think, Frank Brennan’s words, everyone should listen to.
Kenny: Yeah, it’s important because Frank Brennan, of course, is a Catholic priest. But, he’s no ideological soulmate of George Pell’s. They’ve been, if you like, intellectual sparring partners over the years. Frank Brennan seen very much as more of the smaller, liberal arm of the church. So, I think his opinion carries all the more weight, because of that. Let’s get to education. It’s very important. Will children, do you expect, be going to school, actually getting, physically turning up at school in term two, in line with the ongoing recommendations from the Chief Medical Officer?
Tehan: Well, in some states and territories they will be. For instance, the Northern Territory is very committed to having children at school in term two. In Western Australia, they’re also making sure there’s provision there for children to be able to go and get their education at school. In South Australia, it will be a mixture. Importantly, though, what the Commonwealth Government has been pushing, is that every state and territory enables those children, who can’t be cared for safely at home, to be able to attend school, to be able to get their education supervised at school. And, look, this is something that every state and territory is signed up to. I think, the more we can do to encourage students to be learning at school, the better. One of the great concerns we have is that the coronavirus is going to take a lot away from us. But, what we don’t want it to take away from us is our children’s education. And, we know that they’re going to get a better education if they can be at school, getting that teaching face-to-face from those teachers. So, that’s what we’re encouraging. But, obviously, every state and territory has jurisdictional responsibility when it comes to how their systems will work, and we’re going to, I think, see a variety of approaches in term two.
Kenny: But, the point here really is there shouldn’t be. Because, we’ve had consistent advice from the Chief Medical Officer that it would be best for everyone’s welfare for kids to be at school. We’ve seen that infection curve go right down, where, come this weekend, virtually every kid in the country will be on holidays, so the schools have got more time to reset. Yet, certainly in the two largest states, you’ve got a situation where, seemingly, at the behest of the teachers’ unions, the state governments are very keen to keep students away from school.
Tehan: And, we’ve just seen from the University College of London a very interesting piece of research which weighed up the health impacts, or the potential health impacts, of increasing the spread of the coronavirus, of having children at school, versus what children miss out on when it comes to their learning, and their social needs not being able to be at school. And, they say when you weigh the balance up, we should be erring towards having children at school. So, we’re already seeing some very interesting research in this area …
Kenny: … Yeah, you need to flick that research on to the health ministers, the education ministers, in New South Wales and Victoria, I would have thought. I just wanted to move on to child care, quickly. Sorry to cut you off Dan Tehan, but this is a very important issue.
Tehan: No, you’re alright.
Kenny: You’ve got a big package out there to try and rescue the child care sector. But, I am told by people directly involved in family day care that this package will basically kill their businesses. Are you looking at a separate package to somehow provide different support to help family day care centres get through the coronavirus?
Tehan: Yeah, look, we’re looking at the family day care issue. We knew that there would be impacts of putting this new package in place, so we’re continuing to look and monitor this issue. Obviously, what we’ve seen with family day care is that their levels of attendance have held up, or even increased, in some areas. Whereas, what happened in other areas of the sector, we saw enrolments being pulled away from centres …
Kenny: … Yes, but they can no longer charge parents, so they’ve just had their funding absolutely slashed.
Tehan: Yes. But, you’ve got to remember, not only do they get the new funding from us, they also get JobKeeper, and that puts over a billion dollars in wages into the sector. And, also, what we’ve got is an exceptional circumstances payment, so where those have had very strong enrolment, or have seen their numbers even increase further, we’re going to take that into account when we look at the exceptional circumstances payments, and they will be able
to apply for that as of tomorrow. So, we continue to look at this issue, continue to work through it. Obviously, we made a big change in the space of about seven days. We want to continue to work with the sector to get through it. Because, we want all parts of the sector to get through the next six months so we can deal with this pandemic, and make sure those workers on the frontline, who are working while we’re dealing with this pandemic, can get their children cared for in the centres that they’re used to going to.
Kenny: Yeah. Obviously, I expect that, that you would be. It’s a big package, it’s a quick change, and you’d look to fix any anomalies along the way, so, we respect that.
Kenny: But, is, the family day care centres can’t charge parents now. It’s parents who are happy to pay. Should you just allow them to charge parents, if parents are willing to pay?
Tehan: Well, look, Chris, we’ve got the package there. We want to make sure that those parents who are working on the frontline – whether they be the nurses, the doctors, the teachers – that they can get access to free child care. What we want to do is work with those providers in the home child care space, to make sure that we can address their concerns, and that’s what we will continue to do. And, I’m sure that we’ll be able to deal with this.
Kenny: Dan, thanks so much for joining us.
Tehan: Pleasure, Chris.
Kenny: Dan Tehan there, the Federal Education Minister, live from Canberra.