Interview on ABC News Breakfast with Virginia Trioli
Topics: Crackdown on dodgy family day care providers; Schools funding
Michael Rowland: Let’s come back home now, and the Federal Government will today announce the results of a crackdown on dodgy family day care providers. More than 130 providers have had their licences cancelled just in the past six months and the Government estimates the move has saved almost $1 billion in child care subsidies.
Virginia Trioli: For more, we’re joined from Canberra by the Education Minister Simon Birmingham. Minister, good morning. Thanks for joining us.
Simon Birmingham: Good morning, Virginia.
Virginia Trioli: What have you found?
Simon Birmingham: Well, what we’ve found is that there has been, indeed, rorting misuse of taxpayer funds and we want to ensure that all elements of the child care system, but especially family day care where these problems have been most prevalent, are managed by, of course, reputable people, people who we can trust with our children and trust with taxpayer dollars to subsidise child care. We’ve acted in the case of around 150 services now, and we’ve done this in this period of time – there’s a real surge before the Turnbull Government’s new child care system takes effect on 2 July. To make sure that it’s a clean system and that the extra investment – the $2.5 billion extra we’re providing to support Australian families – is only going to support the most reputable child care services.
Virginia Trioli: Is there a new accreditation or oversight system in place now to watch this system in the future?
Simon Birmingham: Our new system will allow us to absolutely better monitor what’s happening, to identify any problems much faster and we have, over time, really tightened the checks to make sure that people coming in are absolutely reputable. We’ve done this because, really, what we found was there was a failure in the system previously. You know, over the last year or so we have undertaken around 4,000 checks of child care services, and as I’ve said, acted, suspended in many cases, against 150 services. In the previous government, there were just a few hundred checks and zero suspensions or cancellations. So we saw a problem. It’s going to save taxpayers around $1 billion in terms of funds that would have otherwise gone out the door. But most importantly, there’s greater support coming for more Australian families, but we’re making sure that people cannot rip off that greater support when it’s made available from 2 July.
Virginia Trioli: I want to ask you some other questions on other issues, but just quickly and finally on this one – has the sector lost places, child care places, as a result of the crackdown that now need to somehow be made up?
Simon Birmingham: In many cases, sadly, there was claims being made- claims were being made against invisible children. Children who weren’t really existing or didn’t really- weren’t really being cared for. So that’s not really a loss of any place, it’s just somebody who was literally ripping off the taxpayer. Now, we have taken action in a couple of dozen cases so far to actually take people to court. So the system overall still has many places. In fact, many providers tell me there’s a surplus of places, but I listen to parents who tell me they struggle to find a place. That’s why we’re putting a fairer, better child care system in, and if I can give a plug, if there’s anybody watching who hasn’t yet made the transition over to our new child care system, please do so before 2 July. Visit education.gov.au/childcare. Make sure that you’re one of the more than 900,000 Australian families who’ve already registered to get a fairer better payment in terms of child care support.
Virginia Trioli: Well, sure. And you’re welcome to put in a plug, but of course the ABC and other media outlets have been reporting that there is a hesitation and it hasn’t been completely taken up because there are anxieties about that new system and its fairness. Do you still believe there are any wrinkles to get out of that system in order to completely assure people that it’s worth it?
Simon Birmingham: Look, we’re really pleased with the transition. As I said, more than 900,000 Australian families have now registered. That’s an overwhelming number and it’s gone incredibly smoothly to date.
Virtually every service is now transitioned as well, and so we’re really pleased in that sense that they’re ready to be able to provide the extra support. And of the families, when we did analysis a couple of weeks ago, of those who had registered already to date, they’re going to be $1300 per child, per annum better off under these reforms. It’s a real demonstration that the reforms the Turnbull Government’s put in place are doing what we said they would, which is providing more support to Australians who work the longest hours, earn lower wages, to make sure that they are able to choose to work the hours and days that suit them without child care costs being such an impediment.
