SUBJECTS: Early Childhood Education and Care Relief Package and review, schools, Higher Education Relief Package
Patricia Karvelas: The Federal Education Minister is Dan Tehan and he joins us again tonight. Minister, welcome.
Dan Tehan: Pleasure to be with you Patricia.
Karvelas: One quarter of Australian child care centres have reported that this support package that you gave them had not helped them remain financially viable. Why is that the case, and what are you going to do to help them?
Tehan: So, we’re continuing to monitor the situation. As we know, 99 per cent of all providers remain open. There’s roughly 13,400 services right around the nation – 99 per cent have stayed open. Now, a remarkable achievement when you look at what’s happened overseas. So, we’re continuing to review the situation. We said there would be a review after four weeks. We’ve released that review today, and we’ll make some more announcements over the coming days as to how we can continue to help the sector. But, one of the things that’s very clear – we put in place a policy which was aimed at helping the sector get through the pandemic, as demand collapsed. We’re now seeing demand come back in to the sector. So, therefore, we’re going to have to look at whether the settings are right for this new environment now.
Karvelas: Samantha Page, who’s the CEO of of course the leading industry group here, the Early Childhood Australia group. I know you know her. She says don’t support, she doesn’t support a return to that old model, and also has warned that it’s risky to turn that Child Care Subsidy back on too quickly, because we don’t actually know how many parents can afford the co-contribution. Is the Government modelling – based on the fact that we do know how many people are on JobKeeper, JobSeeker, how many people are unemployed – how many parents won’t be able to pay that co-payment?
Tehan: Look, I welcome Sam Page’s acknowledgement that the system that we’ve put in place has worked, and that’s terrific that she’s admitted that. What we will continue to do is engage with the sector and liaise with them. And, we’re out at the moment looking at what’s happened to demand since we did the previous survey of the sector, which was now a couple of weeks ago. And, we’ll continue to liaise with the sector, consult with them, and make sure that any changes we do put in place will see the sector continue to thrive. Obviously, we want to make sure that the sector’s there as we come out of this pandemic as strongly as it is now having dealt with the pandemic, with over 99 per cent of services operational as of 8 May.
Karvelas: So, be clear with me, will free child care end at the end of June?
Tehan: Well, that will, no decision has been taken on that. That will depend on …
Karvelas: … But, is that where the Government is leaning?
Tehan: Well, it will depend on a number of factors. But, if demand continues to increase at the levels that we’re seeing it, we have to understand that this system was put in place to deal with falling demand. It’s done its job. It’s done its job, as the review has shown, quite successfully. Now, we’ve got to help the sector deal with increase in demand. And, as we know, the old system was working effectively. It was keeping downward pressure on costs. And, we want to make sure that we set the sector up for sustainability in the coming months and years.
Karvelas: But, Minister, you say demand is coming back on and it’s been increasing. Isn’t that partly because child care is free?
Tehan: Look, it’s part because it’s free. But …
Karvelas: … Yeah, that’s right. So, if you turn that tap off – I mean, I’m just trying to like, this is logical, right? Anyone would get what I’m saying here – then you make it not free anymore, you’re taking the risk, aren’t you, that the demand won’t be the same?
Tehan: Well, two of the key factors which are mentioned in the review, Patricia, are the fact that children are going back to school for face-to-face teaching and restrictions are being lifted, so more and more people are going back to work. So, what we’ve seen is demand increasing, increasing a lot more than it was even two or three weeks ago when we had the system in place which enables parents to get free access to child care. So, all these things we’ll continue to monitor, to gauge, and work constructively with the sector on.
Karvelas: You say that the pre, the system, the child care system before COVID-19, before the pandemic, was working. We have an entirely different economy now. Everything has changed. So, how can it possibly work post-pandemic?
Tehan: Well, because the same settings will still be there. And, you’ve got to remember that …
Karvelas: … But, the same jobs aren’t there, unemployment has risen, we’ve seen women fall out of the workforce. I mean, that’s in the numbers.
Tehan: Yeah, and we need to get women back into the workforce, and that’s why you need a child care sector which, in particular, deals with female workplace participation. And, that’s why we want to make sure the sector can meet that demand. And …
Karvelas: … Wouldn’t it be more likely that women would return to work if child care was free?
Tehan: Well, we’ve got to make sure that the sector is financially viable into the future. And, you’ve got to remember, under the old system, 73 per cent of families pay no more than $5 an hour. It was specifically designed to help those who earnt the least, and we will, so, that is, and it was working. So, we’ve got to make sure that we’ve got a system which is sustainable into the future. This system was put in place, the current policy was put in place, to deal with falling demand, a system which was on the verge of collapse. We now have 99 per cent of providers up, running and operational, and we’ve got to make sure that they can meet the new demand which will come on board as restrictions are listed, and as, in particular, children go back to school, for that very important face-to-face teaching.
