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Transcript of doorstop: Rainbow Street Childcare Centre, Randwick, Sydney: 18 July 2007: childcare; cost of living pressures; climate change/carbon targets; terrorism laws; Dr Haneef/leaked transcript; Geelong job losses; car industry in Australia.



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FEDERAL LABOR LEADER KEVIN RUDD MP

TRANSCRIPT OF DOORSTOP, RAINBOW STREET CHILDCARE CENTRE, RANDWICK, SYDNEY, 18 JULY 2007

E & O E - PROOF ONLY

Subjects: Childcare; Cost of Living Pressures; Climate Change/Carbon Targets; Terrorism Laws; Dr Haneef/Leaked Transcript; Geelong Job Losses; Car Industry in Australia

RUDD: Cost of living pressures are huge for Australian families. Mr Howard says that working families have never been better off. Well, when we look at some of the data which has come out today from the Melbourne Institute, we find that in fact, the reality for working families is quite different to that.

The data from the Melbourne Institute is pretty graphic when you look at it. One of the figures that we see released from the Melbourne Institute today is that we’ve now got, over the last 12 months, 11 per cent less people who are now engaged in household savings. In other words, people are having to dip into their savings or go into debt in order to make ends meet.

This data from the Melbourne Institute survey presents sobering reading indeed. Of course, one of the big challenges when it comes to overall cost of living pressures, one of the big challenges is housing affordability and the impact which that has on the overall family budget. And when we have data recently which says that one in four households are now in mortgage stress, this is a real challenge for working families right across Australia.

Also, we have a 50 per cent-plus increase in the price of petrol over the last five years or so and that, in turn, is driving many family budgets into a state of stress. Add to that the rising price of groceries and then you, altogether, have real problems when it comes to balancing the family budget.

Another one that is key to family budgets is the cost of childcare, the availability and the affordability of childcare for working families right across Australia.

The Howard Government has said that there is no problem with childcare availability across Australia; there’s no problem with childcare affordability across Australia. Well, we disagree.

And we believe that when it comes to childcare, it is one of those additional big factors which is actually causing family budgets to come under real pressure.

We’ve had a 12 per cent increase in average childcare costs for working families per year over the last number of years. Add to that increases in the cost of sending your kids to school, about seven per cent per year. Similarly, seven per cent per year when it comes to medical costs faced by working families as well.

Childcare is a big driver. When you look at the number of working families now using childcare, because one parent or the other needs to join the other parent in the workplace in order to pay off the mortgage and meet all the other bills when it comes to the household, there is a real challenge.

Mr Howard says working families have never been better off. And the Howard Government says that there is no crisis and no problem when it comes to the availability of affordable childcare. Well, when you’re facing 12 per cent annual increases in childcare costs, can I say, Mr Howard is just plain wrong. That’s on affordability.

When it comes to availability, this is the waiting list accumulated in the first six months here at this Centre here at Rainbow Street. I was speaking to the Director of the Centre before who said that normally after a 12 month period, they would accumulate one folder full of names for the waiting list for the following year. Here we are in mid-year and we’re already into our second folder. The Director here has said that there are hundreds of families down on the waiting list for this Centre here.

But when it comes to availability, there is a problem across Australia as well. Again, the Howard Government says there is not a problem.

My challenge to Mr Howard is this: when it comes to cost of living pressures for working families, is he really saying that there is not a struggle on the part of working families meeting childcare costs? Is there not a struggle on the part of working families meeting the challenge of finding an available childcare place? I think Mr Howard is showing that he’s gotten right out of touch with the needs of working families.

One other thing I’ll say and then I’ll take any questions.

There’s been a debate in the last 24 hours about climate change as well. Mr Howard refuses to put forward a carbon target. Not only is this bad for our environment long term, it’s bad for the economy. You have so many businesses out there waiting to invest in new clean green energies but on the other hand, they can’t invest properly until we’ve got a carbon price, determined by a carbon market, which you can’t have until you’ve established a carbon price. And Mr Howard says, ‘I’m not going to tell you what the carbon target is this side of an election’. Well, by doing that, he’s failing to create certainty for Australian businesses wanting to invest in their energy futures.

