Sheridan Stewart: I have Senator Simon Birmingham on the line, Minister for Education and Training. Good morning Simon.
Simon Birmingham: Good morning Sheridan, and good morning to your listeners.
Sheridan Stewart: What’s your response to the concerns of the remote children’s services as expressed there by operator Vicki Olds?
Simon Birmingham: I understand that this is a big change for services like this one. We are seeking to really reform child care right across the country, and in most instances for typical child care services – long day care centres, family day care providers – this will see a change that ensures support is better tailored to low income families, assistances better targeted to families working the longest hours, and we will be increasing resourcing across the child care sector by around $3 billion in additional funding over the next couple of years. But then there are these other services that have been funded historically outside of the mainstream child care services, under what’s been called a budget-based funded program. And that program has existed for some time, but over that time a lot of inequities have built up in that program, and we see a very odd circumstance where some of these services receive as little support as $35 per child per year, while others get actually up to $54,000 per child per year, depending on the nature of the support.
Now, there are reasons why some of them might have differences in cost structures, but obviously that type of range makes no sense at all. So we are seeking to help these services transition to a new model. They won’t just be reliant under that new model on the new child care subsidy; there will be additional support for them, but importantly we’re really putting extra support into the early stages, to work with them on the transition arrangements so that they have assistance to change their business models if they need to, so that they are able to access support, but support that is fair and equitable across the country.
Sheridan Stewart: So are you saying the new model, when it rolls out next year, will be flexible enough to cater for services that don’t fit the mould, like for example the remote children’s service?
Simon Birmingham: I’m confident that it will be. There are really a couple of components to it. So there will be the new child care subsidy, which will provide support to parents for the fees they pay. Currently parents accessing services like this get no support at all, so the funding purely is a lump sum that goes into the service, so parents will be able to access the new child care subsidy under these arrangements. But in addition to that, there is then the new community child care fund, which is really targeted to provide assistance in areas where there is disadvantage or regional barriers or other types of barriers to people. Obviously that is being established very much with rural and remote Australia in mind, and at the forefront of the way that additional support is structured, so that we do recognise that there are communities where there are small numbers of children, higher cost overheads that will be involved, and that we structure it in a manner that supports their unique circumstances.
Sheridan Stewart: Operator Vicki Olds said they’re – under the new system instead of a yearly fee, outback parents would need to pay per visit.
Simon Birmingham: Well, really it will be up to providers as to how they charge parents, so that’s their decision, but certainly the support that the Government would be providing is based on people’s accessing of the service, so in that sense, yes they may need to structure it – their fee arrangements a little differently, but there will be support. We’re providing funding over the course of the next year or so for consultants to be able to work individually with each of these services affected under the budget-based funding model so that they are able to reshape their business plans that support their families in a way that will be effective under the new arrangement.
Sheridan Stewart: My understanding is if they’re not deemed to be working or studying, they don’t qualify for support. So I guess the question is with mums on stations who are doing everything at home, working the farm, raising the kids, teaching, or at least supervising School of the Air – would they be deemed eligible under the new criteria?
Simon Birmingham: So you’re right, that we do have an activity test for eligibility to access the child care subsidy. There are some exemptions for that for very low income families, and there is guaranteed support to access preschool at a universal level for children in the year before they enter school. But then if you’re looking at other categories, yes people need to meet the activity test of working, studying or volunteering. It is, and will be a generous and light touch activity test that – as I say, activities like volunteering will be included, and I have no doubt that parents who work on the family farm certainly have that work acknowledged as part of the activity test.
Sheridan Stewart: The service currently travels to field days, gymkhanas, all that sort of thing, to provide children’s activities. Presumably that won’t be able to happen any more once these changes come into effect?
Simon Birmingham: That probably becomes really a matter for the service and the other types of funding or support that they might access. Obviously, what we’re looking at here is a child care and early learning service that we are looking to support and support the diverse needs of families around Australia to access child care and early learning opportunities for children. Now if you’re shifting into other environments that are less about providing that child care service and more about additional services offered in community event settings, they’re not necessarily things that would naturally fit within the new terms and programmes. But there will be, I’m sure, sufficient support in the core elements of the programme that hopefully would then allow the service to continue with perhaps some community assistance to operate in other additional ways.
Sheridan Stewart: So just to clarify, there is some hope for these families in the remoter parts of our listening region that the children’s services they’re currently accessing may still continue and that special circumstances will be taken into account?
Simon Birmingham: There certainly is, and we are very committed, as I say, to working with each individual one of these budget-based funding services, to help them on the transition path. They will get individual tailored assistance from a specific consultant working with them so that we’re- when the model of funding changes, they’re in a position to be able to know how to comply with that model and how to best structure their services to access funding from it.
Sheridan Stewart: While I have you – I know that’s not a line politicians usually like to hear …
… the Nanny Programme that kicked off last month. What’s the uptake of that been like?
Simon Birmingham: The uptake in terms of applications and interest in the Nanny Programme was strong. Negotiations are underway between the parents and the service providers at present. So we had parents apply under the Nanny Programme; service providers are out there at present negotiating in terms of the placement of people. I haven’t had a recent update in terms of how those negotiations are tracking, but I’m very confident that we’ll get a good sample to give us a pilot programme that works over the next couple of years. And really, this is about then informing future government policies so that we’re able to make sure that families who cannot access traditional child care because of where they live or the hours they work have an alternative support mechanism available to them.
Sheridan Stewart: So, it’s a two year Nanny Pilot Programme which just kicked off recently. Is that targeting a particular sector of the population? For example, those who live on remote farms?
Simon Birmingham: Absolutely. The overwhelming majority of applicants – and we really wanted to target it – are to people either living in areas where they can’t access traditional child care services – so people living in rural and remote locations definitely fall into that category – or targeting people who, due to the hours they work, are unable to access traditional child care services. So, emergency service workers, hospitality or transport employees, or people who have irregular shift work in that regard. It’s about recognising that we do provide generous support to families to access child care where they’re able to do so in a normal setting. If due to their hours or locality they’re unable to do so, we’re trialling this Nanny Pilot Programme. It is a trial, and a genuine trial, to work out how we can best structure it over a longer term horizon in the future, so it’s a two year programme and obviously throughout it we’ll be looking at what’s working, what’s not working, to inform future policy decisions.
Sheridan Stewart: Senator Birmingham, thanks for your time today.
Simon Birmingham: A pleasure, any time.