SALLY WARHAFT: A new report suggests that many mothers are left working for – well maybe $5 an hour by the time they’ve paid for their childcare needs. Simon Birmingham is the Education Minister and Minister responsible for childcare and he joins us now; good morning, Minister.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Good morning, Sally and good morning to your listeners.
SALLY WARHAFT: My first question actually is why early childcare comes under the Education Ministry and you don’t have a designated Minister for this issue?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well Sally, Malcolm Turnbull made the very clear decision to put childcare as part of the education portfolio. It had previously sat as part of the Social Services portfolio, obviously childcare is critical for families in juggling their work and family responsibilities, but it is also a critical area of delivery of early learning opportunities for young children. It is very integrated with pre-school delivery in a number of instances as well, so, there is a logical reason as to why the Education portfolio administers it. We administer it with a very stern line to the fact that it is not just about early learning, it is about supporting families to juggle and meet those work and family obligations and we know that many people are doing it tough and that’s why we have a very comprehensive reform package for childcare.
SALLY WARHAFT: Well to me it reflects a lack of emphasis on this issue and, I mean, modelling came out this week from the ANU, the Australian National University, that confirms what many people know which is by the time women go back to full time jobs and put their children in childcare, they are working for as little as $5 an hour once they’ve paid tax and childcare costs.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well Sally, there is far from a lack of emphasis on childcare. We actually are proposing to spend around $40 billion over the next few years on childcare. We have a comprehensive reform proposal for our childcare arrangements in Australia, which will see an additional $3 billion invested by a re-elected Turnbull Government which will see us re-focus childcare rebates and subsidies so that rather than having lots of different payments, we will transition to one primary payment, a new childcare subsidy that better directs support to those families who are working the longest hours and better directs the greatest financial rebate to those families who are earning the least amount of money. So, this is a very significant change which will see, for the lowest income families, 85% of there childcare costs paid for in the future when our reforms come in to place and for those families they can be confident that Government’s supportive plan will remove the cap that currently exists in relation to the childcare rebate, that $7,500 cap, and will ensure that 85% of all of their costs, so that if they are working 4 or 5 days a week, they actually don’t face that declining rate that this report presents in terms of their take home pay.
SALLY WARHAFT: In this month’s budget, your government delayed its promised childcare reforms until July 2018; where is the priority there?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well that is regrettable. Unfortunately, the Labor party and the Senate have blocked savings measures that we proposed to pay for our childcare reforms and that meant that unfortunate delay became inevitable because there are very significant administrative changes for families, for childcare providers and for government in bringing in this whole new childcare system. I wish that we had been able to get the legislation passed earlier so that we could have had the 2017 start date, but unfortunately that wasn’t the case, those reforms were not going to pass through the Senate with the savings that were necessary, so a 2018 start date became necessary or we would have had real challenges in terms of the way in which families and other could have adjusted to the new system. In the interim we are lifting, for the extension of that year, the freeze that the Labor party had put in place on the childcare rebate so it will be indexed for that year for the first time since Labor put that freeze in place so that we provide some additional support. But, what we do have at this election is a real choice. The Turnbull Government has clear, detailed reform plans for childcare to give more support to low and middle income working families in particular; the Labor party have no clear policy at this stage.
SALLY WARHAFT: Simon Birmingham, what we’ve had this election so far is just radio silence on this compared to the last election campaign where there was so much emphasis that played very badly on the double dipping issue on the paid parental leave scheme of Tony Abbott’s, now all we hear about is boats and, I mean, the trigger for this double dissolution election, again which most people don’t find themselves relating to has had more emphasis than an actual issue that effects the everyday lives of Australians.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well Sally, I’m glad you’re talking about it this morning and I am thrilled to be able to be here talking to you to explain in detail to people the new childcare rebate that the Turnbull Government proposes to put in place, our new childcare subsidy that will ensure 85% of the costs are paid with zero cap in place for low income families…
SALLY WARHAFT: In two years time, Simon Birmingham. So, what can you do to ensure that these changes could be brought forward? It is a matter of intense urgency. There is no other group in the community – this is like working for the dole – the idea that you go to work an entire, a huge section of our community goes to work and earns nothing, how can that not be a priority that, that, if it is so important to you and your government that you will not accept a delay until 2018 and to say it is simply regrettable?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: This is a priority for us. It is a priority and it is why have outlined comprehensive reform plans to childcare. We have also kept price growth under control in relation to childcare since we have been in office. It has been much lower than it was under the previous government. So we have managed to keep that growth in the cost for families down, but importantly we have done the work through a very comprehensive process of working with the childcare sector, undertaking consultations with families to come up with a new and a better model. That model has to be paid for, everything the government does has to be paid for and we do need to live within our means as a government which is why we need to come up with savings to make sure the reforms can go through, but we are determined to make sure that happens.
We are also determined to make sure that it is implemented in a sensible way that ensures childcare services, families and government get it right. Unfortunately, that does take a little bit of time. In the interim, we are for the first time in a number of years since Labor put a freeze in place indexing the childcare rebate, but when our reforms come in there will be a fundamental change which removes that cap on the rebate that families can get if they are low income families or medium income families. In fact, for families earning right up to $180,000 that cap will be lifted, for low income families it is 85% that will be paid, tapering down to 50% for families earning under $80,000 or there about. We are actually putting in place a fair arrangement and the activity test we’re applying will ensure that those families who are in the workforce, therefore should get priority access to childcare because it is not just about how much childcare costs that families talk to me about, it is also about getting a place in childcare and for those families who are having both parents in the workforce or for single parent families where the parent is working, they want to know that they can get a place and that as a working parent, they get priority support from the government and our new model will give that priority support to people who are working and will ensure that if they are earning less from their work, they get more of their childcare costs picked up by the taxpayer.
SALLY WARHAFT: Simon Birmingham, thank you for your time this morning and we will talk before the news to the Shadow Minister for Early Childhood, Kate Ellis. Simon Birmingham is the Education Minister in the Turnbull Government.