Interview on Studio 10
New child care package




Georgia Love:              If you rely on the child care rebate, there are big changes to it from Monday, from how much families receive and what you’re eligible to receive are all changing. But to get those changes you need to update your details on a Federal Government website. However, around 30 per cent of families are still yet to do that. Education and Training Minister Simon Birmingham joins us now.


Thank you for joining us, Minister.


Simon Birmingham:    G’day. Great to be with you. Thank you very much.


Georgina Love:            Now, with only days to go, why is it that so many people have not yet validated their details?


Simon Birmingham:    Well, actually we’ve now got more than 960,000 people who have indeed updated their details. So, that’s great news. Now, there’s less than 200,000 families who might still do, some of those people are probably families who no longer engage in the child care system. So, we’re not expecting to get every family we’ve identified, but we’re really pleased with the progress to date. But we are making a big last minute callout to families, which is – if you have children in the child care system or with school holidays coming up in vacation care and you rely on Child Care Subsidy, make sure you get your details updated before next Monday.


Angela Bishop:            Minister, I’ll give you a suggestion as to why some people haven’t signed up. And that is because – I may be blonde but I’m pretty tech savvy, I know how to work a computer – I have wasted hours of my life trying to get that myGov website to work, I have friends who tell the same story. Why is it so hard to use?


Simon Birmingham:    Denise, I know that it can be a frustration for people. But I made sure, when we started this process a few months ago now, that I sat down and did it myself. Because I’ve got kids – five and seven – and we occasionally use school holidays care or the like. And I went through the process. And once you’ve got your myGov account, then for me and our family it was about a 10 minute exercise to just get it all done and dusted. So, the process of updating is pretty simple. And, of course, we have to get the balance right. The Government needs the right information to make sure that people get every dollar they’re entitled to but also to make sure that nobody’s ripping the system off too.


Joe Hildebrand:           And Minister, I know the Government has been out there telling people to sign up – and good on you for that – but again, I have to share Ange’s complaints. We were there, I was there doing it myself, we got an error message when we tried to go to the form that you had to fill out, it didn’t say what the problem was, I- we had to reboot my wife’s computer to get everything up, it took hours and hours and hours to reboot and get everything up. And then when we finally did it, it turned out we had to download a new web browser because apparently the problem was with the Safari browser, which is the default browser on every single MacBook computer, which is what most people have, so- or it’s a huge proportion of what people have. So, how is it possible that the Government’s one portal is not compatible with probably the most common internet browser that people have?


Simon Birmingham:    Well, Joe, look, I hope and expect that’s an isolated experience because- and we’ve put in place some dedicated call lines to deal with this switchover and we’ve had far fewer calls than we budgeted for or expected. The take-up, as I say, has been more than 960,000 people so far with minimal complaints in terms of issues that people have had. Now, of course, getting a system like this to be perfect is a constant work in progress. And I hear the complaints, we talk about it at the cabinet table to try to work out how we continuously improve the myGov system to make sure that it’s more user friendly. But it’s certainly a big leap forward from the old days when you used to have to file into Centrelink with your piece of paper to get the job done. And we’ve just got to keep working to get it better. Now, we know it’s not perfect, we want to work to get it better. But this is ultimately about ensuring that more Australian families get more support, on our estimates around $1,300 per child per annum on average extra support for families. And so, it’s worth the time to make sure people get their details up to date.


Joe Hildebrand:           And what about the issue of rising fees? The Government, I believe, has capped the new subsidy to CPI but we know that child care fees rise much, much more than that. Is that really fair, should it not be what they’re actually being charged instead of an imaginary measure that includes everything from groceries to petrol?


