SUBJECTS: Return to the Child Care Subsidy, Schools in Victoria and coronavirus
Lisa Millar: Victorian parents have had to face a harsh reality check, with the news that prep to Year 10 students in lockdown areas are going to return to remote learning this term.
Paul Kennedy: It comes as free child care across the country comes to an end this morning. For more, Education Minister Dan Tehan joins me from Hamilton in western Victoria. Minister, thanks for your time. Let’s start with child care. How seriously did you consider extending the free places to Victorians, and, indeed, right across the country for essential workers?
Dan Tehan: So, what we’ve done is made sure that all parents can now get access to child care, because under our free child care package, what we were finding was the increased demand was putting pressure on our child care providers to be able to provide places. And, when Victoria went into Stage 3 lockdown last week, we acted immediately. And, for any parent who, because of the Stage 3 lockdown, won’t send their child to child care, that provider is able to waive the gap fee, so it won’t cost that parent anything for not having their child at home. And, we’ll continue to monitor the situation in Melbourne. But, for the rest of the country, obviously, as the economy continues to open up, we’ve seen demand for places increase. And, that’s why we’ve moved back to our old system, but with transition arrangements in place.
Kennedy: I want to ask you about that in a moment. Just very quickly, you talked about the pressure on the centres. What type of pressure is this move of ending that free care going to place on single parents, particularly women?
Tehan: So, what we’ve seen under our old system was that it helped female participation in the workforce. We’ve seen a seven per cent increase in female participation since it was introduced two years ago. So, we’re confident that it will provide the support there for women, for single parents, and for all parents. And, we’ll continue to monitor the situation. We have seen …
Kennedy: … It’s a, a lot’s changed ...
Tehan: … enrolments increase.
Kennedy: A lot’s changed though, in the last few months, as we all know. I’m just wondering whether that’s going to place too much pressure on those single parents that just can’t afford it anymore, or have to decide between that and rent.
Tehan: Look, a lot has changed. And, sadly, we’ve seen parents lose hours of work, and, in some cases, they’ve lost work. But, our system copes with that. It manages that, because if you get a reduction in hours, obviously, the amount of out-of-pocket expenses that you pay
comes down, and for those parents in real financial hardship, we have the Additional Child Care Subsidy. So, I would say to all parents who have lost work or who have seen reduced hours, please get in touch with your provider to see what assistance is there for you.
Kennedy: And, just quickly, that’s good advice. This recognised activities – you’ve changed that, as a subsidy. What’s the key change there?
Tehan: Well, if parents have seen a reduction in the amount of activity they’re undertaking, whether it be work, whether it be volunteering, whether it be studying, we will now compensate for that. So, once again, if you’ve seen a change in your activity, I say to parents, please go to your provider and ask them for additional information about what support might be there for you. And, PK, can I just give a, please, a big shout-out to all those early childhood educators who will be there today, providing care for our young children.
Tehan: What they’ve done through this pandemic has been extraordinary. Ninety-nine per cent of providers across the nation have remained open, and they’ve provided that vital service for families right throughout this pandemic, and they deserve a big, big note of recognition.
Kennedy: They do. And, so do teachers, who are about to start an enormous task. I want to get straight to the point here. It seems a long time ago that you were leading this discussion around infectiousness in schools. You were actually attacking the Victorian Government on its stance. How many students and teachers have tested positive to coronavirus in this second wave in Victoria? Do you have the number?
Tehan: Look, I don’t have the exact number. You’d have to go to the Department of Health and Human Services in Victoria to get that, but …
Kennedy: … We will, but let me just take you to my next question. Al-Taqwa College is one of the country’s largest COVID-19 clusters now. It’s had a big problem with student-to-student transmission, especially among senior students – 17, 18-year-olds. VCE students are going back to school today right across Victoria. What protections have teachers been provided?
Tehan: So, teachers are being provided with the protections that have been recommended by our medical health experts, and that’s the advice that we continue to take. We listen to our medical experts. They’ve said, right through this pandemic, that it’s safe for schools to be open, with the right protocols put in place. And, can I just say, what the Victorian State Government has done in making sure that schools remain open outside of metropolitan Melbourne, making sure those schools that look after – the specialist schools – that look after our children with a disability, providing schools that online learning for Year 12, Year 11 and Year 10 who are doing VCE or VCAL, I think that is the right approach that they’ve taken. They’ve tried to keep as many schools open for as many students as possible, and the Federal Government supports that.
Kennedy: And, just one quick one. This is going to be really tricky in Victoria, because it’s different this time, isn’t it? When they send all those kids back from prep to Year 10, teachers have to be in school, which then puts pressure on those teachers to have their kids – 60 per cent of teachers have school-aged children – those kids are going to be in school. It’s just going to be a lot more kids in school, and even more pressure on the child care system. Have you got the balance right? Are you keeping an eye on Victoria and having those discussions around that balance?
Tehan: Absolutely. We continue to consult right throughout this pandemic, whether it be with the child care sector, or through Education Council with all state and territories, when it comes to schools. And, we will continue to do that. We want to make sure that we continue to provide the support that we need, so we get that continuity of education for our children through this pandemic. And, once again, I’ve, it was a big shout-out for our early childhood educators, but for all those teachers who are going to school today to teach our children, once again, a big thank you to them for what they’re doing on behalf of our nation. When it comes to our specialist schools or all other schools, they’re providing the education that our children need at this time, and they deserve a very, very big shout-out from all of us across the nation.
Kennedy: Minister Dan Tehan, thanks for your time this morning.
Tehan: Thanks PK.