Release type: Transcript

Date:

Doorstop at Estrella Preschool Ashburton with Dr Katie Allen MP and Paul Mondo

Ministers:

The Hon Alan Tudge MP
Minister for Education and Youth

Subjects: Preschool Budget 2021 announcement, international students and university funding

KATIE ALLEN:

We’re here in beautiful Ashburton in my electorate of Higgins. Here with the Minister, Alan Tudge, to make an amazing announcement at Estrella Preschool here. You can see all the kids behind us. It’s freezing for us, but those kids are out there enjoying themselves being active. And why we’re here is the Morrison Government cares deeply about the next generation and about how to give our kids the best start to life. And that is all about their education, their health, and their welfare. And today, the announcement Minister Tudge is making on the back of the Budget is that there are 15 hours of kindergarten for your preschool, that is in the Budget for the next four years. That's $2 billion of commitment to the children of Australia, to the families of Australia. And I'm so delighted as a paediatrician and mother of four, advocating for this for many years. I know the sector is delighted. I know families are delighted. And it’s wonderful that we’re able to announce this today here in Higgins. We’ve even got the kids excited. And thank you very much, Minister Tudge, for coming down to speak to our families and our kids, and to be making this wonderful announcement for the future of Australia.

ALAN TUDGE:  

Well, thanks so much, Katie. And it's great to be here with yourself and also Paul Mondo, who’s the President of the Australian Childcare Alliance, here at Estrella Preschool in Ashburton, in Katie's electorate here in Melbourne. And this has been a big week for preschool and child care. In child care, we've announced $1.7 billion of additional subsidies towards the child care system, and that's going to make a big impact on 250,000 families right across the nation, make it easier with their cost of living pressures, but also remove some of those disincentives for women, in particular, doing that third, or fourth, or fifth day of work if they wanted to do exactly that. But we also announced this week, $2 billion for the preschool sector. And this represents the first time ever that we have locked in long term funding for preschools. We'd already locked in long term funding for the university sector, for the training sector, for schools, for child care, and this was the missing link. And now we have locked in long term funding for the preschool sector. And what that does is that means that we are guaranteeing $1340 for every kid to support their education in the year before they start school, regardless of where they do it. If they're doing it in a dedicated preschool like this, they get $1340 following them to support their education. But they could equally be doing it in a long day-care centre as well. And the reason why we’re doing this is because we want to ensure that every kid has the best chance of starting their educational journey and that they can be as well-prepared as possible for school. And we know that good preschooling can do that. Over the course of the last 10 to 15 years, we’ve gradually increased our investment in preschools. And we've seen the enrolments of preschools grow from 12 per cent up to 96 per cent today. We're now going further with this $2 billion as well. We’re going to be asking for attendance-based measures to be put in place, as well as outcomes-based measures to be put in place, so that taxpayers and parents can be assured that $2 billion is really making a difference to their child’s development. And it’s a great announcement. It’s great for families. It’s great for the kids. And it’s great for the broader community, because kids are going to be better prepared for school when they start. It means they’re going to continue to develop throughout their schooling as well as having a great start in preschool. Paul, do you want to say a few words?

PAUL MONDO:

Thank you, Minister, and thank you for the introduction and commitment by the Australian Government to Australia’s children. I think this preschool announcement is really, really significant. We know that we've been looking for a long term commitment to support our children and to support their success. There is irrefutable evidence of the benefits of preschool in the year before school. The research is actually overpowering. And what we know really, really clearly is that the certainty will allow us as a sector, will allow parents and families to be able to commit and know what their future looks like from a preschool for years to come. And I think that we're eternally grateful for the long term commitment. And we know that that commitment to children is something that we're going to hold dear for a long time. And ultimately, from a commitment to being able to know that preschool is a very, very important part of a child's education. And that that is now embedded, is a real success for which the Government deserves significant support.

ALAN TUDGE:  

Thanks, Paul. Any questions from you guys?

QUESTION:        

I do have a few questions, if we can move onto international students?

There were reports yesterday that New South Wales was planning to go it alone when it comes to their proposal to quarantine the international students. Is this even possible?

ALAN TUDGE:  

The New South Wales Treasurer has said that, that was misreported. Clearly, they can't do that alone, because we control the borders, the issuing of the visas, and the like. But we’ll be working cooperatively with them on those plans. But to date, we haven't received their plans at the Commonwealth level. Once we do, we'll look at that closely and progress it should it meet the criteria which was laid out.

QUESTION:        

How quickly could it be approved once it’s put forward to your department?

ALAN TUDGE:  

Oh, we haven't even received it yet, so when we do, we'll look at that pretty closely. We’re always very cautious in relation to this because the last thing we want is for COVID to come into this country. So at the same time, international students have been great for our economy and our society. So we do want to get some pilots back up and running for international students, but we’re just going to be cautious, take it carefully, because our number one priority is keeping the community safe and keeping the economy strong.

QUESTION:        

What do you think of the idea of using student accommodation for quarantine as opposed to a purpose COVID hotel like what’s being proposed in Victoria?

