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Transcript of doorstop interview: Adelaide: 22 June 2014: child care affordability

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SUBJECT/ S: Child care affordability.

KATE ELLIS, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EARLY CHILDHOOD: Today’s child care report shows in black and white just how wrong Tony Abbott’s priorities are. This report shows that many Australian families are doing it hard, but sadly they’re only going to do it harder when this Government persists with cutting $1 billion from early childhood care and assistance.

We know that over 500,000 families, who are already struggling, will only be struggling more when the Government cuts their assistance. We also know that there is legislation before the Parliament this week which is going to hit low and middle-income families, and cut their child care assistance, at the same time this report shows these are exactly the families who are already struggling.

It is extraordinary that at a time when the Government is sticking with their paid parental leave scheme to give $50,000 cheques to wealthy families, that they’re also persisting in cutting child care assistance to families on incomes as low as $42 000 a year. There is no question that this Government has it wrong. There is no question that Australian families cannot afford these child care cuts. This week before the Parliament the Government will try and ram through legislation which cuts over $330 million out of the existing child care assistance.

It is time for Tony Abbott and his Government to admit Australian families cannot afford to pay the price for this wrong Budget.

JOURNALIST: Aren’t these low-income earners receiving the same child care rebates that they did under the Labor Government?

ELLIS: There is legislation before Parliament this week that will see low and middle-income earners have their assistance cut. The department themselves have admitted that over 500 000 Australian families will be worse off than they are now as a result of the child care legislation before the Australian Parliament. We know that over half a million families will be worse off, but the truly alarming thing is, these aren’t just cuts to the Child Care Rebate, these are cuts to the targeted, means tested Child Care Benefit, which specifically goes towards low and middle-income Australian families.

This is the clearest example of just how wrong this Governments priorities are. They cannot justify standing up and attacking low and middle-income families time and time again. And this report shows that Australia can’t afford it when it comes to child care.

JOURNALIST: What does this mean for working women?

ELLIS: What we do know is that it is low and middle-income families who have the toughest call to make about returning to the workforce. That’s the reason that there is targeted assistance available. Sadly as a result of how hard child care can be, and how much harder it will be as a result of Tony Abbott’s cuts, we fear that many people will not return to the workforce, and many of these will overwhelmingly be women.

The Prime Minister has said that increasing women’s workforce participation is the reason he’s proceeding with his multibillion dollar, untargeted paid parental leave scheme, yet at the same time he is cutting vital child care assistance from the families who need it most.

JOURNALIST: Why do you think that the cost of child care is actually going up so quickly?

ELLIS: Look we have seen an increase in the cost of child care, but we have also seen an increase in child care assistance previously. What is so alarming about this is that the cost of child care will continue to increase but the Abbott Government will decrease the amount of funding that over half a million Australian families receive.

JOURNALIST: And do you think that that increase is due to when Labor was in government, the tougher regulations and restrictions that you put on child care?

ELLIS: Look we’ve seen child care costs have been increasing for over a decade now. We know that there is a number of reasons for that. But what is incredibly important is that we have Governments who have programs in place to assist families with the cost of child care. Never before have we seen the targeted, means-tested Child Care Benefit designed to assist low and middle-income families cut, as the Abbott Government are proposing to do. It is extraordinary the timing, that this report comes out today and shows us how hard many Australian families are doing it, but the legislation before the Parliament this week shows just how much harder Australian families will be doing it under Tony Abbott’s cuts.

JOURNALIST: It sounds like that you’re not willing to admit or at least acknowledge the fact that at least some of these things, like quotas in terms of ratios of carer-to-child etcetera, and increasing the qualification of child care workers, are part and parcel of why these costs have gone up?

ELLIS: Oh look we certainly say that the quality of child care is incredibly important. All of the research shows that this is when 90% of a child’s development occurs, in their first five years. We know that having quality early childhood education and care will affect that child’s outcomes when it comes to health, when it comes to education, when it comes to social outcomes.

But it is important that Governments put in place programs to assist Australian families. I am incredibly proud that the previous Labor Government worked to increase the quality of early childhood education. But we also massively increased financial assistance for Australian families. We increased the Child Care Rebate from 30% to 50%. In contrast, what the Abbott Government are doing is cutting almost a billion dollars in support to this vital sector.

JOURNALIST: But it still did have an impact on costs though, didn’t it, those measures?

ELLIS: Look we know that overwhelmingly there are a number of factors which play into the cost of child care. Staff wages is an important one, and the overwhelming one, but of course making sure we have more staff so that children can get the care and attention they need, has an impact. As does making sure we have qualified staff who are well valued and recognised. We think that this is the right thing for early childhood education and care in Australia, but we think it is the wrong thing for the Government to target this sector - rip almost a billion dollars of funding out of it. And I think it is particularly wrong for a Prime Minister to hand out $50,000 cheques to wealthy families who have a baby, at the same time that they cut targeted and means-tested child care support for low and middle-income Australian families.

JOURNALIST: How much of the proposed $5 billion paid parental leave scheme should be put toward the child care sector?

ELLIS: We have seen a number of different proposals when it comes to paid parental leave. We’ve seen much speculation, we’ve seen much debate. We will wait and see what the Government put before the Parliament. But I would say that it is the wrong priority for the Prime Minister to be cutting child care support for the families that rely on it the most.

