Doorstop Interview, Central Coast
Topics: Early Learning Languages Australia; New Child Care Package; NAPLAN

Lucy Wicks: Well, it’s fantastic to have Simon Birmingham here with our school leaders and leaders of the future, having morning tea and now of course, we’re here at Kindy Patch at West Gosford to have a look at a fantastic learning app that’s actually in 20 preschools in Robertson and more around the nation, of course, as well, teaching kids a second language. In this case, Spanish. It’s fantastic, and Simon, thank you very much for joining us here today.

Simon Birmingham: Thanks Lucy, and thank you for inviting me back to the Central Coast and for the opportunity to come and speak with student leaders across primary and secondary schools, but also here to visit one of the many outstanding early learning and childcare centres that exist in this community. We’re here today particularly to do two things; one is to acknowledge the rollout of ELLA, the Early Learning Languages Australia program that the Turnbull Government has championed, to put opportunities in place for preschool children to be exposed to languages at an earlier age. And we’re absolutely thrilled that across the Central Coast, thanks to Lucy’s advocacy and encouragement in so many places across the Central Coast, around 40 preschool centres are delivering different language experiences to around 1000 local children. These are children who are aged four or five, who are being exposed to languages like Spanish, Chinese, Mandarin, Greek, a whole range of different opportunities for them to be exposed to understand different languages, and what this will do is provide cognitive brain stimulation for those children, as well as the building blocks towards language development for any further studies that they end up pursuing. But it’s also an important chance today to issue a call to arms and a call to action for many local families who have children in childcare settings to make sure that they take the steps necessary to benefit from the Turnbull Government’s new childcare system that will come into place on 2 July this year.

Across Australia, we’re delivering a system that is being reformed to the benefit of around 1 million Australian families, and here on the Central Coast it’s going to mean around 14,000 families are better off as a result of our additional support for hard working, low and middle income Australian families. What we’ve done is to take the child care budget, add around $2.5 billion to it, but also refocus it to ensure that the greatest level of childcare subsidy goes to the families working the longest hours, but earning the least amount. And that means that many families on combined incomes of $80,000 or $100,000 with a couple of children in childcare for a few days a week will be some thousands of dollars a year better off under our reforms. But we do need them to take the step of updating their information and registering for the new system before July this year. So we’re urging families to visit education.gov.au, start the process of updating their details. It’s a very simple process but there are real benefits to those families to make sure they have the information up to date to give them the extra financial support that will allow them to choose to work more hours, work more days, to get the work family balance that suits their own circumstances.

Question: What will happen if they don’t sign up before then? If they forget or delay it, or whatever?

Simon Birmingham: So we’re taking a range of steps to make sure that people are aware of what they have to do, that every family who is currently in receipt of the child care benefit or child care rebate will be written to and given specific steps they need to take to make sure they understand how to access the new childcare subsidy. Of course, there’ll be reminders that we issue. We’ll run a public information campaign, and ultimately, we hope everybody will transition. If they don’t by the time of July, then there is a grace period where people can be reimbursed when they discover that perhaps they’ve not taken those steps to join in the new system. But we’re enthused that in the first few days, we seem to have strong engagement and that’s before letters have gone out, but we’re wanting to make sure that everybody understands there are real benefits for people who work long hours, who might previously have hit that awful $7500 cap on the Child Care Rebate. That cap, that ceiling, is going to be abolished for all families earning less than around $185,000, meaning that ceiling on support where around this time of year, often families have run out of childcare support under the current capped arrangements. In future, it will be able to last them right through the year without that ceiling.

Question: Lucy, are there any unique challenges in your electorate that this program is set to address?

Lucy Wicks: Look, absolutely. Both in terms of the educational component, the early learning for language, I think this is a fantastic initiative. I look back at my own experience of trying to learn Spanish when I was a late teenager and realising I didn’t have any of the building blocks because I’d never experienced learning another language until later on in life. I’m looking at the way Josh and some of the other kids who are actually engaging with this app and I think it’s absolutely fantastic. It sets them up for life. We are more and more living in a globalised society and knowing other languages I think is incredibly important. It’s going to be even more important for kids as they grow. So this is a fantastic initiative. I highly commend it. I think it’s absolutely wonderful. It also gives other kids exposure to different cultures as well, which is fantastic.

In relation to the changes to child care to make sure that, you know, a lot of families here on the Central Coast have long told me that they want to see child care be more affordable, more accessible, more flexible and this certainly goes a long way towards addressing that. I think for hard working families here on the Central Coast, many of whom leave early in the morning and return home late at night to their families, this is a significant benefit for there’s around 6500 families who use Long Day Care here in Robertson. This is a fantastic benefit for thousands of families on the Central Coast.

Question: Minister, just on the other end of the education spectrum in terms of universities, yesterday the State Planning Minister Anthony Roberts unveiled some revitalisation plans for the middle of Gosford and Kibble Part. But also said that he hoped with the revitalisation would bring business and university into the city, he’d likened wanting to see the city a bit like Newcastle. I know Newcastle University’s got a real presence in the CBD there. What perhaps would be your vision or possibilities for Gosford?

Simon Birmingham: Look, I was thrilled during the last election campaign to be able to come here, thanks to Lucy’s advocacy and announce the support for new medical school facilities here in Gosford and I know that there are further plans, ambitions and ideas that exist that are complementary to that medical school that Lucy has briefed me on and that I know that university, local community are working with Lucy on. We’re very open to hearing those plans and ambitions. Of course ultimately I would hope that the State Government in having such a vision will back it themselves, will financial support it, but of course I really do believe this is a wonderful part of the world. We’ve been able to increase the opportunities available for local young people already and if there’s more that we can do in the future we’re very open to having those discussions.

Question: So recognising the potential?

Simon Birmingham: Absolutely. So enormous potential here for young people to have more opportunities to study locally. We’ve done that and we’re delivering that in relation to medical places and if there’s further scope down the track we’re open to having those discussions.

Question: Just on NAPLAN, just in the last 48 hours, we’ve heard some criticism of NAPLAN’s writing. I’ve got a daughter that’s lining up for Year 5 in NAPLAN next month. I guess what’s your view on the criticism? You know I was reading out to my daughter the tips that’s been given to try and go well with that test but the same time was told to disregard that once you’ve finished it. What’s your view on it?

Simon Birmingham: Okay. The first thing about NAPLAN is that it should be always kept in perspective. It is simply a few hours, a few times during the entirety of a child’s school life and I’d urge everybody, the teachers’ union, parents, children to all make sure they keep NAPLAN in perspective, that it is just one assessment, an important assessment because it gives us one uniform benchmark right across the country to be able to see where extra support, extra resourcing and assistance might be necessary.

But in terms of the content of the NAPLAN assessments, we should make sure that the educators and the educationalists are central to what’s in the NAPLAN assessment tools. The experts at ACARA, the curriculum and assessment reporting body, are the right people to make sure that they look at the NAPLAN writing test and all of the others, take some of these criticisms on board as they said they’d do, assess them and make the decisions for the future. But it should be experts in curriculum who make those decisions, not politicians.

Question: Were you concerned by those concerns at all?

Simon Birmingham: Look, I think we should listen to all expert opinions in relation to content of NAPLAN and make sure that they’re considered, they’re properly assessed but they should be assessed by curriculum experts, not by politicians or political judgements. Thank you.