Interview on the Channel 9 Today with Sylvia Jeffreys
New funding for child and youth mental health; University student employer survey results; New data on child care fees



Sylvia Jeffreys:            The Turnbull Government will today announce a major funding package to tackle mental health issues in school-aged children. One-hundred and ten million dollars will be allocated to the program which aims to train teachers to recognise symptoms of anxiety and depression and also to handle a crisis in the classroom.

Education Minister Simon Birmingham joins us now. Minister, thank you so much for your time this morning. How exactly will students benefit from this funding?

 Simon Birmingham:    Well, good morning, Sylvia. This is an important, integrated mental health campaign that we’re supporting; $110 million overall, some $46 million in particular targeted to beyondblue and a program that they run that engages with teachers, with early childhood educators to make sure that they are skilled and supported in their knowledge of how to support young Australians who may be struggling with mental health issues, how to make sure that they’re appropriately identified, referred, assisted. And that, of course, is so critical, as Education Minister, as a dad, I appreciate that far too many young Australians – around four million Australians overall every year – will face some mental health challenge and it’s really critical that support is there and of course teachers are right at the coalface of that and this extra support for beyondblue will help make life much easier for those teachers in terms of knowing what to do.

Sylvia Jeffreys:            Well, you’ve certainly got a lot of support from the experts in this field. Will this training be compulsory for all teachers in primary and secondary and early childhood and when will the training begin?

Simon Birmingham:    Well, this is not about a compulsion for teachers but it is a program that beyondblue has already had enormous success rolling out with many teachers and many schools and many early childhood educators in preschools and child care settings as well and they will be able to extend that to reach many more. So they’ll continue that work that they’re already going but reach – we would anticipate – thousands more teachers and skilled educators around the country to enable them to help young Australians.

Sylvia Jeffreys:            So just to be clear, teachers can volunteer to be involved in the program but won’t be forced to be involved?

Simon Birmingham:    Schools really should look to reach out to beyondblue to ensure that if they want extra support, if they want to make sure that their staff are at frontline, that they’re engaging with beyondblue to access these services.

Sylvia Jeffreys:            Also making headlines this morning: the largest ever survey of Australian employers and employees, shows universities are failing to produce employable graduates with more than a quarter of graduates saying their degrees are all but useless. Minister, is university a waste of time in 2018?

Simon Birmingham:    We have very high performing universities and university graduates do have improved employment outcomes relative to others across the Australian economy. So we shouldn’t talk down our universities in any way, but it is why as a Government we’re wanting to put in place some performance contingent arrangements for universities in terms of their funding because we’ve seen concerning declines in terms of student completion rates, in terms of student and employer and graduate satisfaction rates and we want to see that reversed. So, future funding growth for universities is going to be more contingent, more tied to getting improved outcomes in terms of graduate outcomes, completing their degrees, getting a job, getting a better job and employers being satisfied with those graduates.

Sylvia Jeffreys:            When $17 billion taxpayer dollars are going into universities you would hope that there are improved outcomes in the coming years. Finally, this morning, you were busy yesterday spruiking the Government’s child care reforms, highlighting that the annual fee growth has slowed to its lowest rate in seven years. Now you say thousands of families will be better off under your child care reforms when they kick in in July, but who will be worse off?

Simon Birmingham:    Look, around one million Australian families will be better off. We are investing an additional $2.5 billion as a result of these reforms, but we are also better targeting it. So, we’re making sure that child care support goes most to those families who are in the workforce or studying or volunteering; not just people who are looking for alternative care for their children but people who need that care to be able to participate in the workforce for the hours that suit them, for the days that suit them. We’re also targeting it more to low and middle income families. So, very high income earners may see a reduction in their child care support but families earning $100,000 or $150,000 per annum together will actually see that they could be thousands of dollars a year better off in terms of additional child care support to help them access the workforce and work the hours that their family needs.

Sylvia Jeffreys:            Well, families are crying out for help, there’s no doubt about that. Simon Birmingham, we appreciate your time this morning, thank you very much.

Simon Birmingham:    Thanks so much, Sylvia.