I would also say that the Prime Minister can not possible be so out-of-touch that he thinks that caring for a child only is expensive for the first six months. That is absurd. The timing of this is extraordinary and I think the overwhelming message from the release of todays report is that Tony Abbott should drop his plans for child care cuts.

JOURNALIST: What do you make of the figure - around $5 an hour after the cost of child care is taken out - what do you make of that number, and also, is this a sign of the modern times?

ELLIS: I think that it is incredibly hard for some families to decide whether they will send someone back to work or not. I think that when you’re talking about figures of $4 or $5 an hour, then that is obviously a very tough decision for Australian families. I also know that we don’t even know the full impact of the cuts that the child care sector is about to face. The

Government has admitted that they have not done any modeling on the impact of their cuts. We have seen other modeling suggested that low-income families will be around $3,000 a year worse off because of the cuts that are now before the Parliament.

What we do know is that some families are doing it really tough, and some families really rely on this system in order to be able to return to work. And we also know that this is not the time for the Prime Minister to be introducing these unprecedented attacks on the means-tested Child Care Benefit.

JOURNALIST: You were talking about the choices that people have, you know about getting out and getting another position back into the workplace, but I’d imagine in the single parent family there is no choice. So do you acknowledge that for them, they might be more affected?

ELLIS: We absolutely acknowledge that there are single parent families, that there are low-income families who are already grappling with very hard decisions when it comes to child care, and it is disgusting that this government is out to make those decisions even harder. There is no question that some of these parents will be pushed out of the workforce because of the cuts to child care the Abbott Government is ramming through the Parliament.

JOURNALIST: Moving onto another issue, of the voicemail message that was left by Tim Matheson on Denis Napthine’s phone, what do you think of that?

ELLIS: Look I’m not particularly interested in that issue. I’m interested in the issues that are affecting Australian families. Sorry, I haven’t heard the message obviously. What I’m interested in is the cuts to health, the cuts to education and today the cuts to child care that Australian families just cannot afford.

JOURNALIST: With the more flexible child care options, is this the something that should be looked at, including the subsidies for nannies?

ELLIS: I think we always need to look at how we can reform our system, how we can come up with better solutions for Australian families, and how we can make sure our child care sector is relevant to the working patterns of Australian families. I’m really proud that we undertook a number of measures to do that in Government, and of course, the process should continue. But what should not continue is this Government’s unprecedented cuts to child care assistance.

It is extraordinary to me that the Government would say we are conducting a review into the child care system, we will await the reports from the Productivity Commission, yet they would undermine that by pushing through the Parliament unprecedented attacks on child care assistance. It doesn’t make any sense, they should back off, and they should recognise that Australian families need support. They don’t need child care assistance cuts.

JOURNALIST: What would Labor like to see in that Productivity Commission review?

ELLIS: I think we should always be looking at ways that we can maintain high quality early childhood education and that we can make sure that it is affordable, it is accessible and it meets the needs of working parents. Unfortunately though, this Government talks a lot about the Productivity Commission report. In Opposition they said that there would not be cuts, they also said they would make child care more affordable. Matters which have proven to be yet another lie; when we know that the child care cuts before the Parliament will make child care less affordable for over half a million families.

JOURNALIST: Do you know where we’re at with the issue of having nannies be able to access this sort of rebate, or families that are using nannies? That was something that was mentioned a while ago but nothing has emerged?

ELLIS: The Government has put a specific reference in their Terms of Reference to the Productivity Commission to look at nannies, to look at au pairs. But they’ve also said that any recommendations should come from the existing funding envelope.What this means is that any move they adopt to introduce funding for nannies will come at the expense of existing child care programs and child care support. I don’t think that’s right.

I also know that we have a lot of flexibility within our system at the moment. We have a system where we have in-home carers, we also have Family Day Careers operating in people’s home, and that is a viable option that the Government could perhaps get out there and start promoting. Rather than just cutting child care assistance, and then cutting it again.

JOURNALIST: But that level of flexibility really only extends from say 6-6.30 in the morning, to maybe 7:00 at the latest?

ELLIS: Well we actually have Family Day Carers who can adapt their hours to match the hours that a shift worker would work. We also know that under the regulations a Family Day Carer could deliver care in the child’s home, at a time that was arranged with the parents. So there is a large amount of flexibility. Of course we would continue to explore that.

What I will not accept is the Government looking to introduce cheap solutions in terms of au pairs, to introduce funding for nannies, at the expense of the existing funding which Australian families need. And they should not have to face anymore child care cuts from this Government, who are already just about totaling a billion dollars in cuts to child care.

JOURNALIST: Just quickly, we’ve seen a recent poll that indicated a lot of women of child-bearing age are holding off to be able to receive the paid parental leave scheme, what do you make of that?

ELLIS: Obviously people make there own decisions about starting families, and have a variety of factors which play into that. What I do not support is people having to factor in that, whilst wealthy families who don’t need it will receive $50,000 cheques for having a baby, low and middle-income Australian families who rely on the existing child care assistance will have it cut.

I think that that is absurd. I think that that shows what this Governments priorities are, and I think that the Government should stand up and admit that they’ve got it wrong, that they should drop this legislation and that they should not proceed with these attacks on families earning as low as $42,000 a year.

SUNDAY, 22 JUNE 2014