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Transcript of interview with Sky News PM Agenda: 18 November 2013: Coalition childcare cuts

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Subject: Coalition childcare cuts.

DAVID SPEERS: Welcome back to the program. Yesterday the Prime Minister and his assistant Minister, Sussan Ley, announced a Productivity Commission inquiry, promised prior to the election, into childcare. Specifically it’s going to look at how to make the system more flexible, help parents who currently can’t access the regular 9 to 5 childcare centre; they may work longer hours or shift work. This is going to take 12 months to report back to the Government. It’s also looking at whether things like nannies and au pairs should be subsidised by the Government, in a similar way to how the childcare system currently is. Families do receive a 50% rebate on their childcare costs. It’s not means tested. The Opposition is worried however that that rebate could come under some attack from the Government if it wants to fund other things.

To tell us more about their concerns, the Shadow Minister for Early Childhood, Kate Ellis, is with me now. Thanks for your time. The Minister did tell Parliament this afternoon that they had no plans to touch that 50% rebate, to means test it. Is that good enough?

KATE ELLIS: Well, it looked very much to me like weasel words. When we saw less than six months ago a promise not to means test the rebate, a promise that both the Minister and the Prime Minister today refused to repeat in Question Time, now I think Australian parents can rightly be pretty concerned about why they are not prepared to repeat a promise that was given just that recently.

SPEERS: Why should that 50 per cent rebate go to even the wealthiest and wealthy Australians?

ELLIS: Well I say first of all, because if the Government wants to be the Government they said before the election they were going to be, they should keep the promise that they made six months ago. But also I would say that we know that it is often the second income earner who is female. Now if that is someone who is lower paid, is part time and their childcare fees are about to double if they become means tested, we know that it will be many women who are locked out of the workforce and are no longer able to participate. I think that it is, you know, one thing to have all of these debates but it is another thing to promise one thing and then six months later refuse to do it. I think that is pretty tricky to the Australian people straight after an election.

SPEERS: But is there any work test at the moment in relation to the childcare rebate? Women do actually have to be working or studying to access it?

ELLIS: That’s absolutely right, yes.

SPEERS: Right. When it comes to the aim of this inquiry though, to make the system more flexible, surely you would share that goal of being able to help those who can’t currently access childcare because of their shift work?

ELLIS: Absolutely. And I have always been supportive of increasing the flexibility in the system and I’m proud of past moves to do that. But one thing that was confirmed in the terms of reference announced yesterday is that there will be no additional funding. Now you know as well as I know that if you’re looking to fund nannies, if you’re looking at au pairs, if you’re looking at increasing the hours of operation but there’s no additional money, something has to be cut to pay for that, and what I want to know is, which Australian families are about to have their childcare assistance cut? Because none of them were expecting that and I don’t think it fits with the no surprises approach to government.

SPEERS: If the money could be found, philosophically do you have an issue with offering a rebate to cover nannies and au pairs?

ELLIS: Well look, I think we need to look at these things on their merits. But what I would absolutely not support is cutting the assistance which low and middle income

earners are currently receiving, in order to fund things which they are never going to have the opportunity to utilise.

SPEERS: So how do you help those doing shift work? How do you get a childcare centre then to offer the opening hours they currently don’t?

ELLIS: Well we have a range of trials which are currently underway which were started when we were in government, looking at extended hours, also looking at -

SPEERS: But how did they go?

ELLIS: Well they are still currently underway. They’ve only just really begun. But some of the other new initiatives were pairing shift workers with family day carers who are willing to work the same shifts, whether that be overnight, whether that be late into the night; actually working with police officers and with nurses, with a range of different professionals. Of course we need to be looking at ways of how we can improve the system. But we can’t be looking at reviews which are really just the first step to major cuts to services and assistance which Australian families rely upon.

SPEERS: Shadow Minister Kate Ellis thanks for joining us this afternoon.

ELLIS: Thank you, David