If you’re fair dinkum about climate change and you’re fair dinkum about business participating in getting the climate change problem under control, you’ve got to set a price for carbon, which means you’ve got to set a carbon target, and that’s what Mr Howard has failed to do.

Over to you for questions.

JOURNALIST: Is the ALP able to name what their carbon target should be?

RUDD: Our carbon target is 60 per cent reduction of our carbon emissions at 2000 levels by the year 2050. It’s clear cut and we have said that as a matter of policy for some months now. Mr Howard has said that our target is irresponsible. Mr Howard admits the fact that the Canadians have a target of 70 per cent reduction. Governor Schwarzenegger, in California, has a target, I believe, of something like 80 per cent. And you have a range of other economies with targets around about 50 per cent as well. It’s time Mr Howard caught up with the need to act on climate change now, because if he fails to do so, it’s bad for the environment, it’s bad for the economy and it’s bad for our kids.

JOURNALIST: Mr Rudd, in regards to the situation with Mr Haneef, are you still confident that the Government is acting in good faith in regards to them cancelling his visa?

RUDD: Based on the information we have to hand, we believe that the Immigration Minister has operated properly within the powers that the Minister has under the Migration Act. Our Shadow Immigration Minister, I understand, has been briefed in the last 12 hours on the facts concerning this. I’ve not had an opportunity yet to speak with the Shadow Immigration Minister about those further facts.

JOURNALIST: Do you agree, though, that the Federal Government should look at changing the terrorism laws because of the bail to Dr Haneef and to the Sri Lankans who are allegedly involved in terrorism?

RUDD: On the question of the Sri Lankans, that matter is still before the courts. On the question of Dr Haneef in relation to the criminal matter on which he’s been charged, that is also before the courts. So, I will not make any substantive comment about those two matters.

On the general question of the anti-terrorism laws, our position is this: Australia needs hardline, uncompromising anti-terrorism laws because we’re dealing with a real challenge to our continued national security. Therefore, I’ve said before, if Mr Howard comes forward with any practical proposals to strengthen our counter-terrorism laws, then we’ll consider those proposals on their merits.

Can I also say this: that when it comes to anti-terrorism, there are a whole series

of practical measures which Mr Howard has not implemented. For example, the Wheeler inquiry into airport security has not been fully implemented. We still don’t have the proper screening of air cargo going into passenger aircraft. That was one of the recommendations of the Wheeler inquiry and that has not been properly implemented, based on evidence presented by a transport safety official in a report carried by the Sydney Morning Herald quite recently.

JOURNALIST: Are you worried about the national security implications of these recent leaked documents, as the AFP is (inaudible)?

RUDD: I’ve seen reports of these leaked documents and I understand that the AFP has its own internal investigation underway on these matters. That’s the proper course of action to pursue.

JOURNALIST: What would Labor actually do about the hundreds of dollars that parents are spending on childcare every week? (inaudible)

RUDD: Let’s just look at the charges at this Centre here, based on the advice I’ve just received from the Director. If you have a littlie under the age of three, you’re looking at a charge here at this community-based centre, which is a terrific centre, of some $59.00 per child per day. So, in a given week, if you’re here for a full week, you’re looking at some $250 a week. And that is here at a first-class community-based centre, which is a not-for-profit.

Now, I was just talking to George Newhouse, our candidate for Wentworth, before about his experience in the Waverley area, where you have a number of private centres charging as much as $80.00 per child per day in similar circumstances. Now, obviously there’s going to be a range of fees. But to reinforce your point, childcare costs represent a huge impact on the family budget and more and more people are using childcare because both parents are needing to work in order to make ends meet to pay the mortgage, to pay grocery prices and to pay petrol prices.

The question is what will we do about it. The first thing that we’ve proposed is that we want to assist in the overall supply of childcare places by providing funding to construct an additional 260 childcare centres across the country, co-located with schools wherever possible, to help alleviate the double drop-off challenge as well. By providing greater supply, we also believe that we can have a downward pressure when it comes to the charges which are then put on parents overall in the childcare market.

The second thing we’ve said is that there is a supply problem when it comes to the availability of childcare teachers. This is an area where Mr Howard’s Government has not properly acted. And what we have said is that, in terms of those who would be studying for a childcare diploma at TAFE for a two year period, that we would provide exemption from TAFE fees for students of

childcare obtaining a diploma in order that we can increase the overall supply of workers in the childcare sector.

