SUBJECTS: COVID-19 and child care in Victoria, Schools in Victoria and remote learning, Year 12 students
Fran Kelly: An emergency funding package will be rushed out today for Melbourne child care centres, which face being wiped out, some of them, by the city’s Stage 4 COVID lockdowns. From tomorrow, most children in early childhood education and kindergarten will have to be kept at home as part of Melbourne’s Stage 4 restrictions. The only children permitted to attend for the next six weeks will be those who are vulnerable or whose parents are in essential industries or permitted industries. The Federal and state governments have been working around the clock to try and work out a deal to keep the child care sector from collapsing in the wake of this second shutdown. Here’s the Prime Minister speaking this morning.
Scott Morrison: We’ve moved so quickly on the child care. I mean, that’s something we can do something directly about, and straight after those announcement, I spoke to Dan Tehan, the Education Minister, and I said, ‘Get on it, mate. We need to move on this very quickly,’ and I’m pleased that he was able to do that by, you know, I got the email about 11 o’clock last night.
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Kelly: Scott Morrison speaking earlier to Channel Nine. Well, Dan Tehan is the Federal Minister for child care. Minister, good morning. Welcome back to Breakfast.
Dan Tehan: Morning, Fran. How are you? Pleasure to be with you again.
Kelly: I’m very well, thank you. ‘Get on it, mate.’ That was the direction from the Prime Minister. There’s an enormous number of very anxious families in Melbourne who’ve got less than 24 hours now to work out their child care arrangements. What have you come up with?
Tehan: Well, Fran, I’ll be making an announcement at around 11 o’clock this morning. But, as the Prime Minister has said this morning, it will involve a triple guarantee. We’re going to be making sure we’re looking after parents, so that they can keep their places. So, we look after enrolment. We want to be making sure that there’s continuity of funding there for services, and we’ll try and do that in a way which is as simple and straightforward as possible. And, we also want to make sure that we’re looking after those early educators. We’ve already got an employment guarantee in place, but we will provide further assistance, so that we know that that employment guarantee will be there for services to look after their early educators.
Kelly: Let’s talk about that, because you have said, too, the solution will be a simple one, providing immediate relief. I mean, sounds like JobKeeper, doesn’t it? Wouldn’t that be the simplest way to support those early educators you’re talking about? The staff and the
Tehan: Well, as you’ll remember, Fran, when we did the analysis of our emergency package, what we found was that JobKeeper didn’t reach about a third of the early education workforce. And, so, what we needed to do was come up with a different arrangement, whereby we could ensure that we could get an employment guarantee to all workers in the, in the sector. And, that’s why, within our transition arrangements, we put in seven and a, $708 million to ensure that providers, child care service providers, would be able to retain their staff. And, we did that because the feedback we got from the sector was that that was a fairer way to do it, because it meant all providers were getting help to ensure that they could look after their early child educators.
Kelly: So, how much more are you going to put in to maintain, so that centres can keep paying their staff through this time? And, what do you want in return? Do you want a guarantee that they keep on all their staff?
Tehan: So, we want to make sure that they can continue with the existing guarantee, and I’ll be announcing all the details at 11 o’clock this morning …
Kelly: … But, that existing guarantee will be increased, will it?
Tehan: So, what I’ve said we will do is, when it comes to the payment that we are making, that transition payment, that $708 million, we’ll be looking at a top-up payment for those providers in Melbourne, so that we know that they will be able to keep that guarantee. And, can I just say to the sector, thank you very much. Yesterday, obviously, a lot of us work very long days – 16, 7 [sic] hour days – and their feedback to me right throughout this pandemic has just been exceptional. These are co-designed policies that we’re putting out, because the sector has been able to work with us to be able to put these packages in place. And, we’ve been able to keep 99 per cent of providers, right across the nation, open through this pandemic, and that care going to young Australians, and that is because our sector has worked so well with the Government. And, can I just thank them and especially thank them for the way they cooperatively worked with me yesterday, as we sought to put in place this new package for Melbourne. And, there’ll be something there for Victoria, as well, because we want to make sure that we’ll continue to carry the sector through this pandemic, so they’re there to provide that care as we come out of it.
Kelly: So, the guarantee is – just to make sure I’ve got this right, sounds pretty positive – but, there will be additional help for centres when their enrolments plunge below say 10 per cent, or something? I mean, many of them will be operating with just either no families or just a handful of families paying their subsidised fees, won’t they?