ALAN TUDGE:  

Well, I haven’t got the full details of what is being proposed in Victoria. I received a short plan a week and a half ago and we’re working through that. And we’re doing that cooperatively but we’re still looking for some of that key information from Victoria as well, including ensuring that their chief medical officer is satisfied with the plans that they put forward. But we’ll continue to look at that.

QUESTION:

So you’re saying the CHO is not yet satisfied with the proposal that’s been put up?

ALAN TUDGE:

Well, one of the criteria that we had before we’ll fully consider the plans put forward by the state governments and university sector, is that their Chief Medical Officers are 100 per cent supportive of it. And we haven’t seen the evidence of that yet so we’re looking for that, but listen, we’re working cooperatively with the Victorian Government. We do want to see pilots up and running later this year. But they’ve got to be done properly, they’ve got to be safe, because ultimately, the number one priority is keeping the community safe and keeping our economy strong. And if COVID gets into this country in a significant way, both of those will be at risk.

QUESTION:

The elements that are involved in that New South Wales proposal have been widely reported, the fact that it would be student accommodation that would be responsible for quarantine, universities paying for it, does that sound quite promising? What else do you need to see from New South Wales?

ALAN TUDGE:

So, we’ve always laid out a number of the criteria before we’ll consider plans put to us from the state governments. Firstly, it has to be a culmination above and beyond, a culmination set aside for returning Australians. Second, it has to have the authorisation and approval of their Chief Medical Officer and the authorisation approval of the Premier or Chief Minister of that particular jurisdiction. And thirdly, we need to ensure that campuses are back open and Australian students are back on campuses. They’re the three and four main criteria and then there’s some minor ones as well. Once we receive the New South Wales proposal, we’ll look at that carefully but we’ll be cautious in relation to it, because the last thing we want to see is COVID running throughout our community. We don’t want to take those risks.

QUESTION:

Victoria’s Acting Premier said this morning, he’s eager to get that proposal approved for the state. Are you saying that you haven’t had contact with Victoria’s CHO on this?

ALAN TUDGE:

So, we’ve received their proposal, what is it now? A week and a half or so ago, and we’re working through that carefully. It wasn’t an international student proposal. It was a broader proposal for economic migrants to return, and from memory, it was about I think 150 per week that they were proposing. Certainly, from an international student’s perspective, we do want to ensure that their Chief Medical Officer is 100 per cent supportive and has signed off on their plans before we would consider that and we haven’t seen that yet.

QUESTION:

So the CHO has not signed off on that proposal?

ALAN TUDGE:

I haven’t seen the evidence of that yet is all I’m saying, but we’ll work cooperatively through that with the State Government.

QUESTION:

Do you see any issues in quarantining international students along with other economic travellers in a COVID hotel? Do you think international students need a greater level of care or could they be all moved in together?

ALAN TUDGE:

Again, we’re asking state governments to work with the tertiary sector to put together plans which are consistent with the guidelines which we have outlined. Most critically, the Chief Medical Officers have to approve it and guarantee that it will be safe.

QUESTION:

There were more than 2000 brand new student rooms sitting in Melbourne’s CBD. Do you think that they could be used for quarantine in Victoria?

ALAN TUDGE:

I’m not going to speculate and go into these sort of details. We want to see plans which are consistent with the guidelines which we’ve outlined.

QUESTION:

And the Budget suggests that students will return within a year. Universities Australia predicts that there’ll be about a $2 billion loss if we wait that long. How will the sector survive until then?

ALAN TUDGE:

So we’ve made some assumptions have been made in the Budget papers, as you may have seen, and those assumptions were that there’d be some small scale arrivals in the second half of this year, with larger scale arrivals in the second half of next year. So we keep a very close eye on university finances. I would say that we gave a billion dollars of additional research funding just in October of last year. Plus, we gave them 30,000 more Commonwealth-supported places, which is almost an extra half a billion dollars’ worth of revenue there as well. And when I look at most of the universities, they’re still reporting surpluses. Monash University reported their biggest surplus ever, and that’s the same with Melbourne University here and many other universities across the country. I do note that a couple of them have reported deficits. But by and large the ones that have reported stable 2020 figures, have been reporting surpluses. But, we keep a close eye on this. International students are only 25 per cent of their revenue and to date, we know that the student numbers are only down 13 per cent for the universities. So we keep that into perspective, but we do keep an eye on it.

QUESTION:

Are you aware of a number of suicides of international students who are enrolled in Victorian universities? Are you concerned at all for the mental health of international students who are either here with family overseas, or overseas trying to get back?

ALAN TUDGE:                  

I’m concerned about the mental health of anybody who’s here in Australia and I’ve been particularly concerned about the mental health of Victorians because of the significant lockdown that we had last year, which I know has had an ongoing impact. I mean, Katie you know all about this, you’re a qualified medical practitioner, and we saw some devastating impacts of the lockdown here in Victoria and that has ongoing consequences. That’s just one of the reasons why we’ve got such a significant package here in the budget for mental health.

QUESTION:

Do you have specific concerns for international students and their mental health?

ALAN TUDGE:

I have concerns for all people who reside here in Australia and certainly our package which we announced is a breakthrough package to support mental health of Australian residents.