SUBJECTS: COVID-19 and child care in Victoria, Schools in Victoria and remote learning, Year 12 students, Universities and ATAR, Universities and international revenue
Dan Tehan: I’d like to thank the child care sector for the way that they’ve consulted with the Government over the last 48 hours, and, in particular, over the last 24 hours. Obviously, there’s been a lot of work behind the scenes which has occurred, and it is that type of consultation and cooperation that we’ve had from the sector over the last four to five months which has meant that we have kept 99 per cent of providers open right across the nation. And, our aim in announcing this package today, is to ensure that we keep providers open in Melbourne and across rural and regional Victoria, because we want those parents who have to work to be able to get care for their children. But, also, we want to make sure that our providers remain viable, and our early childhood educators continue to get the employment guarantee that we’ve been providing them since we put the transition arrangements in place.
And, can I once again just say to those early childhood educators, thank you for what you’ve done in providing continuity of care for children through this pandemic. They are unsung heroes of this pandemic. They have been there providing continuity of care for our children right through this pandemic, right across the nation.
So, what we are announcing today, is the following: for all Victorian parents, for all Victorian families, you will be getting an extra 30 days of allowable absences. So, that means, if you’re not in a position to be able to send your child to care, you can use those absences. Providers can waive the gap fee, so there will be no cost to you for keeping your child enrolled while you can’t access child care for the next 30 days. So, that’s 30 days’ additional allowable absences, on the 42, already, on top of the 42 days we’ve already allocated for that. So, that means parents who have to keep their children at home, can do so, and can do so without cost, because we’re asking providers to waive the gap fee. And, I would say to parents, please keep your children enrolled. It won’t cost you anything to do so, but it means, as we come out of this pandemic, those positions will be there for you at your child care centre. So, once you go back to work, the position’s there, it’s available to you, and it means it’ll be much more seamless for you to be able to get back to work once we’ve got through this pandemic.
Now, for regional and rural Victoria, we will also be putting in place the same arrangements for outside school hours’ care that we did for Metropolitan Melbourne and for the Mitchell Shire. So, they will get access to those provisions which were provided for Metropolitan Melbourne and for Mitchell Shire.
Now, for Melbourne providers, what we will be doing is we will be providing them with a top-up payment of five per cent, on top of the 25 per cent Transition Payment that they are already receiving. We will also be putting in place, for those services who have an average Child Care Subsidy rate of less than 50 per cent, who see a reduction in their enrolments, or, sorry, a reduction in their attendance to below 30 per cent, they will get top-up payments between 10 per cent and 25 per cent. What this means, overall, is that services, on average, will be getting revenue – based on the pre-COVID fortnight – on average, between 80 to 85 per cent.
All up, what it means, as the PM has said this morning, that we are providing a triple guarantee. For those parents who can’t send their children to care, there’ll be no cost to them. They’ll be able to keep their child enrolled. For those early childhood educators, we continue to have the employment guarantee in place. And, in my consultations with the sector, they have said that they want to send a very strong message: they want to support the early childhood workforce through this pandemic, because they understand how important those workers will be once we come out of this pandemic. And, then, also, what we’re doing is we’re providing certainty. Through keeping the Child Care Subsidy on and available for providers, we understand that they will get the financial guarantee that they need to keep their services open through this pandemic, and we want those services to remain open. So, those people who are permitted to work can get access to early childhood care and education, and for those who can’t, at this moment, but when we get through this pandemic, that they’ll be, immediately be able to get access to the care that they need, and there will be continuity of care for their children.
Can I once again thank the sector, thank those early childhood educators. And, I’m happy to take any questions.
Journalist: Minister, Simon Love from 10 News First here. Can I, just before I ask the question, can I just ask my colleagues to mute their phones, just so that the audio doesn’t come through on the feed. Minister, with the parents, will they be able to transition to these 30-day of absences, will there be [indistinct] keep their kids enrolled?
Tehan: So, what we’ll be doing, we’ll be bringing these measures in place as of tomorrow. So, they will start on Thursday, and they will be able to keep their children enrolled, and it will not cost them, because the gap fee will be waived by providers. So, this is incredibly important. We want those parents to keep their children enrolled, because we know, once we come out of this pandemic, they will need the care for their children, so that they can go back to work. So, we want to keep the services open, and we’ve been successful in doing that right through this pandemic – over 99 per cent of services remained open. And, we want parents to keep their children enrolled. They’re two absolutely crucial things a part, that are central to the design of what we’re doing.
