Interview on Channel 9 Weekend TODAY with Deborah Knight
Making child care and early learning more affordable, accessible and fairer; Future schools funding arrangements

Deborah Knight: Education Minister Simon Birmingham joins us now from Adelaide. Good morning, Minister. We know that around 150 private schools receive excess Government funding. How would this new plan work?

Simon Birmingham: Well, good morning, Deb, and good morning to your viewers. There’s a fair bit of wild speculation out there as there has been for the last couple of months. The reassurance I want to give to teachers and parents across the country is that under the Turnbull Government school funding is growing from around $16 billion last year to more than $20 billion by 2020. That’s funding growth above inflation, above enrolment. We’ll make sure it’s distributed fairly and equitably and yes, there may be some non-government schools that are being funded above government formulas. But that’s a very small number. And there are equally many who are being funded below current formulas.

And so, it’s important that we work towards an equitable and fair outcome over time. But equally important, and where our focus really is, is – how do we get better bang for our education dollar? Because we’ve been spending record amounts – and we’ll keep doing that – but it hasn’t been improving outcomes as we would have liked. And that’s why we’re really focusing on things like a phonics check that can really help to drive better reading and literacy outcomes in the early years as a foundation stone for schooling.

Deborah Knight: And will you be taking this to the COAG meeting?

Simon Birmingham: Our promise has always been that we would reach a resolution in terms of distribution of school funding and school reform with COAG. And that’s exactly what we’re working towards.

Deborah Knight: Okay. Now, after much wheeling and dealing, your changes to the childcare funding have now successfully passed the Senate. Will this package see children of parents who aren’t working forced out of childcare and early education?

Simon Birmingham: Well, no, it won’t. If parents aren’t working but they are looking for a job then that will meet the activity test for them to achieve early education opportunities and to be able to get at least two sessions of care a week, for low-income families. Potentially more than that, depending on how much they’re looking for work, volunteering, studying or other things that can meet our new activity test.

But equally, we are absolutely delighted to have a package that is passed through the Senate that better targets childcare support and fee subsidy to hard working families and ensures that those families working the longest hours will get the greatest number of hours of support for their childcare. Those families earning the least amount of money for their work will get the greatest level of subsidy, meaning they can afford to work more hours, or choose to work the hours that suit them, without worrying about those childcare costs.

Deborah Knight: The early childcare sector, though, says it’s disappointed with these changes. They thought that they had an agreement with the Government, they claim, to provide a bigger safety net and that families who fail the activity test will lose three hours care a week.

Simon Birmingham: Well, these changes have strong safety net elements attached to them. But they also represent $1.5 billion of extra additional investment into childcare. They’ll mean that for low-income, hard working families, the rate of subsidy they receive will increase from 72 cents in the dollar to around 85 cents in the dollar. And for families who fall off a cliff mid-year at present with that $7,500 cap on the childcare rebate – that’s going to be abolished for all low- and middle-income families. So, for low- and middle-income families, they will be not just tens or hundreds of dollars a week better off on average under these reforms, they’ll potentially be thousands of dollars a year better off if they’re accessing childcare services for just three or four days per week.

Deborah Knight: And when should we see these changes take effect?

Simon Birmingham: They’ll take effect from the middle of next year. So help is on the way for families who have been looking at a broken childcare model. And if you’ve got young children or are starting a family, it’s really going to empower people to make decisions about when they work and how long they work that suit them, without childcare costs being an impediment to do so.

Deborah Knight: All right, Simon Birmingham, thanks for joining us this morning.

Simon Birmingham: Thank you, Deb.