Friday, 3 April 2020
SUBJECTS: Coronavirus and Early Childhood Education and Care Relief Package, Schools, Year 12 students
Tom Connell: Well, the big announcement yesterday was free child care. What exactly does that mean for, well, people, first of all, how long will it last for, and what about the child care centres, as well? The Education Minister Dan Tehan joins me now from here in Canberra. Dan Tehan, thanks very much for your time. Just to start with, there was some confusion initially about who qualifies. So, anyone working or otherwise, who has a child care place right now, will get this free of charge?
Dan Tehan: That’s correct Tom, but we want to prioritise who we’re giving that care to. So, obviously those people who are working and need their children looked after, because they’re working, we want them prioritised. We want vulnerable children prioritised, and those with existing enrolments also prioritised. And, we want people to use their judgment and use their common sense. But, what we have said, and made very clear – for all those who will be using child care for the first 12 weeks, so up to June 30, and then the following three months after that, the child care will be free, because we want to support those people who are working to be able to concentrate on what they’re doing to defeat this pandemic, and know that their children are getting that continuity of care.
Connell: So, in this period, no one’s going to be charged for child care. But, the prioritisation is people with jobs, essential jobs, vulnerable Australians. How does that happen? You say you want people to use common sense. We’ve seen in Australia, that doesn’t always happen. Look at toilet paper, for example. So, who’s policing this? Is it the Government? Is it child care centres? Or, is it just up to parents to decide whether or not they should use this?
Tehan: Well, we’ve put a Ministerial Rule in place which asks child care centres to prioritise those three key groups before everyone else. And, we, of course, we know that everyone will do their bit and play their part in helping us get through the next six months. So, we’re relying on that good common sense that, that all Australians have. And, while we’ve obviously prioritised those three sectors, that will be in the Ministerial Rule that is part of this. That’s how we’re going to put this new system in place. Child care centres will know the existing relationships they have, and they’ll be able to use those existing relationships to make sure that those who need care, those that we prioritise for, get that care.
Connell: Well, let me just walk through how that works then. Say a parent gets a job. They don’t have child care. They apply somewhere and that place is full. What happens? Does that child care centre ask parents, existing parents there, does anyone not have a job? We need to prioritise this place and, if you don’t have a job, you’re out. You’ll go back on a waiting list.
Tehan: What I would say to those parents that do have a job and need to get their children cared for, if they can’t find a place in an existing child care centre that they applied for, come
to the Department of Education. We’re setting up and establishing a unit, though, that will be able to help them find a place where there is capacity with an existing provider.
Connell: Would you ask parents out there who are not in a vulnerable group, that are at home at the moment, to contact their child care centre and, not necessarily drop out, but offer that position up to someone that does have a job right now? When you say common sense should prevail, is that what you’re asking Australians to do, if they can?
Tehan: Well, what we want to do in the first instance, Tom, is to make sure that all those people who have an existing relationship with a child care provider, to make sure that they continue that relationship. Because, we obviously want to make sure that as we come out of the pandemic, and those people go back to work and need children cared for, that they can, they will have that relationship. For, for those, now, at the moment, what we’ve seen is capacity is down, in some places down, you know, 50, 60 per cent. So, there is a [indistinct] …
Connell: … But, that could easily surge back, that will surge back with free child care, right? So, for people, as I said, in that position, when you’re saying use common sense, would you ask them, if you’ve got two parents at home and they do have a child care position at the moment, not to send their child there?
Tehan: Well, what we’ve done is we’ve put the priority order that we want child care centres to take into account. We’ve also said we’re going to review this after a month, to see that we are getting the sector financially stabilised. They have to understand the reason we did this was that we were starting to see centres close, and we wanted to make sure that there was that provision of child care there. So, we’re going to monitor it. We said we will review it in a month. At the moment, our issue is [video skips] a surge in people wanting to use the sector. It’s about helping the sector while these declining enrolments. Now, we’ll see what happens in the next month, and therefore have a …
Connell: … Now, I understand that. I guess, I’m looking to the, if, yeah, you’ll review it. Okay. Just want to ask you …
Tehan: … Yeah. We’ve got a review process after a month.