Journalist: Minister, has there [indistinct] gap fee, will that be, sort of, applied in key centres that choose to do that? Or, will they be compelled to? Because, there have been some examples in recent weeks where centres have told parents they couldn’t afford to waive gap fees.
Tehan: So, ultimately, the decision to waive the gap fee is up to the provider themselves. But, what this package does is incentivise providers to waive the gap fee, because what that means is enrolments will stay strong. They will also get access to the Child Care Subsidy, and also to that additional five per cent top-up payment. And, as I’ve said, that should give, on average, all centres revenue of between 80 to 85 per cent, based on that pre-COVID fortnight period.
Journalist: Minister, Tamsin Rose from the Herald Sun here. Just wondering if you gained any clarity from the Victorian Government as to whether families with one worker, with one parent who’s been deemed an essential worker, and one who hasn’t, if they will still be able to be sending their children to child care? Or, if it’s just available for people with two essential worker parents?
Tehan: So, my understanding, from discussions that we’ve had with the Victorian State Government, is that all that detail will be finalised and provided to parents and to the Victorian workforce today.
Journalist: Minister, Kristian Silva here from ABC Melbourne. Minister, what will happen if some of these centres don’t have any kids left to actually attend? Will these centres be open without any children inside?
Tehan: Look, from everything that we’ve heard through the consultations we’ve done with the sector, we don’t think there will be cases where there are no children at centres. Now, obviously, these are times, and they’re strange times, we’re in a pandemic. But, that is the best available information we can get. But, what we want to do through this is incentivise centres to remain open. So, that is what this package is all about, is supporting centres to remain open. So, we don’t think we’ll get situations where there would be no children at a centre. The feedback that we’re getting from the sector is we think that there will be children at every centre. But, obviously, these are strange times, and we want to incentivise centres to remain open. That is what this package is designed to do.
Journalist: Minister, Daniel Hurst here from The Guardian. Can I just follow up quickly. You said that you wanted to incentivise centres to waive the gap fees, but that they’re not compelled to. Can you just clarify? Is this top-up funding that you’re providing conditional on them waiving the gap fee?
Tehan: No. We cannot, by law, compel services to waive the gap fee. But, what we are doing, through the mechanisms we’re putting in place, is doing everything we can to encourage services to waive the gap fee, where parents are required to stay at home. And, once again, all the consultation we’ve had with the sector, that the sector is committed to be ensuring that they, that services and providers are waiving the gap fee. Now, will we always get an outlier? That is possible. But, what we’re doing is we’re encouraging centres to be waiving the gap fee, and it’s in their interests to do so, because it means they maintain enrolments. And, by maintaining enrolments, when we come out of the pandemic, obviously, there are children, then, who will come back into their centres, and they can provide that care and get the income that they need.
Journalist: Minister, Jonathan Kearsley from Nine News in Canberra. Thanks very much for your time. If I can just ask you, as a regional Victorian MP who is currently going through, or about to go through Stage 3 restrictions in regional areas, has it been frustrating for you to see this virus leak out of Melbourne, put you into shutdown? And, do you think that the tracing system in Victoria’s been adequate enough?
Tehan: So, look, these are very trying times for all Victorians, very challenging times for all Victorians. But, my focus is very much on making sure that I’m playing my role, as part of the Federal Government, to be there to assist Victorians through this Victorian wave, this second Victorian wave of the pandemic. Obviously, we do have to make sure that we’ve got the testing turnaround times as quickly as we possibly can. We’ve got to make sure that the contact tracing is being done as quickly as we possibly can. And, that’s why we’ve got the ADF now in, assisting the Department of Health and Human Services in Victoria. Over 10 per cent of our ADF deployment nationally is now helping the Department of Health and Human Services in Victoria. So, now’s the time for us to be all making sure that we’ve got
our shoulder to the wheel, doing what we can to support Melburnians who are in the Stage 4 restrictions, and, of course, regional and rural Victorians embarking on Stage 3 restrictions.
Journalist: Minister, Sara here in the Seven newsroom. Sorry. I just wanted to ask a quick question. There’s a petition going around here from VCE students wanting to cancel their exams. Do you have any reply to that? And, can you understand why they might be feeling so anxious?