Simon Birmingham:    Well, Labor tried that, where they said, essentially, services could charge what they want and that the government would pay 50 per cent. And what happened was that services jacked their prices up enormously and families saw no benefit at all. So, we’ve made these reforms on the basis of a pretty thorough Productivity Commission inquiry that said you need to set a benchmark price so that you’ve actually got something that makes it clear what a reasonable price is. And the benchmark price we’ve set captures, around 85 per cent of services offer at a fee that is at or below that benchmark price, so it well and truly captures the market. And, as I said, based on the analysis to date we expect around- families to be around $1,300 per child per annum better off under the new system, which importantly for many families gets rid of the cap on the Child Care Rebate that’s currently there. More than 63,000 families, before we even got to this month, had exhausted their eligible child care support, which meant that they were either not going to work for part of the year because they couldn’t afford to pay the child care bills or they were just going to work to pay the child care bills. We’ve now put in place something that from next week won’t have that cap for those families.


Angela Bishop:            Minister, The Daily Telegraph’s done an investigation into the number of child care centres that have already hiked those prices and are planning to in conjunction with the new rebate. What are parents supposed to do? This is not a place where you can shop around, if you’ve been lucky enough to find a place in a child care centre and your child is happy there and has formed relationships with staff, you don’t just go and shove them in another one. What are parents to do?


Simon Birmingham:    Yeah. Look, I expect that parents in most cases are going to find that their centres have normal fee increases. Certainly, this morning, I was at a Goodstart centre. Goodstart have advised me that their fee increases will be on average less than 4 per cent and pretty much in line with the type of fee increases they’ve applied across the board. And I expect all centres to be very mindful of the fact that government is providing more support to help families. And we will be monitoring fee increases by centres and we won’t be shy about seeking explanations or, if need be, naming and shaming centres doing the wrong thing.


Joe Hildebrand:           And, Simon- Minister, just getting back to the Centrelink and the myGov website issues. And I’ve got to tell you it’s not an isolated incident. And the only way we were able to find out what was wrong was by Googling the problem and finding out that a whole bunch of other people had had these problems. The last time my wife tried to sign up for child care, we actually had to go into the Centrelink office, stand in the queue and then even the Centrelink worker who was behind the counter, doing it on the Centrelink computer system couldn’t even get halfway through the process before the application crashed and we lost everything. And I’ve got to say, this is a story we are hearing over and over and over again. Will the Government commit to actually fixing this problem once and for all? Because it seems like in many ways the process is the punishment, you make it so difficult to claim any of these rebates or subsidies or get these entitlements, that people just give up.


Simon Birmingham:    Well look, Joe, your experience is completely unacceptable if that’s what’s happened. And so, I’ll absolutely talk to my colleague Michael Keenan, who’s the Minister for Human Services…


Angela Bishop:            It’s identical to mine, that’s 50 per cent of the panel. It was identical to my experience.


Simon Birmingham:    And- well, but we’ve got more than 960,000 families who have done it. And overwhelmingly they’ve done it at home online…


Angela Bishop:            Yeah, but how many goes did they have to have, did they have to go into Centrelink? This is the question, you don’t know that they have a 10 minute experience.


Simon Birmingham:    Yeah, no. Well, we certainly know that they’ve not been going into Centrelink and we know that they’ve not been calling the Centrelink helpline and we know that they’ve been getting the job done and getting it done well. But look, it’s unacceptable that anybody goes through that experience, which means we’ve got to get the systems better and if need be we might need to spend some techos round to your house, Joe, to get to the bottom of why it is that in those circumstances the system’s not working and work out how we fix it at the backend in Canberra.


Joe Hildebrand:           No, not me just…Thanks, Simon, not me but the other people is what I’m worried about.


Simon Birmingham:    Yeah, I know. But obviously there would be others and we want to make sure it works for everybody. I’m pretty confident it’s worked for the overwhelming majority because we’ve had such a great take-up rate. And of course, this is going to be a big, big help for many families starting from next Monday.


Joe Hildebrand:           Thanks, Minister.


Georgia Love:              Well, as he said, it is unacceptable. So, if you want to update your details for the Child Care Subsidy head to my.gov.au. Minister, thank you for joining us.


Simon Birmingham:    Thank you. My pleasure.