SUBJECTS: COVID-19 and child care in Victoria, Pandemic leave disaster payment
Dan Tehan: Well, I’d like to thank you all for joining us this afternoon. I’ve just come out of consultations with the childhood sector about what we need to do to support the sector through the coming weeks, in Melbourne, and, in Victoria, more generally. We’ve been working very closely with the Victorian State Government to understand all the detail of the arrangements they’re putting in place as part of the Stage 4 restrictions for Melbourne. Obviously, that detail will determine the type of demand that we will see in the sector. So, understanding the conditions that are being put in place, and, following the consultations that we’ve had with the sector, we will now be putting in place arrangements to support the sector. And, we will have more to say about that tomorrow.
Can I once again thank the early childhood, early educator sector for the way that they have dealt with the Government, and worked with the Government, to make sure that we can put in place the arrangements to support the sector through COVID-19.
As you’re aware, thanks to the outstanding work of our early childhood educators, and our early childhood providers, we have seen 99 per cent of the sector remain open and viable during COVID-19. We now want to ensure that we can put measures in place which will see the child care sector in Melbourne be able to deal with the coming six weeks of Stage 4 restrictions, and, then, whatever other restrictions are necessary, beyond that.
At the moment, right across the nation, we have a transition package in place for the sector. Now, that transition package provides 25 per cent of the revenue that the sector was earning in that fortnight before 1 March, to all providers across the nation. That is worth $708 million, and comes with an employment guarantee. And, you’ll remember from the research that we did, that we put that in place because nearly a third of the early childhood workforce wasn’t eligible for JobKeeper. So, our consultations with the sector meant that we put in place different arrangements, so we were providing assistance to all providers right across the nation, through our transition arrangements. Because, the feedback we got from the sector was that JobKeeper wasn’t providing the support to all providers across the nation, and about a third of the early childhood workforce was missing out.
So, once again, can I thank the sector for the way that they’ve consulted with the Government. I’ve just undertaken very close consultations around various options that we can look at to support the sector, now that Melbourne is in Stage 4 restrictions. I’m happy to take any questions.
Journalist: Minister, Adam Carey from The Age. What information are you still waiting on from the Victorian Government?
Tehan: So, we’ve been in close consultation with the Victorian Government. Just understanding exactly how the work permit system will work. For instance, whether, if you need both parents to be eligible for a work permit, for them to be able to get access to child care. Now, we’ve, obviously, had officials talking to each other on a regular basis, on an hourly basis, as we’ve worked through that detail. We’ve made sure that that detail can be provided to the sector, so they can get an understanding of what this will mean for demand for them. And, can I thank the officials in the Department of Education in Victoria for the close way they’ve been working with my officials, so we can get this detail. Then, obviously, we’ve had consultations with the sector. I’ll have a further consultation with them this afternoon. And, then, we hope to be in a position to make an announcement tomorrow.
Journalist: Minister, [inaudible], ABC. Can you give us any idea of what some of those options that you are considering are, at the moment, are?
Tehan: Well, at the moment, we’ve got a transition package in place. So, one of the options would be to build on that. But, obviously, we also have to take into account that this will – and, it’s obviously of no fault to the sector, themselves – will cut demand quite considerably. So, we do need to look at options now as to what would happen, for instance, if a provider, only had, well, attendance rates below 10 per cent. Or, what it might mean for those who might work, for instance, or provide care near hospitals, where attendance rates might remain a lot higher. So, they’re some of the complexities that we’re working through.
Journalist: Minister, Simon Love from 10 News here. Can a child care centre, in essence, or, in principle, operate, even with 10 per cent capacity, or with essential work, you know, the children of essential workers, or whatever will be defined tomorrow? Are you confident that child care centres will be able to sustain, you know, an actual entity through this crisis, or, will you be looking at some form of overhead support to keep all these businesses running?
Tehan: Well, what we’ve done, right through the COVID-19 pandemic, is work with the sector, so that they remain open and viable. And, can I thank the sector again, because 99 per cent of providers have remained open and viable through COVID-19. And, those early educators who have provided that care through the pandemic. This has been one of the success stories of the way the Government has dealt with COVID-19. If you look at what’s happened overseas, child care sectors have been devastated by the pandemic. The sector here has worked closely with the Government, and we’ve been able to keep it open and viable. That’s what we want to do now in Metropolitan Melbourne. We want to work with the sector, so that they can continue to provide care, and, also, that they continue to remain viable. And, that’s why, I will continue to consult with the sector so we get that outcome.
Journalist: Minister, Tom Minear from the Herald Sun, here. I just wanted to ask you, is there any consideration of switching off the subsidy system, as you did in the first wave of the pandemic? Is that an option on the table, at the moment?
Tehan: Look, we want to provide a system with, which is simple for the sector, which is simple for us to administer, and can provide support immediately to the sector. So, they’re the parameters we’re working on. We will continue to consult with the sector. But, we want to make sure that we can provide consistent support, support right across the sector, and the various forms of care that is provided during the sector. And, so, we will look to do what we can in a simple form, and in a way that will be easy to administer for the sector.
Journalist: So, if you’re not a permitted worker, and therefore your child is not attending care, can you expect to get some fee relief, some return to the free child care setup, of the first wave of the pandemic?
Tehan: What we’re looking at is, is what we can do, under our existing arrangements – obviously, we’re in transitional arrangements at the moment – we’ve got a system which operates right across the nation. So, we have to make sure that what we’re doing is for Melbourne specific, but fits within the arrangements that we have for the whole nation. Because, obviously, there’s very different circumstances in every other state, outside of Victoria, at the moment. So, we want a simple solution. One which will provide immediate relief to the sector, and one which will keep the sector viable through these next six weeks of Stage 4 restrictions.
Journalist: Minister, Fiona Willan here from 9News. If I might just divert, for a moment, to ask about the disaster leave payments. Given those are supposed to prevent a disaster, why make it so that they can only be accessed once a disaster has been declared?
Tehan: Well, obviously, what we’ve put in place is support, given what has happened in Victoria, with the implementation of the Stage 4 restrictions. Now, with all these things, what we’re trying to do is provide immediate relief and immediate support to those who are, who are being impacted. Obviously, Stage 4 restrictions are having a devastating impact, especially when it comes to Melbourne, more Stage 3 restrictions for the rest of Victoria. Devastating impact on the economy. We want to be there to provide as much support as we can, in a simple and quick form. And, that’s what we’re looking at with all the arrangements we’re putting in place to support Victorians at this moment.
Journalist: What about other states? NSW, for example. Wouldn’t it be better to take a prevention is better than cure approach there?
Tehan: Look, what we’ve had to do is respond to the outbreak, the Victorian wave, and respond to that in a clear and decisive way, in a way which provides immediate support. And, that is what the Federal Government will continue to do. We’ll continue to work with the Victorian Government to be able to make sure that we can provide that support, and do so in a way which is simple as it possibly can, easy to administer, and provides immediate relief.
Journalist: Minister, will you be increasing the number of electable absence days, for families, over this six-week period?
Tehan: So, we’re looking at all options, as to what is the best way for us to provide support. And, that’s why we’re having detailed discussions with the sector, about what is the best way for us to provide support. So, all options are on the table. We’re going to continue those discussions this afternoon. And, my hope is, that we’ll be able to announce something tomorrow, which will provide certainty for the sector for the next six weeks, and beyond. Now, I’m going to have to leave it there because I need to get back to work. But, I thank you all for coming to this press conference today, this very different looking press conference from Hamilton, Victoria, and I look forward to being in touch tomorrow. Thanks a lot.