SUBJECTS: Return of Child Care Subsidy, University research and coronavirus, Protests
Kieran Gilbert: As I mentioned earlier to Andrew, I spoke to the Education Minister Dan Tehan on the removal of free child care. Education Minister Dan Tehan, thanks very much for your time. First up, will this package ensure that all child care centres around the country remain viable?
Dan Tehan: That’s the aim, Kieran. When we put in place our temporary relief package, it was designed to do that. And, over the last two months, 99 per cent of providers have remained open, and they’ve provided outstanding care and education to young Australians through the coronavirus pandemic. Now, as we come out of the pandemic, as restrictions are eased, as children go back to school for face-to-face learning, as employment picks up, we want to ensure that the sector can continue to remain viable. That’s why we’ve consulted with the sector and put this package in place, so that they will be able to continue to provide that much needed care over the coming months.
Gilbert: Was there any consideration of increasing the Child Care Subsidy, given how challenging it is for many families right now with reduced work and reduced income?
Tehan: Well, we had detailed consultations with the sector. We looked at what we thought were the best measures to make sure that demand would increase, and that’s why we’ve made this policy decision around the activity test, to lift that to 100 hours. The sector, across the board, put that to us as a way of making sure that those parents who have been impacted by COVID-19, and seen either reduced hours of employment or unemployment, that’s the best way that we can continue to make sure that they can get access to care. So, that was the final architecture that we put in place, was to have that change to the activity test, along with this new Transition Payment, and it was something that the sector supported.
Gilbert: Now, in relation to the JobKeeper Payment, because you spoke of the Transition Payment, that’s essentially replacing JobKeeper for the child care sector. Labor today has accused the Government of a broken promise on this, given the Prime Minister on Friday said that the legislated six months of JobKeeper would be delivered.
Tehan: Well, what the Prime Minister has said all along is that there would be a review in June. He said that JobKeeper has been legislated for six months, but, obviously, when you’re having a review, if you are looking at how it’s working, how it calibrates with other policies, what we’ve done – and we’ve done this in consultation with the sector – rather than have JobKeeper continue on 20 July, there will be a change, and that will cease to be applicable to the sector. But, in its stead, we have this new Transition Payment, and there will also be an employment guarantee which comes with that, which the sector have committed to or will sign up to, to make sure that employment levels remain constant throughout the next three months.
Gilbert: So, as part of that review, is this the first step? Is this the start of a winding back of JobKeeper as it was set up in other sectors, as well?
Tehan: Well, ultimately, we have to wait and see what the review says, and what it recommends. The review was always slated for June. It’s currently being undertaken, and the Prime Minister, Treasurer, ERC, Cabinet, and the Government, obviously, will look at the outcomes of that review. And, if there is calibration which is needed, if there’s additional targeting that’s needed, I’m sure that that would be something that the Government would consider. But, ultimately, we need to let the review take its course.
Gilbert: If you see demand collapse across the sector, have you got a fall-back option?
Tehan: Well, look, we’ve designed this package with the sector, so we’re confident that it will continue to meet the increased demand that we’ve said. And, also, and especially with the changes that we’ve made to the activity test, we will see demand continue in the sector. Having brought 99 per cent of the sector through the pandemic over the last two months, everything that’s designed is designed to ensure that the sector will continue to provide that education and care that young Australians need.
Gilbert: And, is that activity test change enough to stop the, well, the Labor Party says it’s a snap back to the old model, and it will be a barrier to families, to parents, getting back into the workforce. Are you confident that that activity test change will not be a barrier? That this subsidy return won’t be a barrier to people going back to work?
Tehan: Well, we’re confident that we’ve worked with the sector to put in place the changes that we think will, that will see demand continue to grow in the sector. You have to remember that in, with centre based day care, some families, about 20 per cent of families, pay no more than $2 an hour for care. So, when it comes to about 70 per cent of families, they’re paying no more than $5 an hour for care. So, what we’ve designed this package to do is to make sure that families will still be able to get access to the care that they need. But, we’ll continue to engage and monitor its implementation throughout this transition.
Gilbert: A couple of other issues before you go, while I’ve got you there. Really encouraging news – it’s nice to have some positive news to talk about in the face of the pandemic – but, the vaccine work looks like it’s really encouraging in Australia, particularly UQ, in that announcement on Friday between UQ, CSL, as part of that same team that came up with the cervical cancer vaccine. This is looking really encouraging. Is there a chance that if they keep kicking their goals in terms of the research milestones, that they will expedite the manufacture of tens of millions of vaccines, potentially, in Australia?
Tehan: Well, you’re right Kieran. This is really positive news, and it shows Australia’s outstanding research capability, especially when it comes to vaccines. The announcement on Friday between CEPI, The University of Queensland, and CSL, was the most positive development we’ve seen in this country towards a vaccine. And, I think, there’s no question, if the milestones can continue to be met, and as long as the progress when it comes to the testing continues to go down the path that it is, that we all should be hopeful that maybe those timeframes could be brought forward. And, you could imagine the kudos for us, as a nation, but also what it would mean for our way of life, if we can get that vaccine out, and it can do its job against the coronavirus, sooner rather than later.
Gilbert: It would be massive kudos in terms of the sector, of the research sector. In terms of the material impact, what would that be in relation to those concerned, but also the institutions more broadly that have been involved in it?
Tehan: Yeah. Well, look, on two fronts, you think of the economic impact, if we have a vaccine that works – how it will free up our way of life, how it will free up our economy. It would be a complete and utter game changer. And, for CSL, The University of Queensland, and for CEPI, also enormous kudos. And, once again, would put Australian medical research at the forefront of the globe.
Gilbert: Finally, the Greens Senator Janet Rice attended the protests at the weekend. She is still intending to attend Parliament. Given the concerns that have been raised about the possibility of an outbreak at one of those protests, is that irresponsible from the Greens Senator to do that?
Tehan: Well, I think, she should think long and hard about whether she should turn up to Parliament this coming week. Obviously, the expert medical advice that the Government has relied on, and state and territory governments have relied on, for us to be able to flatten the curve and to have us in the situation we are, really, two months on from when the pandemic really hit this country, has stood us in great stead. And, I think, it’s beholden on all of us to follow that medical expert advice, because people’s livelihoods are at stake if we don’t. We do not want a second wave. So, I think, the Greens Senator should think long and hard about coming to Parliament, and I think she should look long and hard about not following the expert medical that’s provided to us as, not only as the Government, but as Members of Parliament, to help our nation deal with this coronavirus pandemic.
Gilbert: And, what’s your view, finally, on the protests more broadly, given the restrictions in place? But, obviously, some very strongly held views, particularly within the Indigenous community about incarceration rates and so on, that they felt that this was the time to capitalise on some momentum on this issue, which of course has started in the United States, but there are very real issues in this country, too.
Tehan: Well, Kieran, I think there are ways that you can express your views, and express your passionate views in a way that still keeps us safe as a nation, and means we don’t run the risk of a second wave. And, we saw that when we commemorated Anzac Day this year. I thought the way that that was done was incredibly moving, but also didn’t put lives at risk, didn’t put our economic recovery at risk. And, I think, using our intelligence, using common sense as a way of demonstrating your passion on certain issues, in a way that keeps the community safe, is how we should act during this pandemic. Because, it’s been that expert medical advice which has got us in the strong position that we’re in, and we don’t want to throw all that away.
Gilbert: Education Minister Dan Tehan. As always, I appreciate your time. Thanks for that.
Tehan: Thanks Kieran.