Release type: Transcript

Date:

Press Conference - More Support for Child Care Sector

Ministers:

The Hon Alan Tudge MP
Minister for Education and Youth

Subjects: More support for local child care providers affected by COVID-19 lockdowns.

ALAN TUDGE:

Hey everybody. Well, since last Friday, there's been two significant announcements from Victoria and New South Wales in relation to child care. And that is both of those jurisdictions have effectively said: only send your child to a child care centre if you are an essential worker. Now that completely changes the dynamics for those child care centres in terms of their financial viability, it changes the dynamics for families as well. As a consequence, today we have decided to announce additional financial support for the child care sector, as a result of those decisions. Now, this financial support will be, of course, in addition to what we've already provided to the child care sector in the form of gap fee waivers, which effectively mean that even if your child is not attending the child care centre and you're not paying fees, we will, nevertheless, continue to pay the Child Care Subsidy. So, what we're announcing today is on top of that as well. And together, this will be a significant financial package, which will be good for hundreds of thousands of parents, good for those businesses, and very important also for the workers who are very important to our economy.

In terms of the specifics, what we'll be providing is 25 per cent of pre-lockdown revenue to the child care centres who are subject to instructions from their Premiers for children not to attend them, unless they are an essential worker. For the afterschool hours providers, we'll be providing 40 per cent of their pre-lockdown revenue. And as I said, that will be on top of the additional support. This will also apply to any child care centre which has been in a locked-down area for four weeks or more. So, it will apply automatically and instantly if a child care centre is subject to instruction from their Premier that children ought not to go. Even if that instruction hasn't been given and there's generally just been a lockdown, which means that parents no longer are sending their kids as often to child care centres, it will still go into place after four weeks. And so, we're applying this from today. And it means, from today, an estimated 4,800 services will be supported with this support which I'm announcing, and that will support about 380,000 families in the process. So, it's an important package. It's a significant package to support the viability of these child care centres. But it's a package which is significant, which is good for families, good for businesses, and good for those critical workers as well. I'm happy to take any questions.

QUESTION:

Minister, do you have a cost on it?

ALAN TUDGE:

It's estimated to cost between $40 million to $50 million per week.

QUESTION:

Minister, on reforms more generally in child care sector, on the government’s reform package. In the past, you haven’t ruled out, it coming in place earlier than was in the Budget kind of mid-next year. But with everything that’s going on now, with the lockdowns and the chaos, is there a possibility it might be later or do you think it could still be sooner than mid-next year? What’s kind of the update on that piece of reform?

ALAN TUDGE:

I'm hoping that we'll be able to introduce it before 1 July, and that's what we're working very hard on trying to achieve. Obviously, the legislation passed just in terms of the last sitting fortnight, and that does give us confidence that we can get on with the build. But I'll make further announcements when I'm sure that it can be done earlier. It certainly will be no later than 1 July of next year.

QUESTION:

Minister, isn’t it disingenuous to say that this latest directive from Premiers is the reason for this extra support, when the sector, for weeks, has been saying that waiving the fee alone is not something they can sustain for weeks on end. New South Wales has been in lockdown for more than two months. You’re backdating this to from four weeks, I assume. Is that a recognition that they needed that assistance earlier than what has come to the table?

ALAN TUDGE:

No. As I said, we've been providing that assistance already for some time in terms of, importantly, the gap fee waiver. Now, what that means is that child care centre can say to a parent, I know you're not bringing your child to the child care centre. Don't pay the fees, but we as the government will continue to pay for the child care subsidy. And the average child care subsidy in Sydney, for example, is 55 per cent of your overall cost base. So, you've got that guarantee even with no children attending. And on top of that, for those smaller providers, of which the vast majority are smaller providers, are able to access the JobSaver as well. So those steps have already been put in place. But over the weekend, further restrictions were made effectively on child care providers and those restrictions came about because eventually the Premiers said – Victoria for instance, made it a rule – only essential workers are allowed to go to child care centres. And in Victoria's case, they went so far as saying you must get a permit to go to a child care centre. And that means that attendance will fall off a cliff. And we are cognisant of that, and therefore want to make sure that those child care centres will be viable and can remain open and can certainly bounce back once lockdowns end.

QUESTION:

But Minister, picking up on that, these facilities have not been able to stand down staff to zero hours because under Fair Work Act, they cannot do that. They haven’t qualified for a huge amount of subsidy temporarily available in terms of a disaster payment for individual staff. So, they cut a hundred percent staff cost with potentially only 55 per cent revenue from the waiver. What should’ve been considered significantly earlier, given the main paying staff with less revenue.