Virginia Trioli: Okay. I just want to quickly ask you a couple of questions on the body that you established, I think at the end of last year, which was the National School Resourcing Board, to provide greater independent oversight over Commonwealth school funding. Many people, I’m sure, wouldn’t know of this organisation at all. It’s chaired by former Woodside Petroleum chairman and chancellor of the University of Western Australia, Michael Chaney. Now, they’re recommending to you that the Federal Government payments to private schools should be determined by the income tax paid by parents in each school. Does that idea appeal to you?
Simon Birmingham: Well, this board hasn’t finished its work yet, I don’t yet have a final report from it. I see the media speculation. We’ve asked this board to look at what is…
Virginia Trioli: Oh, we’ll just pause there for a second. The media’s clearly getting this from someone, and one would have to assume someone close to the board. As an idea, does it appeal?
Simon Birmingham: Well, the board’s consulting widely and those stakeholders may or may not be talking to individuals. What appeals to me is to ensure that school funding is distributed fairly, consistently according to need. The Turnbull Government, last year, acted on the original Gonski review, put in place the school funding formula that doesn’t discriminate against jurisdictions, doesn’t discriminate between one part of the non-government schooling sector or another, but treats everybody fairly and equally. This is looking at one element of that. Overall we’re investing more than a billion dollars year-on-year growth into the future. Growth rates are fastest for the schools of greatest need, and mostly that’s in the public sector. But indeed…
Virginia Trioli: Sure. But let’s just pause and try, if we can, focus on the particular issue that they’re pointing out here, which is about targeting those student grant payments in a very individual way, or would it be a matter of it being averaged out over the general income tax level of that school or would it be family by family?
Simon Birmingham: The media reporting talks about this as an average and certainly the approach that we’ve only ever taken in relation to what’s currently called the SES score, the Socio-economic Status Score, is a school average determination, and the media reporting’s only talking about an average determination from what I can see as well. That’s the type of approach I would still expect that it’s done at the school average level. But why do we do this sort of thing in terms of the non-government school sector? It’s to make sure that the greatest support goes to those school communities in non-government schools who have got the least capacity to contribute towards their school fees. That we want to ensure that in terms of Australian families making a choice that we empower that choice by low-income families not being shut out of the system, and that those families in those school communities who have lower incomes on average get greater support. How you then assess that is what the board’s been looking at. It’s only one very- it’s only one element of school funding. And of course there are many other parts that make up the way school funding is determined. It doesn’t impact upon government schools. We’ll get the report, I trust, by the end of this month, and the Government will give it consideration, and we will stick to our principles and guns which is to ensure we treat schools according to need and continue to act in a way that is consistent and fair across the board.
Virginia Trioli: Very quickly and finally, Simon Birmingham, now that it looks like you’re getting your entire three part tax program through Parliament, and Pauline Hanson has supported that. Is it looking like, now that you’ve managed to get it across the line, that this Senate is somehow a bit more manageable than it was, say, a few weeks ago?
Simon Birmingham: Look, the Turnbull Government’s had great success working with this senate. I know there’s been a lot of commentary about the colour and movement in the Senate over…
Virginia Trioli: Well, there’s been a lot of- well, let’s talk tax. I mean, there’s been a lot of changes in the Senate. I mean, it’s difficult for any government. And you’ve got people actually leaping across parties in a small a gap as two hours. So, come on.
Simon Birmingham: As I say, there’s been a lot of talk about the colour and movement, but we’ve got on with the job of legislating. And steadily we have, over the last couple of years, managed to achieve significant policy reforms in school funding, in child care funding as we’ve been talking about and in tax we hope…
Virginia Trioli: As I said, this is briefly, this is just about this issue.
Simon Birmingham: And in tax, we hope that we will see the Senate ultimately back full implementation of the Turnbull Government’s tax policy, because this is about giving hardworking Australians back their money, their taxes, as we’ve managed to get the Budget back to a point where it’s going to come into balance and in surplus over coming years. This is the time to be able to repay hardworking Australians, and fix that terrible issue of bracket creep which affects so many people and stops people from seeing an opportunity or a reward when they work harder and earn a little bit more.
Virginia Trioli: Okay. Simon Birmingham, we’ll leave it there, thank you.
Simon Birmingham: Thank you.