Connell: Yeah. Yeah. Okay. Sorry Minister, just a little bit short on time.
Tehan: You’re alright.
Connell: I just wanted to ask about those [indistinct] and the industry staying on its feet. Even since this announcement, one viewer has alerted us to an email going out from the centre saying they can’t charge people, and because they’re only getting 50 per cent from the Government, they do expect to close still. What’s the Government’s role from there?
Tehan: So, what we’ve said is we wanted to calibrate this payment with the JobKeeper payment, to make sure that there is a financial underpinning in the sector. But, we’ve also said that we will look at exceptional circumstances, and there might be centres on the extremes. Those who are providing care for vulnerable children and a large proportion of vulnerable children, we might have to work with them, and there might be others who are wholly reliant on fee-paying parents, so, not on the subsidy itself that we give to parents.
So, obviously, in those instances, we’ll work with them, as well. So, we’ll continue to provide the information out to the sector. The Department is briefing the peak bodies today fully, and we’ll continue. But, we do have, and we build into the system, the ability to help those who might fall out of the parameters, for various reasons.
Connell: Right. So, it sounds like there could be individual help in the circumstances of that centre I just named. So, if you’re in that situation, even as a parent, let the centre know, or let perhaps the Department know, as well. Just on schools as well, Minister. They’re being kept open, albeit encouraging parents to keep their children home, if they can. At this stage, do you anticipate that’s going to be the arrangement for some months? They will be able to stay open, but it will be in that limited capacity?
Tehan: That’s, that’s right. So, each individual state and territory will put in arrangements for their jurisdictions. Tasmania has made an announcement today for what term two will look like for them, and, that is, they’re asking parents if they can keep their children at home and educate them safely there, that’s what they’re asking them to do. But, they’ve made it very clear – schools will be open, and if parents need to send their kids to school to get the care that they need and make sure they’re properly looked after, then schools will be open for those parents. So, and my expectation is we’ll see a very similar approach taken by states and territories right around the country.
Connell: Okay. Do you think there’s any chance Year 12 exams might not happen this year?
Tehan: Well, that was one of the priority issues that we were discussing yesterday when all state and territory education ministers came together again. We’ve got a meeting again next week to look at this issue. We’ve asked the curriculum and assessment bodies in each state and territory to look at this. What we want to be able to do is provide certainty for all those Year 12 students. They’ve had the year turned on its head. But, we want to make sure that they understand that there will be a pathway there for them – whether it be a university, vocational education or employment – next year.
Connell: So, whatever happens, there, we’ll be able to be, the Year 12 students this year, whatever form this takes, they’ll be able to progress next year to go to university, whatever it might be, whether there are exams or not?
Tehan: That is absolutely the goal that all education ministers are working to achieve, and we’ve got another meeting next week where we hope to provide …
Connell: … The goal, but not the guarantee?
Tehan: Well, I can’t speak on behalf of every state and territory education minister and their curriculum and assessment bodies. But, collectively, we’re working together on this to be able to, to make an announcement, so it’s very clear. But, the absolute goal of everyone, is to make sure that we provide that certainty for Year 12 students, so that they will have that certainty. But, I’m not going to speak for every state and territory education minister, who I respect and I’ve had a great working relationship through this. But, we are working and we hope to have something to say next week.
Connell: Yeah. Well, look, we do understand, pretty fluid times. So, it’s hard to issue those guarantees. But, I’m sure students will be hoping for something soon. Dan Tehan, Education Minister, appreciate your time. Thank you.
Tehan: Pleasure, Tom, and we’ll hopefully get it to them by next week. Good on you.
Connell: Yep. No. Good to understand. We’ll keep getting that message out.