Tehan: That’s right. So, what we’ve got to make sure is that services can keep enrolments, so parents can keep their enrolments. So, we want to make sure that we can do that. That’s one of the key things that we want to ensure. And, then, obviously, we want to provide financial support, that continuity of funding for services. And, then, we want to make sure that they can keep that employment guarantee, that they’ve signed up for.
Kelly: And, just to be clear, for all the parents listening: they won’t lose their place at child care, but they won’t have to pay fees through the six weeks where they can’t send their kids?
Tehan: Well, that’s one the things that we, obviously, if they’re keeping their kids at home and they’re keeping them enrolled, our view is that they shouldn’t have to pay fees. Now, that is ultimately up to the provider to waive that obligation. But, we want to provide the support there so that the provider can waive that obligation. If the children aren’t attending, then you won’t have to pay the …
Kelly: … But, that’s your strong message to the sector: they shouldn’t be making those parents pay their fees during the six, six weeks?
Tehan: Well, that’s obviously the way that they maintain enrolments, and, then, if they maintain enrolments, obviously, they still get access to the Child Care Subsidy. So, it’s in their benefit to do so.
Kelly: Parents have been told that only vulnerable children and children of, quote, ‘permitted workers’, will be allowed to attend child care centres. Who is a permitted worker? We’ve had a number of people writing in saying, ‘Who’s a permitted worker?’
Tehan: Look, Fran, they’re questions for the Victorian State Government. They’re putting those lists together, and they’re questions that will have to be asked of the Victorian State Government. I know, yesterday, they are working through all that detail, and they will be able to provide that. But, that’s something that’s their decision to make, and, so, therefore, they are working right through that. I think were working through the day yesterday to get that finalised, so that clarity can be provided to parents.
Kelly: You’re listening to RN Breakfast. Our guest is the Federal Education Minister Dan Tehan. On schools, Minister. Today, all schools throughout Victoria will return to, or throughout Melbourne, anyway, will return to remote learning. Kids at home, actually across Victoria. That includes Year 11 and 12 students, who, until now, were back in the classroom. The Victorian Government’s pledged that those students will still sit their VCE exams by early December, and will receive their ATAR scores by the end of the year. But, how will that work? Will the results be adjusted to reflect this interruption to their schooling? I mean, that’s what’s worrying a lot of kids, isn’t it?
Tehan: It is, and, look, very difficult times for Year 11 and Year 12 students, in particular, and those Year 12 students, you know, they’re the ones who the pressure’s on the most. And, so, what we want to do is make sure that you will get your ATAR this year. Now, that's something that all education ministers across the nation have committed to. We had a meeting in June where all education ministers committed to that, and the Victorian State Government is still honouring that commitment. We will work with the Victorian State Government to make sure that we’re doing everything we can to support them to enable Year 12s to get that ATAR this year, so that they can continue to go on – whether their dream is to go to university, vocational education, or work – that they will have an ATAR by the end of the year. It’s going to be challenging for those Year 12 students, but we all think that it is manageable, and we will be there to support them through this.
Kelly: And, they’ll still have to do exams, their VCE exams? Have to, or have the opportunity to do them, by early December, even if they’re not back in the classroom?
Tehan: Well, let’s hope – and, obviously, none of us have a crystal ball – but, let’s hope that these measures that we’re going through now in Victoria will flatten the curve, and enable us to get back to that face-to-face learning as quickly as possible. But, even if we can’t, then the idea is to set it up so that they can undertake those exams, and we will do everything we can to support them. We want to make sure that there is no Year 13. We want to make sure that they will get their exams, their ATAR results, this year, so that they can go on the following year and do whatever they want to do. And, if I could just say to all those Year 12 students, as challenging as this is, please understand how important it is to still be studying, to still be learning, and make sure that that is your key focus. There will be a lot of distractions for you, but that is the most important thing for you to do at this stage. Because, in the end, that’s what you can control. And, if they can do that, I’m sure that we’ll be able to look after making sure that they get their ATAR, and be able to go on to whatever they want to do next year.
Kelly: It’s tough. It’s been a tough year for those kids. Minister, thank you very much for joining us.
Tehan: Yeah. Thanks, Fran.
Kelly: Dan Tehan is the Federal Minister for Education.