Subjects: Coronavirus and Early Childhood Education and Care Relief Package, Schools, Year 12 students
Kieran Gilbert: Let’s go live to Dan Tehan, the Education Minister, who joins me from here at Parliament. Minister, thanks very much for your time. Let’s give our viewers a sense of how this free child care is going to work. Can you talk us through the structure of this?
Dan Tehan: Well, what we’ll be doing is going to a new system in the way that child care operates in this nation. As of Sunday night, we’ll be turning the old system off, and we’ll be going to a system whereby we pay child care centres 50 per cent of the fees, up to the hourly rate caps, based on a fortnight from 2 March. Now, in doing that, we’re calibrating that with the JobKeeper payment that the sector is eligible for, and 60 per cent of the sector’s costs come from wages. We are then saying to the sector, if you are to receive these payments, we want you to stay open, and we want you to be providing care for children, for free, for parents. And, I’ve got to thank the sector for the way that they’ve cooperatively worked with the Government as we’ve put this new arrangement in place. Obviously, what we saw dating back a fortnight is a slow decline in the number of children who were seeking care. So, we needed to put a new arrangement in place, and, we’ve done that for the three months leading up to 30 June, and then we’ll look to do it for the first three months of next financial year. And, the payments will start flowing through to the sector before Easter, so we’re hoping to have payments flowing through to the sector next, towards the end of next week.
Gilbert: And, so, to clarify, in terms of those payments to the various centres, the 13,000 centres, it’s going to be based on the historical attendance rate prior to the crisis, is that right?
Tehan: That’s right. In the fortnight leading up to 2 March is the base that we will use to calculate that.
Gilbert: Now, in terms of who receives it, I mean, it’s for those who are still in the workforce, essential workers. But, the Prime Minister says every job that continues in the coronavirus is an essential job. So, it’s basically all parents still in the workforce.
Tehan: That’s right. We want all those who, all those people who are currently in the workforce, and who need to have their children cared for, we want to make sure that that care is there for them. We also want to make sure that that care and that continuity of care is there for those vulnerable children who access the child care system. So, they’re the priorities that we want with this new system. But, also, we want centres also to reengage with those who might have taken their parents out. And, if their needs change and they need additional hours, to also engage with them. But, very much we want the priority to be given to those who need to be working and need their children cared for.
Gilbert: Now, in terms of the centres themselves, are they ready – some of those that have shut their doors – to reopen? You’ve been in close contact with the sector. What’s the situation now, and how many have shut their doors already, like many other businesses around the country?
Tehan: So, on the current data that we have, it’s roughly 270 to 290. We’ve had some, but it’s only a very small amount who have closed for COVID-19 reasons, and they are seeking to reopen. So, what we want is the sector to re-engage. We want those facilities that may
have closed, now that we have the JobKeeper payment in place, and now that we have this new arrangement in place, to look at their economic viability, and to say, and, if they can, to say, ‘Yes, we want to reopen.’ And, for those existing centres, those 13,000 centres that are still open, we want this to underpin the sector’s viability going forward for the next six months, so we’re ensuring that those workers who need the care for their children, that their child care centre is there for them, and also for those vulnerable children, that the care is there for them. And, also, Kieran, we want to make sure, as in putting any new system in place, that there are safeguards. So, there will be a one-month review. And, also, especially for those centres who might have a high number of children who are getting the Additional Child Care Subsidy, we will be looking to see whether we need to put additional arrangements in place for those centres.
Gilbert: Now, can you reassure parents in terms of the safety of their kids. As you well know – you spend a lot of time around toddlers and young kids – they’ve got no sense of social distancing or hygiene. Are they safe at day care or in those facilities?
Tehan: Well, Kieran, what the Government has done all along is listen to the medical expert panel, and they’ve provided the advice when it comes to child care, when it comes to schools. And, that advice is clear – that it is safe for your children to be at a child care, that itis safe for them to be at school. And, obviously, we’re also, through that medical expert
panel, providing guidance for those people, those educators who work in the child care sector, and for those teachers, to make sure that we do have the best environment for our children. But, the medical expert panel advice has been very clear that those child care centres and our schools remain safe for our children.
