SUBJECTS: COVID-19 in Victoria and New South Wales, Schools in Victoria and coronavirus, Return to the Child Care Subsidy
Patricia Karvelas: My next guest is the Education Minister Dan Tehan. Minister, welcome.
Dan Tehan: A pleasure to be with you, Patricia.
Karvelas: Just before we get to your portfolio, the number of cases of COVID-19 linked to the Crossroads Hotel in Sydney’s south-west has now risen to 28, with a further case under investigation. This kind of leads to the bigger and wider question of whether localised and then maybe even broader lockdowns should happen in that state. What’s your message? Should New South Wales or Sydney be preparing to go into that phase, like Melbourne has?
Tehan: Well, ultimately, they’re decisions that the New South Wales Government and the Commonwealth Government need to consider, based on the best medical expert advice. And, I’m sure the New South Wales Government will be taking that advice from their medical experts, and obviously through the AHPPC – the expert medical panel of all states and territories that advises the Commonwealth Government – will be considering the advice that they’ve got for the Government, as well. And, I’m sure that they’ll be discussions between the Prime Minister and the Premier, and, of course, between the relevant health ministers. But, everything that the Commonwealth has done has been based on that expert medical advice, and that’s the continued approach that we will adopt.
Karvelas: The Government always said that schools should stay open. What do you make of the Victorian Government’s decision, then, to close schools, except for, of course, specialist schools and Years 11 and 12?
Tehan: Well, we welcome the fact that the Victorian Government are keeping schools open, especially for Year 12, 11 and those Year 10 students who are doing either VCE or VCAL, that they’ve the kept specialist schools open, because that’s incredibly important, also. And, that those schools in regional and rural communities have also remained open, that are outside the declared zone for Stage 3 restrictions. So, we think the Victorian State Government has made a good effort to keep schools open, and, obviously, based on the medical expert advice that we continue to get given, it is safe for schools to remain open, with the right protocols in place. And, that’s why ...
Karvelas: … So, you’re saying, is it safe, then, are you saying, for students between prep to Year 10 to be going back, as well, with the right protocols? Is that the advice that you’ve been given?
Tehan: Well, that’s the advice that we’ve been given at the Commonwealth level, but, ultimately, these are decisions for the Victorian State Government to make, based on the expert medical advice they’re getting. And, one of the considerations they have to take into account is that getting to and from school, and my understanding is that’s one of the key considerations that they’ve considered, and has informed the decision that they’ve, ultimately, made. But, the fact that they have made sure that schools are open, especially for Year 10, 11 and Year 12 students, for those regional and rural communities, and for those at those specialist schools, is incredibly important, and something that we welcome.
Karvelas: Okay. So, you’re obviously the Federal Education Minister. How do you view what’s happening then for those students from prep to Year 10 in Melbourne? Do you think they’re going to be left behind by comparison to their country counterparts, or people in other states, other students in other states? Is that something you’re worried about, in terms of these Melbourne students?
Tehan: Well, it’s definitely something that we’re going to continue to monitor and watch, and we’ve committed to undertake research on. We’ve had a fairly consistent position, well, we have had a very consistent position, is that the best teaching is that face-to-face teaching, ultimately. Obviously, there are some benefits in some circumstances for online learning, but it can’t really replace that face-to-face teaching. So, but, we will continue to watch and monitor that, and we’ve already said that we will continue to do the research to see what impact over time, the move to online teaching, not only in Victoria, but in other states, has had, when it’s been implemented during the pandemic. Because, I think, it’s going to be incredibly important research for us to have going forward.
Karvelas: So, how do you square the view that kids, that children, don’t transmit the virus, with that big cluster of cases at Al-Taqwa College? Doesn’t that demonstrate that, clearly, that outbreak itself, clearly, there is a big transmission risk at schools?
