Vanessa Mills: Late last year the Federal Government introduced legislation that they claimed would make child care more simple, affordable, and flexible. Yesterday this program heard from the National Aboriginal and Islander Child Care association, who said the legislation was far from simple and that it would have a significant impact on low-income families.


Geraldine Atkinson: It’s going to be sort of as you use, then you’re paid. What … in the past we know that that program, service program, didn’t suit our Aboriginal Torres Strait Islander families, and our services I know that did rely on that were not sustainable. So we’re really worried that what’s going to happen is our services won’t be able to operate under that new system. Once it’s abolished we’re really scared that the impact it’s going to have on our services. So that’s one of the things that’s going to- about that that that’s gone, that we’ll have to go over to another system.

The other thing is that within this new system, what’s going to happen is our families are only going to be- for those that are earning under 65,000 K per year are going to only allowed to have access to 12 hours of day care a week.

[End of excerpt]

Vanessa Mills: That’s Geraldine Atkinson, from the National Aboriginal Island Child Care group.

With me this morning I have the Minister for Education and Training with the Federal Government, Simon Birmingham. Hello.

Simon Birmingham: Good morning Vanessa, and good morning to your listeners.

Vanessa Mills: What do you make of those claims that the legislation will have a significant impact on low-income families?

Simon Birmingham: Vanessa, look, the changes we’re having brought in for child care are designed to try to make sure that we give the maximum support to people who most need child care, who are most reliant on it in terms of the number of hours of care they need, or the greatest amount of subsidy to those who are earning the least and need greater support to access child care. So it really has been designed around a framework that tries to be as fair as possible and support people based on need. 

Now, if I look at it firstly in relation to the overall operation of the child care system, and then perhaps we can turn to the specifics of Indigenous child care services. For the overall system, what we’re trying to do is provide a system where the more somebody is working, studying, volunteering, pursuing community service obligations or the like, the more hours of subsidised child care they’re entitled to. So trying to really deal with the pressure that you sometimes hear from families that they say we can’t get the number of hours we need, and the concerns that sometimes places are being taken up by people who don’t need as many hours. So by putting the subsidy arrangement through an activity test that really ties it to the amount of hours somebody needs, and they’ll get very generous support for those hours. And there’s lots of flexibility built in to it to account for travel time to and from work or study or the like, so that of course nobody is disadvantaged through those arrangements.

Vanessa Mills: Will any programs be closed down as a result of the changes?

Simon Birmingham: Well by programs if you’re meaning existing subsidy arrangements being closed down, yes. What we’re trying to do is simplify the system where we currently have a child care benefit paid under one set of terms, a child care rebate paid under a different set of terms, and a range of other types of benefits and programs, and trying to roll those into a simple, single child care subsidy, but with some clear safety net programs attached to it. And those programs will be incredibly important for in particular some of the Indigenous child care services, representatives of whom you were hearing from yesterday. 

And we know that it is a big change for some of those services who currently really operate outside of the mainstream child care system. Frequently parents who are sending their children to those services can’t access any of the mainstream benefits, rebates, or subsidies because they’re funded through entirely separate mechanisms. So what we’re trying to do is help them to transition into the mainstream child care services with the standards for excellence and quality that requires. But they’ll also be able to access some very strong and generous safety net arrangements through our new Community Child Care Fund that we’re allocating $271 million to. That is really about helping regional, remote, or disadvantaged settings to be able to maintain their child care services where it may be more expensive to do so than inside the mainstream system normally. 

Vanessa Mills: Yesterday Geraldine Atkinson from the Aboriginal-Islander Child Care Association spoke of her concerns about low income families, people under 65,000 a year income, and also a reduction in hours that she was concerned about. Are those concerns and criticisms of the legislation valid?

Simon Birmingham: So let’s have a look at that. It depends firstly as to whether somebody is working, studying, or volunteering as to how it will impact them in relation to the activity test. Somebody who is meeting that activity test requirement of working, studying or volunteering up to eight hours of activity a fortnight can receive up to 36 hours of subsidised child care per fortnight as a result of those efforts. For people who are low income earners who don’t meet the activity test, they will still be exempt for up to 24 hours a fortnight of child care. In addition to that, people will be able to access the Government subsidies for pre-school for their four year olds. 

So, we’re trying to get the balance right here, recognising that early learning is an essential part of what is required to be made available to young children, and especially young children in remote circumstances, so that the support is there for pre-school services; the support is there for a minimum amount of exposure to early learning through a child care setting, but of course that the overwhelming subsidy regime is backing people who need it to be able to fulfil their responsibilities, working studying, volunteering or the like. 

Vanessa Mills: And Minister, does the legislative change also address the issue of nannies? There was a lot of discussion last year about people having to resort to using nannies because of child care fees being too high, or places being limited, or it just better suited their lifestyle. 

Simon Birmingham: So we are running a trial over the next two years of a Nannies Pilot Programme, which will support around 3000 families around Australia that have applied to be part of this trial. And really those families who we’re supporting fall into largely one of two categories, they’re either people who are shift-workers in emergency services or hospitality work who really – because of the hours they work – are unable to access regular child care services. Or they’re often people in regional and remote settings who – because of their location – are unable to access regular child care services. 

So it’s trying to more equitably treat those people in our child care system, recognising that because of their unique circumstances they need a different form of child care, and that if we’re willing to support and subsidise the care for other people to be able to meet their working obligations we should be willing to do so to a certain extent in those circumstances for people in unique circumstances. So this is a two year trial, as I said, involving around 3000 families, and the Government will of course then evaluate how that’s worked, and whether there are refinements to it, or how it may factor into the overall child care system into the future. 

Vanessa Mills: It’s been good to speak with you. Thank you Minister. 

Simon Birmingham: Absolute pleasure, Vanessa. 

Vanessa Mills: Simon Birmingham, who is the Federal Minister for Education and Training.

Senator Birmingham’s media contact:                   James Murphy 0478 333 974
                                                                                    Nick Creevey 0447 644 957
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