Gilbert: Yeah. And, I absolutely accept that and not disagreeing. But, I guess, some of the correspondence we’re receiving, as well at the news channel is, people are saying, ‘Well you know, is there a contradiction between child care centres stay open, yet the playground down the road, we can’t use it?’
Tehan: Well, that, this is, these are the issues which our medical experts look at and consider, and that’s why we take their advice. Because, there will be reasons as to why those decisions have been made versus reasons – and they can be a broad range of issues and reasons that the medical experts look out, look at – as to why child care centres and schools remain safe for our children to attend. Including, you can put additional cleaning arrangements in place in child care centres, in schools, and other factors. All this is weighed up by the medical expert panels. And, look, there is a variety of different views out there around this, but that’s why we always go back to the medical expert panel because they’ve got the expertise. Me and you will have our views. They’re the ones that look at the data, look at the overseas data and make the decisions, and that’s why we put our faith in them.
Gilbert: I know you’ve got a busy afternoon. Just a couple of other issues. You touched on in that news conference you held with the Prime Minister, Year 12 students, and I know that many of our viewers, parents, grandparents are, you know, it’s a time of great worry at the moment. But, many for those young kids who are just finishing school and have this hanging over them. How do you provide a framework that’s going to get them, you know, an even start, a fair start, into their tertiary or post-school life?
Tehan: A really important question, and I know this is one which has been concerning families and it is one which is now, that’s sort of next on the priority list for Education Council, for all state and territory education ministers. Obviously, we’ve got to work through that with the university sector, the vocational education sector, to make sure that those pathways are going to be there. But, can I say to all parents and for all those children, in particular students who are undertaking Year 12, ‘We are thinking of you, we are putting the plans in place to address this, because we understand the disruption that has happened to you this year.’
Gilbert: And, what’s your latest advice in terms of school attendance rates? And, further to that, is it your intention or the Government’s intention to have schools open next term, after Easter?
Tehan: So, with attendance rates, it’s varied state to state and region to region. Some areas, in capital cities, it’s dropped lower than it has in regional and rural areas. So, it’s very hard to give a blanket description of what’s happened, because it’s been quite varied. When it comes to what term two is going to look like, Education Council is working through that. But, there’s been, the clear guidance has been given at this stage – what it will look like is those parents who can have their students learn from home through online learning, that will be what state and territories will prioritise. But, for those parents who need to have their students at school so that they can, those parents can work or those children might be there because of vulnerabilities, then schools will be open for them to be able to go and do their learning at school.
Gilbert: Now, just finally, I’ll ask you a question. It’s very hard to be definitive on it because no one knows how this wraps up and how we resolve this in this country, let alone internationally. But, you look at that curve, it’s flattening. Hopefully, we’re starting to see that. We're making some ground on this virus. But, from the, as an Education Minister, as you look at the systems that you have governance over – schools, universities, child care – is there any chance we get back to some normality before the end of the year?
Tehan: Well, very hard to say, Kieran. If I had a crystal ball, I would love to have one that worked at this time, because it would give us a lot more certainty. Look, my, my hope would be that we would be able to get back to some sort of normality towards the end of the year. But, that's going to depend on how all Australians play their important role and part in flattening the curve. If we all do our job, if this is an incredible team effort – I would use the analogy, if we could be Richmond-like when they won the 2017 Grand Final, where everyone just did their part for the team – then I would hope that we’re back to normality by the end of the year. But, it’s very hard to say whether that’s going to happen. There’s a long way to go. But, the hope would be, by the end of the year, we might be back to some normality.
Gilbert: Let’s hope so. Minister, I appreciate your time on a busy day for you. Thanks.
Tehan: Thanks, Kieran.