SUBJECTS: Return to the Child Care Subsidy, JobKeeper, Protests
Rafael Epstein: No more free child care from 13 July. So, there’s five weeks to go. And, no more JobKeeper for child care workers, either. That stops a week later on 20 July. Don’t forget, of course, JobKeeper was supposed to last the six months until the end of September. Not if you work in child care. Why? Because demand for child care has gone back to three quarters of what it was before. But, the Government is funding extra money into child care. The centres will get 25 per cent of their former revenue, while we wait and see what shakes out. Dan Tehan is the Education Minister. He’s part of the Prime Minister’s Cabinet. He’s also the Liberal MP for the electorate of Wannon, which is, of course, most of the southern and western coastal part of Victoria. Dan Tehan, welcome to the show.
Dan Tehan: Pleasure to be with you Raf.
Epstein: Dan Tehan, how does putting fees back onto child care help people who’ve lost their jobs?
Tehan: Well, what we have to do, Raf, is redesign the child care system. Because, what, the existing measures that we had in place, were designed for when demand was coming down. It was a rescue package. And, what we’ve seen is, 99 per cent of the sector has remained open, and been able to provide that education and care that our young Australians need. But, we’ve also seen demand for child care begin to increase, and it’s increasing because restrictions have been eased. Children are going back to school for that face-to-face learning, and jobs are picking up. So, we need to make sure that the system is now designed to deal with that. So, that’s why we’ve worked very closely with the sector to put this new package in place.
Epstein: And, I think, people can understand, and they probably think it’s good, if there’s more people sending their kids to child care, because that means more people are going back to work. But, we’re still in this place. One in five workers have lost their job or lost hours. That’s the underutilisation rate, not well-known, but one in five people have lost their job or lost hours. So, how does putting the fees back on to child care help those people?
Tehan: Well, what we want to do is, a) make sure that there are places there for those people who need it, and what the sector was telling us is, if we didn’t make transitional changes, then there wasn’t going to be the places there that were needed for people. So, we had to deal with the issue of making people, sure that people could get access to care. Then, what we’ve done is, we’ve made changes around the activity test. So, for those people who have been impacted, either through loss of hours or loss of work, that they will be able to access the changes to the activity test, which will enable them …
Epstein: … So, that means you don’t have to have as many hours of work to access the same level of child care. Is that what that means?
Tehan: That’s correct. Either the same levels of work or whether, or looking for work or volunteering. So, that will help them still be able to get access to care, and the system is always designed to help those who are earning the least be able to get access to more subsidy. So, 24 per cent of people roughly pay no more than $2 per hour per child at centre based day care. Or, 70 per cent of families pay no more than $5 per hour per child at centre based care. So, the system is also designed to help those who earn the least.
Epstein: But, is it going to make the child care more expensive for people who’ve lost their jobs? Is it going to be more expensive than it has been?
Tehan: So, it will obviously depend on individual circumstances. Because, if you were earning an amount of money which meant that you paid a certain particular subsidy rate, and now, obviously, that’s declined, because you’ve lost hours or lost work, you will pay less. That’s the way the system is designed to work.
Epstein: Can I ask about JobKeeper, not only for those involved in child care, but for everybody who is getting it. Even on Friday, the Prime Minister insisted three times, to three different questioners, JobKeeper is staying for the full six months. Except, now, all of a sudden, it doesn’t apply for people in child care. Why not?
Tehan: Well, the Government said that we would review JobKeeper, and that review is currently taking place. Now, it’s legislated to last for six months. Obviously, when it came to the child care sector, we had discussions with the sector as what is the best type of transition payment that could be provided. And, the sector thought, rightly, I think, that it was more equitable that if we went with the Transition Payment – which is based on the Business Continuity Payment we put in place, without the measure that we put in place to deal with the coronavirus – they thought that that was the best way for us to be able to provide equitable assistance right across the sector.
Epstein: Can I just clarify, and make sure everyone understands what we’re talking about. Essentially, if a business has three quarters of its demand, JobKeeper will no longer apply. Is that what you’re doing with child care, first of all, that if they’ve got three quarters of the demand, three quarters of the kids coming back, they don’t need JobKeeper anymore?
Tehan: No, it’s really, how do we provide the most equitable level of funding to help the sector transition away from the temporary relief package we put in place, to the normal Child Care Subsidy system. So, what we looked at was, okay, what’s the best way we can provide that assistance? And, the feedback that I got from the sector was that, rather than keep JobKeeper in place, if we could put in place a Transition Payment, which is 25 per cent of the revenue for the regular business period, that we used for the Business Continuity Payment, that that was the best way to provide equitable funding right across the sector. So, that’s why …
Epstein: … But, you’re saying you’re getting rid of JobKeeper because the sector asked you to?
