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Transcript of interview with Ashleigh Gillon: Sky News The Morning Shift: 3 February 2017: child care crisis

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SUBJECTS: Child care crisis.

ASHLEIGH GILLON: As Parliament resumes, we are expecting the Government to present a bill wrapping in its plans for child care reform with cuts to the family tax benefit. Joining us now for more on this is Kate Ellis, she’s the Shadow Minister for Early Childhood Education.

Kate Ellis, good to have you on, thanks for joining us. You’ve long argued that the child care system needs to be reformed. I know that you’ve supported several aspects of the Government’s plan to spend an extra $3 billion in this space to try and improve the system. So is Labor going to back this bill which does link those payments to cuts to the family tax benefit?

SHADOW MINISTER FOR EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION AND DEVELOPMENT, SHADOW MINISTER FOR TAFE AND VOCATIONAL EDUCATION KATE ELLIS: Ashleigh, it’s great to be with you. We’ve said all along, we think it is a ridiculous argument for the Government to make to - on the one hand for Malcolm Turnbull to say that he can find $50 billion for corporate tax cuts, but on the other hand say the only way we can see improvements to the child care system is if families on incomes of under $80,000 have to pay for those changes. That’s ridiculous, we don’t support the cuts to family tax benefits.

The Parliament has repeatedly said that the Parliament itself doesn’t support those cuts. So it’s really problematic that the Government is now linking those two measures in the legislation when we’ve made very clear our position on family tax

benefit cuts and we need the Government to recognise that there are many other ways rather than, once again, calling on low income Australians to bear the brunt of this.

GILLON: Ok, I understand the politics here, but if you separate out the family tax cuts as a separate issue here and just look at this bill that you’re going to be confronted with either next week or in the next couple of weeks. I just want to clarify - you say you’re not ruling out supporting this bill, this isn’t a ‘no way’ from Labor, is it? Politics is all about compromise, at the end of the day are those child care reforms more important to Labor than opposition to those family tax benefit cuts?

ELLIS: No, we’ve made very clear that we will not support the cuts to family tax benefits. Our position on that doesn’t change. We’re talking about working single parents, we’re talking about low income families who are already struggling and already being hit hard by this Government. There has been no compelling argument about why they should be the ones - and this is over a million, we’re talking about here - why they should have to pay for these long overdue child care reforms. Nobody has made the case. In fact, Arthur Sinodinos was the only one from the Government who was honest about it when he said the reason that the FTB and child care changes are linked is purely for political purposes. We’re not going to buy into that.

In terms of the child care reforms, we know that Australian families have been crying out for Government action since this Government was first elected, when they have done absolutely nothing to assist Australian families when it comes to child care. Nobody is arguing that the current system doesn’t need improvement. We get to see the bill that the Government is introducing next week, but since the last piece of legislation they introduced, early childhood stakeholders across the board have said that there are some really big flaws with that legislation and we want to see whether those flaws have been addressed in the legislation that the Parliament will see next week. We certainly hope that the Government has listened to all of the feedback about cutting the number of hours that some of the most disadvantaged children get access to early childhood education, and about their plan to cut Indigenous and remote services. We want to see that they’ve fixed those areas in their proposal.

GILLON: Ok, with Labor then not going to go for this, not going to back this bill when those two aspects are rolled in together, the Government obviously has to turn to the minor parties. You, I assume, would have been talking with them about these issues as well. We head from Scott Morrison a bit earlier in the program, he’s here in South Australia today, he’s had a meeting with Nick Xenophon. Do you know where the minor parties stand on this issue?

ELLIS: The minor parties and the Xenophon party have previously expressed that they are opposed to these really harsh cuts to the family tax benefit. Let’s not forget that the Parliament did support changes to the family tax benefit scheme recently, but said that these are the ones that are really hitting the Australian families who can least afford it. Now I can’t comment on whether Nick Xenophon and his colleagues are now going to roll over on that, and they’re now going to see families on incomes of less than $80,000 have their payments cut, whether they’re going to see single

parents who are out there working and doing it tough and having their payments cut, that’s an issue for them.

Of course we have seen this week some of the views of one One Nation candidate when it comes to single parents and single mothers in particular, a view that Pauline Hanson didn’t do anything to distance herself from. So what One Nation does when it comes to cutting payments of Australians who can least afford it, well that’s up to them but we certainly wouldn’t be that surprised.

GILLON: We know the Coalition wants to inject a large amount of money, $3 billion, into the sector and we also know the Coalition’s plan is going to be targeting the funding to low and middle income earners, whereas the plan that you took to the election would increase the rebates for families when it comes to child care, but it isn’t means tested is it? So essentially we’d see subsidies to very high income earners, millionaires so that they can send their children to day care. Is that still Labor’s policy, are you having a look at that, are you likely to change it before the next election?

ELLIS: First off, I’d say actually at the moment if you’re a multi-millionaire then there is a cap of $7,500 per child per year on how much child care assistance you get. Under the Government’s proposal -

GILLON: Sure, but Labor would want to increase that to $10,000 -

ELLIS: But the legislation the Government is putting forward increases that for multi-millionaires from $7,500 to $10,000. So I think that we just need to be clear on the facts of how the Government are targeting this package. In terms of where Labor’s at, we absolutely recognise that we need to simplify and improve the system, and we need to do that now. Australian families are struggling and they need more support. That’s why we’ve said we will work productively with the Government on bringing in reform immediately. But what we’ve also said is we think that ultimately, these are all band aids on a system that is fundamentally broken.

We think that the Australian child care system needs a much bigger picture analysis and reform, and that’s why we started going through the process of talking with providers, with early childhood experts, with Australian parents about more fundamental change to the system. And obviously that’s a longer term issue, but it’s something that we just think is so far overdue and that Australian parents deserve better that the politicians just fiddling around the edges when we just have a system which is fundamentally failing.

GILLON: We should note that child care costs have increased under both Labor and Liberal Governments. I think all parents around the country are being frustrated by these continual rises that they’re seeing. When you talk about, you know, the need for radical reform in this space, is this something we will see from Labor in terms of a concrete proposal before the next election, and would a part of that be, do you believe, funding for three-year-olds for example to attend early learning centres? Is that the direction that you’re heading in?

ELLIS: We’ve outlined that the evidence around preschool for three-year-olds, access to school or kindergarten, is absolutely overwhelming. The rest of the world has recognised this and is moving on it, and we’re urging the Government to do likewise. The situation we’re in at the moment is that there is currently a question mark over the ongoing federal funding for preschool access for four-year-olds, so we want to see that addressed. But we took to the last election the fact that we would start work on how we would outline a plan to extend universal access to Australian four-year-olds to three-year-olds as well, and we certainly haven’t walked away from the evidence or the need to do that.

GILLON: Kate Ellis live there from Adelaide, we do appreciate you joining us, and good luck for the return to Parliament.

ELLIS: Thanks Ashleigh.

GILLON: We’ll be watching next week closely

ELLIS: I can hardly wait.

GILLON: Neither can we.