Tehan: Well, what the medical experts have told us is that they’re looking at that, and examining that, and there could be other reasons why there has been an outbreak associated with that school. And, they will base their advice on the research that they do when they look at those cases. But, their position has been very consistent right across the board, and it’s based on international research, as well as domestic research, and, that is, there is lower transmission among children. It was very interesting. The Norwegian Chief Medical Officer, a few weeks ago, said that the one regret that she had when, in the way that Norway dealt with the pandemic, was that it closed its schools, and she wished that they had of remained open. So, it’s not only advice that they’ve seen from examples here in Australia, but it’s also based on advice internationally, that they’ve obviously observed and made their decisions on.
Karvelas: The advice on masks is now that it does help prevent transmission. Should teachers be wearing masks?
Tehan: Well, once again, we’ve put these questions to the medical experts. They’ve said, at this stage, they don’t see a need for teachers to be wearing masks. But, look, they will continue to monitor this, and provide advice, and, ultimately, when it comes to the Victorian State Government, the advice that they get from their Chief Medical Officer, will, obviously, inform the decisions that they make when it comes to schools in Victoria.
Karvelas: How will this second shutdown in Victoria affect child care centres in Melbourne? Are you worried some won’t survive? What have you been told about the, sort of, sustainability of the child care sector there?
Tehan: Well, obviously, we moved very quickly when the Victorian State Government made the decision to go to Stage 3 restrictions, and we told the sector that for any child that is kept at home, who’s in that lockdown area, that they can waive the gap fee if they stay away. We’ve continued to have consultations with the sector. I’ll be having further consultations on Tuesday next week to get a sense as to what the operating environment is at the moment. We’ll be a week in, then, so will have much better data to inform us on what’s happening. But, we will continue to consult with the sector. Obviously, what the sector has done so far, I think, has been quite remarkable. Right across the nation, 99 per cent of our child care providers have remained open during the pandemic, and we, obviously, want to continue to work with the sector to make sure we’re doing everything we can to support child care providers through this, these Stage 3 lockdowns in Melbourne.
Karvelas: Now, there are, there is, kind of, rumours and facts, shadow ministers are tweeting at the Government at a state level saying, ‘Is the Stage 4 lockdown on the cards?’ Is that something that the Federal Government’s been consulted about? Victoria moving to another phase of lockdown?
Tehan: Look, I’m in Hamilton. It’s not something that I’m aware of. But, obviously, there could be discussions between the Premier and the Prime Minister, or health ministers, that I’m not aware of. But, look, I’ve heard nothing along those lines. But, there, apart from speculation, that that might be on the cards.
Karvelas: Just want to move to this evaluation of the Child Care Subsidy, which you’re transitioning back to. It had around, I think, a year to run. Is that still happening?
Tehan: Sorry, I’m just not quite sure of the details around that question. What we have at the moment, what happened as of Monday, is we’ve moved into these transition arrangements, that we’ve put in place, and which will run through till the end of September. So, they’re the arrangements that we announced over a month ago, which we’re now moving into right across the nation. But, I think, what you might be referring to was an overall review that we’re doing of the Child Care Subsidy system, that we introduced two years ago. Would that be right, Patricia?
Karvelas: Yeah, that’s right. And, in terms of how that might work in terms of that September deadline, is there an opportunity around making alterations, at that point?
Tehan: So, obviously, the focus of the Government has been on addressing the COVID-19 pandemic, and making sure that we can bring the sector through the pandemic. And, something, due to the wonderful hard work of the sector and all our early educators, that we’ve seen happen – 99 per cent of our providers are open, and providing that necessary care. With regards to that overall review, that’s something that we continue to consult with the sector on, to make sure that the time is right for us to undertake a piece of work like that. Obviously, their focus has been on addressing the pandemic, and making sure they can provide that care. So, we’re continuing to consult with them on the detail of that review, and we will undertake that when we think the timing is right.
Karvelas: Thank you so much for joining us, Minister.
Tehan: Thanks, Patricia.
Karvelas: And, that’s the Federal Education Minister Dan Tehan joining us.