Karvelas: If you’re just tuning in, the Education Minister Dan Tehan is my guest. 0418-226-576 is the text line here on RN Drive. Let’s move to schools. You’ve got quite a few hats in your portfolio, and big stories in all of those portfolio areas. Reports that Independent schools will have a drop in enrolments now, with more children expected to attend state schools. Have you done some modelling around that? What do you know about what that shows, what we should expect?
Tehan: Look, there’ll be a census which takes place in the first part of the next half of this year, and that will give us a sense as to what’s happening with enrolments. Obviously, the new system that we’ve put in place for non-government schools, it’s called the Direct Measure of Income, adjusts depending on parental income. So, that’s another thing that will be taken into account as we move to this …
Karvelas: … But, isn’t that system – sorry to be rude and cut across you speaking …
Tehan: … No, you’re alright …
Karvelas: … but, doesn’t that system have a lag effect? You get sort of data, and there’s a lag. It might mean we’re not actually reflecting what’s happening right now in the economy?
Tehan: It does. It looks at that income over, income tax collection, and that can have a lag of 18 months. But, the new system comes into place in 2022, and for this year and next year, the non-government sector is guaranteed funding on the best outcomes on the previous model. So, at the moment, we’ve got time to have a look at what the impact of the coronavirus has been on the non-government sector, and to see whether we can, we need to make modifications. And, as we said when we announced the move to this new funding, there is also a review process as part of it. That review process will start in the next couple of months, and we’re also looking and examining some of the loadings, as well. So, this is all work we will continue to undertake.
Karvelas: Are you worried about the state school sector if they do see an influx of new students?
Tehan: Look, that’s something that we’ll have discussions with through Education Council – where all the state and territory education ministers come together with the Commonwealth Education Minister – and look at this. But, until we get that census data, which we’ll have a good reading on – I think it’s in August that that census takes place – that’ll give us a good indication of where things are at.
Karvelas: Minister, universities. The Education Department has addressed the Senate inquiry, and has revealed that the university relief package doesn’t actually include extra funding. When will you help the university sector?
Tehan: Well, what we did for the university sector was guarantee their funding for this year, for all domestic places. Now, that’s over $18 billion. It’s over half their revenue. And, if student numbers decline, they still will get that money. Now, that was the number one ask that the sector came to the Commonwealth Government with. We announced that on Easter Sunday. So, we came out very early and guaranteed that for the sector, and we continue to work with them. And, can I say, I thought it was very good news today that the Victorian State Government has come out today and announced further measures, and that’s something which I would encourage other state and territory governments to look at, as well.
Karvelas: Sure, but they didn’t leave it there. Tim Pallas said the Federal Government needs to step up to help the university sector more.
Tehan: Well, I mean, I don’t know whether Tim was aware that on Easter Sunday we announced that guarantee of over $18 billion of funding for the sector, guaranteeing over half their revenue. But …
Karvelas: … Is that it, though? Is that it? Be frank with me. Is there more to come?
Tehan: Well, we’re always talking to the sector and always engaging with the sector, and I’m meeting with them again tomorrow, with Universities Australia. I’ll be having another catch up with them. But, they put to us their number one request, which was this guarantee of the domestic load of funding, and that’s what we gave them, over $18 billion. And, we also discussed, at that time, that state and territory governments could play a role. Every university, except for the ANU, is legislated under state and territory legislation, and they have the jurisdictional responsibility for those universities. We do for the ANU. It was always envisaged that they would go to state and territory governments and see what assistance they could provide, especially when you think of what the Commonwealth Government is doing for the economic recovery out of this pandemic, with JobKeeper and JobSeeker – two of the biggest economic measures this nation has ever seen.
Karvelas: I know it’s sort of a state government issue, but I wonder what you make of this. Someone has texted in to say, ‘How are kids going to get to and from school in New South Wales by public transport, when buses can carry 12 people at a time and we’re trying to socially distance?’ How do you work that out, Minister?
Tehan: Well, that’s a good question. I wasn’t aware that that’s what the New South Wales State Government have come out and announced. I assumed that there would also be other public transport that’s available. Obviously, parents can drop their children to and from school. So, there are other things that, other ways and means that children can get to school. But, I think that’s a question which is best asked of the New South Wales State Government …
Karvelas: … Well, I did …
Tehan: … But, can I say this …
Karvelas: … Yeah …
Tehan: … I think it’s absolutely welcome news that every child in New South Wales, next week, will be back to that face-to-face learning. And, when you think of how children were going to miss out, and especially those vulnerable children, I think any measure which sees children back in the classroom, getting that face-to-face teaching, is to be welcomed.
Karvelas: Thanks so much for your time.
Tehan: Thanks Patricia.
Karvelas: That’s the Federal Education Minister Dan Tehan.