Interview on Channel 10’s The Project with Tommy Little, Waleed Aly, Carrie Bickmore and Mary Coustas 
Topics: Delivering more affordable, flexible and accessible child care for Australian families

Waleed Aly: Now, Malcolm Turnbull has wrapped up all his welfare child care and parental leave proposals into one budget proposal in the hope of getting it through Parliament. So how many families will be better off?


Malcolm Turnbull: These are reforms that back hard-working Australian families. They allow mums and dads to ensure that their kids are being looked after.

Reporter: Sure, sounds like a winner to me, but let's break it down with the help of Tommy, the human calculator.

Tommy Little: Correction guys, I’m a human with a calculator. And I can make it spell stuff.

Reporter: Low and middle income families will get a fortnightly increase of $20 in Family Tax Benefit A, but the $726 annual payment for the same tax benefit will be cut.

Tommy Little: That’s a net loss of $206 per year for 1.2 million families, sounds hellish.

Jo Briskey: So it does sound like it’s a good deal, but it’s a bit of a trick that seemingly Mr Turnbull is playing on these families, as if they’re getting a boost but in reality they’re not.

Reporter: For low to middle income earners, child care subsidies will go from 50 per cent to 85 per cent. And for families earning above 185,000, the cap will be raised 7,500 to 10 grand.

Tommy Little: So families earning less than 65 grand a year will have 85 per cent of their child care costs covered which adds up to $11,417. Better than a kick in the goolies!

Reporter: There is a bit of a safety net for low income earners who aren’t working, studying, or volunteering.

Tommy Little: So those families will pay $15 a day per child, but only up to a maximum of 12 hours per week. Well, whoever thought of that is a boob.

Jo Briskey: Fifteen is the minimum that we need in order to ensure our kids are getting the best quality early learning.

Reporter: The Government says this is a win for families but first the PM has to get the whole package through the Senate.

Tommy Little: Oh hang on, wait, is that the story over? But I haven't had a chance to do les-

[End of excerpt]


Waleed Aly: Simon Birmingham is the Education Minister, he joins us now.

Minister, this is horrifically complicated stuff, let’s start with that admission. And I have to admit I wasn't quite expecting this, so bear with me. But $8 billion worth of welfare cuts in the end, you save the budget $5.5 billion, so clearly some people are missing out somewhere. We’re trying to figure out who that was and in the end – this is our best attempt – it basically comes down to young unemployed people. So people from 22 to 25 losing access to some benefits and then some pensioners who spend more than six weeks overseas will lose some benefits as well and then the money we save goes to families, earning $185,000 or more on extra child care rebates. So how is that fair?

Simon Birmingham: A few little errors there that I think need correcting: firstly, young people don't lose benefits but young people will all be entitled to the Youth Allowance so we won’t have a situation where it’s more attractive to be on the New Start, the unemployment benefit, as a young person than it is to be studying on Youth Allowance as a young person. So everyone who is eligible will be eligible for Youth Allowance there. Secondly …

Waleed Aly: [Talks over] Which is less [indistinct] 

Carrie Bickmore: [Talks over] It’s $100 almost.

Waleed Aly: … We should be clear right? It’s about … what is it $100 a fortnight or something in that realm?

Simon Birmingham: Well sure, but you don't want a situation where people are looking at Youth Allowance versus New Start and New Start looks like a more attractive financial proposition than Youth Allowance which is there supporting many people who are studying, training, et cetera. That’s a reasonable level of support in those circumstances for many people who are at home. 

But the second point that I want to highlight is far from putting more money into child care and support for families over $185,000, the vast majority of benefit is for families under $185,000, in fact, much less than those levels of income.

Carrie Bickmore: Minister, the money does have to come from somewhere and obviously we don't envy the job of trying to work out where that place is, but a lot of people are saying today, including the Australian Council of Social Service, that while families really do want better access to quality child care, they don't want it funded on the back of our disadvantaged. And that’s the thing, it’s like yay, we get more money, but that means someone living next door to us is going to really struggle.

Simon Birmingham: We think these are overall fair reforms because what we are doing is pumping more support, not just into paying more of people's child care fees and subsidies at the lowest level, so a low income earning family would access their child care services at about $15 a day, but also providing more support in terms paid parental leave, again, for low income earning families, giving them 20 weeks a year guarantee- or guaranteed of paid parental leave support. These are actually really quite targeted. Yes, they’re making a contribution towards fixing the big budget deficit we have – and that has to be done – but they are also investing in a far more targeted way than the welfare system and the child care system does at present to support the lowest earning families. They are quite progressive reforms in that sense.

Mary Coustas: So you have a wife and two kids, is Simon Birmingham better or worse off?


Simon Birmingham: Well I would be worse off because as a cabinet minister and so on, our salaries and family income would tip us into the range where we would see a reduction in our child care support.

Carrie Bickmore: Well it seems you didn't need Tommy's calculator help today like we did. You got the numbers all going on.

Simon Birmingham: We’ve taken a lot of time looking at this to make sure that it is as fair as we can possibly make it.

Waleed Aly: Alright, Minister. Thank you very much for walking us through it.

Simon Birmingham: Thanks so much guys.

Carrie Bickmore: A lot of feedback about this. A lot of people saying the Government should only subsidise families who actually work. We’ve got Emma who says non-working mums should have to pay the full price if they wish to put their kids in day care as they are taking precious places from those that don't have a choice.

Waleed Aly: I like this one from Paddy and Sarah – they put their heads together to come up with this – is every individual family ideology is I’ll be happy to take cash for my kids, but I’ll have a cry about other families using my tax dollars on their kids, which is a fair point.

Mary Coustas : And Kathy on Facebook said pay the day care workers more. How are the fees so high and yet day care staff get such a low wage?


Carrie Bickmore: Gosh, that’s a whole other thing to fix. Too many things to solve.

Waleed Aly: Yeah. Man, I’d like to welcome the Kooweerup Child Care Centre into the audience [indistinct].

Waleed Aly: From 16 February by the way, the public – so that’s you – will have 28 days to make submissions to the council on the proposed changes. So good luck with that.