One of the reasons why we have upwards pressure on prices is because there’s an inadequate supply of childcare workers. That’s the second piece of policy.

Third one is this. We’ve already announced a policy of half a billion dollars a year to provide universal preschool education for all four year olds across the country. This is a huge investment by Labor. And what we propose to do is ensure we have proper, supervised, play-based learning with a qualified teacher for every four year old in the country for 20 hours a week for 40 weeks a year, and for the funding package to provide for the additional teachers necessary for that.

We have three sets of practical proposals on the table. Can I say the Government’s response to that has been zero, zero and zero. Childcare is a huge impact on the family budget. We have policies out there and we want to have a national debate on what now needs further to be done to reduce the cost of childcare on overall family budgets.

JOURNALIST: Just two questions on that. Would these be private or community childcare centres? And what are you going to do about wages, which are shockingly low?

RUDD: On the question of what form of childcare is provided, or what form of early childhood education is provided, we are fully supportive of both community sector, as well as the for-profit sector, as well as any other form of childcare delivery which is on offer as part of our early childhood education policy. We made that clear in our policy document recently.

The question you pointed to in terms of salaries is an important one. I don’t have a silver bullet on that. It’s a really important area. What I do know is, however, a lot of young people wanting to enter this market in the first place are finding it hard to stump up the TAFE fees to get in and, therefore, a practical response from us is we’ll let you get through without charging you TAFE fees, or providing a subsidy to that effect.

JOURNALIST: Six hundred people are about to lose their jobs in Geelong (inaudible) been announced, I think, they’ll lose. What’s your position on that?

RUDD: This is a terrible development for the workers at Ford in Geelong, and for the entire Geelong community. It’s also a terrible development when it comes to the future of our automotive industry in Australia and the future of manufacturing, more generally.

I’ve said before and I’ll say it again, I don’t want to be Prime Minister of a country where we don’t manufacture things anymore. We need to have a proper Australian industry plan which deals with the long term future of our manufacturing sector, including automotive within it. Automotive, I’m advised, employs some 80,000 Australians. Now, the figure may be in fact larger than that. We, therefore, need a long term industry plan which deals effectively with the challenges which this industry confronts in the future.

There is a proposed review of the industry. I’m saying that when it comes to the conduct of that review and all the competitive pressures applying on the auto industry in Australia, that should be brought on now, not at some point in the distant future. And if we form government, that would be enacted within the first three months of us assuming office.

One other thing on auto. We’ve also said that when it comes to consumers, they want to be buying Australian cars which are relevant to their budget needs, but also their environmental needs as well. We don’t have an Australian-manufactured hybrid car. Why not? Therefore, what Labor has done is put on the table a half billion dollar Green Car Innovation Fund so that if we form government, that would be able to be drawn upon by the Australian automotive industry to design and manufacture an Australian hybrid car which Australian consumers could then buy. If you want a hybrid car at the moment, effectively, you’ve got to buy a foreign brand.

JOURANLIST: Did you say there have already been talks with Ford on the question of them moving forward on the environment?

RUDD: On the question of Ford’s profile on hybrid cars and environmental cars, I’ll defer to my colleague, Senator Carr, the Shadow Minister for Industry, on that. But what I have done with Senator Carr is launch this half billion dollar Innovation Fund and we have done so in consultation with the industry more broadly, and they welcomed it.

I’ve got to say, government can help with industry policy on the innovation front. We’ve stumped up half a billion dollars for the future. I see zero from the Government when it comes to acting in this area as well.

JOURNALIST: I think literally there’s been announced that there’s a $24 million investment innovation fund for Geelong to try and find investment opportunities to deliver new jobs. Is there any initial reaction to that figure?

RUDD: That, I imagine, is a development proposal for the Geelong community subsequent to the closure of this plant. Anything which assists the Geelong community, of course we would support on a bipartisan basis, but my concern is not just a package of measures for the Geelong community after the closure of this plant, my concern is for the long term viability for the Australian

automobile industry. And that’s why we have a half billion dollar fund proposal on the table. Thank you.

ends