ALAN TUDGE:

So just to correct you in terms of the staff costs. From memory, on average, about 25 per cent, I think, of staff cost are casuals. And so obviously casuals, you can wind down further hours. With those staff that have had their hours reduced to zero, then clearly, the mechanisms were in place for them to get the benefit of other support structures that they've had in place. So, there has been support structures in place. I've always been saying along the way that we will very much monitor how the child care sector is going and the impact on families. And this additional support today, which I’m announcing, is recognition that there has been further changes over the weekend, which are going to have a deleterious impact on those child care centres’ viability. We want them to stay open. They need to stay open, particularly for those essential workers to be able to drop their kids off and go to the hospitals, go to the medical clinics, emergency services and the like. And what's more, we want to ensure that the child care centres are completely and utterly can bounce back when lockdowns end. And this will do that.

QUESTION:

How would this work in terms of larger companies that have multiple facilities? If they’ve got one in a lockdown LGA - will they still get that income?

ALAN TUDGE:

So, this will apply on an individual centre basis now. So, Goodstart, for example, has hundreds of facilities around the country. It’s one overall organisation, but it’ll apply individual centre by individual centre. Now there’ll be some conditions attached to this. We certainly will be insisting that if they are taking advantage of this additional payment, that they will waive the gap fees. That's very important for parents. Parents shouldn't have to pay if they're not attending the child care centre. So that's an important principle. We want them to maintain their staffing levels that they presently have, acknowledging that some of the casual staff may have already been reduced, and it’ll only come into place if they're not already accessing the JobSaver scheme or the equivalent schemes in Victoria. Double dip, in that regard, clearly an organisation like Goodstart is not able to access JobSaver.

QUESTION:

Were you previously informed of this shift that the Premiers are going to take in terms of…

ALAN TUDGE:

Has anybody else got questions on this? I’m more than happy to answer

QUESTION:

Were you previously informed of this change? Or did you learn when it was announced in press conferences …

ALAN TUDGE:

I'm in constant communication with my state and territory counterparts. In some respects, I was expecting that particularly in Victoria, that the Premier might go down this path. So, it wasn't a complete surprise to me.

QUESTION:

With the Doherty modelling, what do you see as 70 to 80 per cent vaccination rates meaning for child care, school, and universities? What specifically do you see that modelling meaning for onsite attendance at those levels?

ALAN TUDGE:

Well, I mean, the Doherty advice was that once we get to 70 per cent of the adult population being vaccinated, that schools can be opened where there is no outbreaks. That's what the Doherty advice was. And we're following that advice.

QUESTION:

Minister, you’ve been open about not knowing exactly how many child care workers are vaccinated. We might not want making them mandatory, but perhaps a mandatory reporting system would give you better oversight, even for medical advice? And the best way to protect children is to vaccinate the adults around them. Would you support a mandatory reporting system?

ALAN TUDGE:

It's something that's certainly worth considering. That hasn't been put to me in the past. But I'll consider that. I mean, ultimately, we want everybody to get vaccinated. We certainly want teachers to get vaccinated. We want child care workers to get vaccinated. Those vaccines are available even for younger adults. You can go and speak to your GP as quickly as possible and get the AstraZeneca. And if that's the decision you want to make. So please go and get vaccinated. Australians are doing this in record numbers at the moment, and we want that to continue.

QUESTION:

Like in the aged care sector which have staff vaccination rates. Should there be any consideration for this mandatory reporting? Would you like to see something similar where could look up and see whether their child care centres or their schools, what would the vaccination rates be at the individual schools?

ALAN TUDGE:

Yeah, as I said, I think it's something worth considering. But I would say that in the aged care centres, clearly you're dealing with the most vulnerable population with the aged care seekers. Most of the deaths, as you know, have been of very elderly people within aged care facilities. And that hasn't been the case with younger people.

QUESTION:

Minister, sorry, in Victoria this morning the State Government there was thinking about how the young children in schools who are getting infected with COVID and are getting sick to the point where they’re vomiting and passing out at school, in the classrooms. If there is no plan to vaccinate children under 12, is this just going to be a part of life for school children going forward?

ALAN TUDGE:

Well, no, the Prime Minister indicated on the weekend that there is a plan for the vaccination of children which is being developed, and that will be finalised at National Cabinet this Friday. Alright. Thanks, everybody.