Tehan: Well, we had detailed discussions about this, because what was the best way to be able to provide equitable assistance across the sector, so it didn’t depend entirely on how many people were employed under a provider who could get access to JobKeeper. And, it was seen that this was the fairer way to be able to do it. So, that’s why we’ve gone with this payment.
Epstein: Sure. So, tons of businesses and sectors and industries have been hit. I understand child care and universities are your thing. But, is that going to be a general principle for Scott Morrison’s Government, that if a sector gets back to something like three quarters of pre-COVID demand, you’ll be transitioned out of JobKeeper? Is that a rule of thumb we can apply from your Government?
Tehan: I think what we can be rest assured of is, that there is a review which is taking place. We always said that there would be a review that would take place …
Epstein: … I don’t think people mind the review. I think they just want to have some idea of where you’re going.
Tehan: Well, I think we’ve got to wait and see what the review says. So, obviously, JobKeeper is one of the most important economic packages that’s ever been put in place in this nation. So, I think, it’s reasonable that we assess it, that we review it, see what the recommendations of the review is, and then we can wait and see what decisions as a Cabinet, as a Government, we need to make with regards to it.
Epstein: 1300-222-774 is the phone number. Dan Tehan is the Education Minister. And, just back on the child care sector specifically, Minister. If they have to maintain something called average employment levels, child care centres, does that mean that you are saying more people will be employed in child care than were under JobKeeper, or fewer people? I can’t quite …
Tehan: … Ah, yeah. No, what we’re saying is that we want the sector, we want the providers, to keep their average employment levels the same, or, increase them, during these next three months …
Epstein: … You’re saying more people will now be employed in child care than have been employed under JobKeeper?
Tehan: No, what we’re saying is that we want the levels to at least stay the same, if not increase.
Epstein: Okay. The same or more.
Tehan: The same or more.
Epstein: The protests over the weekend, Minister, just to get you to speak outside of your portfolio. I know you’ve got another appointment. The Finance Minister Mathias Cormann described them as reckless and self-indulgent. Do you think the protesters can throw that back at the Government? It’s reckless and self-indulgent to have done next to nothing to fix the problems of black deaths in custody? That’s a bit more reckless and a bit more self-indulgent, isn’t it?
Tehan: Well, a couple of points on this, Raf. First of all, one of the key priorities of the National Cabinet, that was announced recently, was making sure that we continue to work on closing the gap, and continue to work on improving outcomes for Indigenous Australians. So, that was one of the first priority areas for the National Cabinet. So, we’ve made sure that it’s been put front and centre on the national agenda. But, the second thing is, I think, it’s beholden on all of us to listen to the medical expert advice …
Epstein: … Yes. But, it’s pouring fuel on the fire, isn’t it? Describing protesters as reckless and self-indulgent. Is that helpful?
Tehan: Well, I think, what we have to do is make sure that all of us understand that it’s been listening to the expert medical advice that’s got us in the position we are at the moment, and doing things which could set that back, which could lead to a second wave, is irresponsible. We’ve got to make sure that we take the right steps and follow that expert medical advice. And, there are ways that you can express your passions in a way that doesn’t endanger other people. For instance, if you have a look how this nation commemorated Anzac Day, there was a way of all of us stopping …
Epstein: … Yes. That’s about the nature of protest, if I can just bring you back to the issue. I’m just interested in what you would say to someone who says, ‘Look, I protested because the incarceration rate for Indigenous people in Victoria doubled.’ So, it’s not that the problems remain the same. It’s gotten worse. The incarceration rate has doubled in the last decade. Everything else they’ve done, everything else governments have tried, has failed, and the problem’s getting worse. Does that help you to understand, maybe, why someone would go to a protest?
Tehan: Look, l would say to them that National Cabinet has this as one of their priority issues, and we do want to make sure that we’re dealing with this. But, I would also say to them, that endangering the progress that we have made in defeating this pandemic, at this stage, is not what we need. People have made huge sacrifices. People have lost work. People haven’t been able to go to funerals of loved ones. They haven’t been able to visit people in aged care facilities, who they otherwise would have wanted to see, who were in the last stages of their lives. People have made huge sacrifices. We don’t want to endanger that now. There are sensible ways, within the guidelines of the medical experts, that you can make your protests, rather than putting lives at risk.
Epstein: He’s responsible for the Child Care Subsidies administered federally. He’s the Education Minister in Scott Morrison’s Cabinet. Dan Tehan, thanks for your time.
Tehan: Pleasure, Raf.