Tehan: Look, my heart goes out to Year 12 students in Victoria. This has been a year like no other, and the challenges that they’re facing, the uncertainty that they’ve faced, absolutely trying for every single one of them. But, my message to them is: although there are so many distractions, although there are so many questions you want answered, please just try and focus on your education. Do what you can to enhance your learning this year. We want you to do your Year 12 exams. We want you to be able to fulfil your dreams to go to uni, to go to vocational education, to take a job next year. We’ll be there to support you. We’ll be there to help you. We understand how trying it is. But, please, focus on your study. It’s so important, and we’ll be there to support you.
Journalist: Minister, just, Sarah Ison from The West Australian. Another question on universities. What we’re seeing is some universities considering dropping their ATARs for students to enter. Obviously, it’s been a very disruptive year. But, do you have concern that this is going to have a flow-on effect, as to the, you know, the standard and quality of our graduates? And, the education system, higher education system, more broadly?
Tehan: Well, everything we do in Australia is about ensuring that our children get a quality education, and that’s why, with this move to online learning in Victoria, we’re doing everything we can to ensure that students are still getting that quality education. And, it’s why, with everything we do with the higher education system, we are saying and, and demanding, and wanting of them, is around quality education, and that will continue to be the case. But, obviously, we do have to take into account what has occurred this year, what this coronavirus pandemic has thrown at our Year 12 students. So, that is why we’ll work with the higher education sector. It’s why we’ll work with the vocational education sector, to make sure that we are taking into account what is being thrown at our Year 12 students this year.
Journalist: Even though, you know, ATAR is the way to go, though? Or, is there, is there any side effects to that, that you can foresee?
Tehan: Well, look, we’ll continue to work with the higher education sector. Obviously, we’ve got very different circumstances in the rest of the country compared to Victoria. What I think we’ve got to do, and we’ve got to understand, is that all the challenges that have been thrown at our Year 12 students. Now, what the final decisions that are made around relevant ATARs for relevant courses, ultimately, that will be up to universities. But, we’ll be, once again, highlighting to them – and, they understand this – the importance of quality education in this nation is absolutely vital to our future. And, I’m sure, even where there has been disruption to Year 12s this year, our universities will already be looking at, okay, what measures will they be able to put in place to help students if they need to catch up in certain particular areas, if they want to pursue a certain course. So, we’ll be able to work through this. We will be able to work through this, to make sure that we keep that, this focus, or keep the focus on a quality education.
Journalist: Hi, Dan. Max Maddison from The Australian here. Just on the topic of quality education. Are you concerned that academic standards are being compromised at universities in the chase for international revenue? And, is there anything that you guys are considering doing in order to stop this?
Tehan: So, can I say to anyone who feels like that they’re being compromised on the way that they mark any student, that they should go to TEQSA, our higher education regulator, and put the case as to why they feel this, and why they think something needs to be done about this. We have a regulator in the higher education sector that has this role, and anyone who is feeling that type of pressure, they should approach TEQSA. They can do so on a confidential basis. And, of course, we will do what we can to make sure that this isn’t occurring.
Journalist: Minister, it’s Simon Love again from 10. Can I just go back to child care, and just clarify. The points that Kristian Silva, my colleague from the ABC, was making before about centres that won’t have any kids. The PM flagged a sustainment payment this morning on breakfast TV for those centres. Can you, do you have more detail, or just can you clarify what that is?
Tehan: Yeah. So, we’re already providing a 25 per cent Transition Payment to sectors, to providers. So, that’s based on their revenue that they had in the fortnight before we went into the COVID pandemic. What we’re doing is providing an additional five per cent top-up to that, because that way we can ensure their viability, make sure that we also ensure the employment guarantee that we’ve put in place with the sector, and, make sure that they can get through this next six weeks.
Journalist: Is that designed just to cover centres overheads? Or, is it designed to, sort of, keep their employees on?
Tehan: So, it’s designed to ensure that, on average, they’re getting 80 to 85 per cent of the revenue that they were getting in that fortnight in the last two weeks of February – before 1 March – so that they have, they can honour the employment guarantee. Also, provide care to those children who will still be using the centre. And, obviously, support their, their overheads. So, it’s designed to keep the providers open. Everything we’ve done has been about making sure that we keep the sector open, and what these arrangements today are designed to do is to ensure that we continue to do that in Metropolitan Melbourne during the Stage 4 lockdown.
I’ll leave it there. Thank you all very much for joining us today. Can I just say it was a hell of a long day yesterday, but at the end of it, to see that the mighty Tiges had had a victory over Brisbane last night put a big smile on my face, at the end of what had been a, been quite an intense day. And, I wish you all well, and I particularly wish all Victorians well in the challenges ahead over the coming weeks. Thanks a lot.