Interview on 2UE Afternoons Talking Lifestyle with Matthew Tukaki
Making child care and early learning more affordable, accessible and fairer; AFL Women’s competition

Matthew Tukaki: Changes to child care arrangements passed the Senate last week which will now un-complicate what was a very complex system. Joining me now to discuss the changes and also some of the opportunities that are being created for stay-at-home mums is Senator Simon Birmingham, Federal Minister for Education and Training. Minister, welcome to the show.

Simon Birmingham: G’day Matthew, good to be with you.

Matthew Tukaki: First things first, can you give our audience a bit of a brief overview of why these changes are so important?

Simon Birmingham: Well they’re important because child care subsidies really help working families to decide the number of hours they work, the days they work, and whether it’s actually profitable and affordable to go back to work. And we know that really for many families, having both parents in the workforce is necessary to meet the costs of living, but also it’s really necessary for them in terms of ensuring they maintain skills relevance and don’t suffer, after a long period of time out of the workforce, challenges in getting back into their professional occupation.

Matthew Tukaki: So what are some of the key changes that our stay-out-home and working mums and dads need to know?

Simon Birmingham: Well it’s a really great reform package that better targets support to those families who are working the most hours. So there’s a new activity test that ensures guaranteed access of subsidies: the more hours you work, the more subsidy you get in terms of the hours that are available to you, as well as better targeting it towards lower income families. So in future, the less somebody earns, the greater the level of subsidy they will get. So hard working, low income families will receive the greatest level of support, as well as removing some of the really artificial problems in the current system, such as a $7500 cap that exists on the child care rebate, which means mid-financial year many families just fall off the cliff in terms of their support and end up working the last few months of the financial year with no child care support, and therefore pretty much go to work just to pay the child care bills.

Matthew Tukaki: But I guess that is the thing. I mean, for a lot of our listeners we get it constantly about just the amount of red tape or the complication of using a system that should be fairly simple. I mean, their focus needs to be on getting back to work or transitioning back to work, right?

Simon Birmingham: Well that’s right. So right now many families will meet eligibility for a child care rebate, some will meet eligibility for a child care benefit. There are different tests, different processes for both; some will meet eligibility for both of them. We’re going to scrap all of that and have one straightforward child care subsidy. Eligibility will basically be determined by level of activity – amount of hours working, studying, volunteering – amount of subsidy you get is determined by family income. So a very straightforward approach that sees, for particularly lower middle income families, significant extra benefits. If you’re a family earning about $80,000 during the course of the year, with both parents working, two kids in child care, they’ll be around $3400 a year better off as a result of our reforms.

Matthew Tukaki: If you’re just tuning in, I’m being joined by Simon Birmingham, Federal Minister for Education and Training, and we’re talking the recent changes to child care arrangements for working families. So, Senator Birmingham, let’s now shift our focus a little bit to another- well, it’s a joint issue. There was an OECD report out recently that did talk about the fact that Australia’s economy could be immeasurably improved if we just got more mums back to work, and the Australian Government are creating a range of different initiatives to help that happen. Why is it- I mean, is it just about the economy, or is it about the double savings, the economy and more?

Simon Birmingham: Well there’s a range of benefits. I mean, there are straightforward economic benefits, that the more people in the workforce the more productive people are, there’s an overall economic benefit from that. As I said before though, there are direct personal benefits for people in getting back to work earlier in terms of their personal financial situation, but also not losing relevance of their skills and training and not finding it harder to get back to work. There’s also, though, real benefits in terms of the example set within the family as well. We know that there are real benefits from having examples of parents who are working, that provides a real case study for young people growing up about the benefits of being engaged in the workforce and understanding what your expectations and obligations are as you grow up.

Matthew Tukaki: Now, I know you guys have spent a lot of time and effort on getting this package through the Senate. What else can we expect from the Government in terms of supporting working mums and working families back into employment?

Simon Birmingham: Well we’re continually having a look at opportunities and ways to ease the process for people to get back into the workforce. So these reforms themselves are expected to help about 230,000 Australian families to choose to work more hours, or work more days, or essentially change their workforce pattern to suit what their family needs without child care costs being an impediment to making those decisions. So this is a big, big step forward. We’ve got a big task to make sure that over the next 12 months we get the implementation of it right, and we’ll be ensuring we get lots of information out so families who are potentially impacted can make informed decisions about their workforce commitments well before the start date.

Matthew Tukaki: And of course, for our listeners out there, join me also from 9 o’clock this evening as we talk the world of work with Senator Michaelia Cash, the Federal Minister for Employment. Senator Simon Birmingham, Federal Minister for Education and Training – from the great State of South Australia I understand?

Simon Birmingham: Absolutely.

Matthew Tukaki: Got to put a plug in there for the SA.

Simon Birmingham: Delighted to see the AFL Women’s comp trophy come home to Adelaide on the weekend.

Matthew Tukaki: That was a great win. That was a fantastic win.

Simon Birmingham: It was a cracking result and obviously a historic one for the girls involved.

Matthew Tukaki: Now, for the male side of the game though, I’ve got to go- you know, go the Demons.

Simon Birmingham: [Laughs] Well again, I was pretty happy to see the Crows boys knock off GWS on the weekend, but the Sydney audience are probably not so keen on that.

Matthew Tukaki: Hey, Simon Birmingham, again, thanks for joining us on Talking Lifestyle right across Australia.

Simon Birmingham: Thank you Matthew, cheers.