Title Select Committee on Work and Care
Database Senate Committees
Date 16-09-2022
Source Senate
Parl No. 47
Committee Name Select Committee on Work and Care
Page 1
Questioner White, Sen Linda
Askew, Sen Wendy
Bragg, Sen Andrew
Responder Pocock, Sen Barbara (The CHAIR)
Ms Wang
Ms O'Regan
Ms Arcaro
Senator WHITE
Ms Still
Ms Twyman
Ms Wearne
Ms Wettinger
System Id committees/commsen/26043/0001

Select Committee on Work and Care - 16/09/2022

ARCARO, Ms Michele, Assistant Secretary, Child Care Markets and Reform Branch, Early Childhood and Youth Group, Department of Education

O'REGAN, Ms Carmel, Assistant Secretary, Targeted Employment Policy Branch, Department of Employment and Workplace Relations

STILL, Ms Jacinda, Assistant Secretary, Workforce Quality and Preschool Branch, Early Childhood and Youth Group, Department of Education

TWYMAN, Ms Anne, First Assistant Secretary, Early Learning Programs and Youth, Early Childhood and Youth Group, Department of Education

WANG, Ms Lace, Assistant Secretary, Safety Net Branch, Department of Employment and Workplace Relations

WEARNE, Ms Jodie, Assistant Secretary, Workforce Strategies Branch, Department of Employment and Workplace Relations

WETTINGER, Ms Jennifer, Assistant Secretary, Economics and International Labour Branch, Department of Employment and Workplace Relations

Committee met at 0 8:33

CHAIR ( Senator Barbara Pocock ): I declare this first public hearing of the Select Committee on Work and Care open. I begin by acknowledging the traditional custodians of the land on which we meet, the Ngunnawal and Ngambri people, and I pay my respects to their elders past and present, and I extend that respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples here today.

Today marks the beginning of the committee's public hearings into work and care in Australia. I note that this is an important inquiry, because most people in the workforce in Australia today have care responsibilities, or will have care responsibilities, over the time of their working lives, whether they're caring for aged parents, for their own children, for friends or family, or for people with disabilities in their communities. During the course of this inquiry the committee will be looking at how Australians are putting together their jobs with care responsibilities, recognising that that experience varies very widely, depending on your income level, on where you live, on your family circumstances and on the nature of your community.

The inquiry's terms of reference require us to investigate ways in which jobs and care responsibilities of all kinds can be combined to create better outcomes for our country, for our people and our citizens of all ages, and for our economy. In considering these matters, the committee will be hearing from people in different kinds of jobs with different kinds of care responsibilities. We want to understand the lived experience of workers who have care responsibilities so that we can focus on practical solutions. We want to find solutions that will benefit workers and those they care for, as well as children, families, employers and the wider Australian community.

These proceedings will unfold in person and on video conference. They are public proceedings being video streamed via the live parliamentary website, and a Hansard transcript is being made.

I remind all witnesses that in giving evidence to the committee they are protected by parliamentary privilege. It is unlawful for anyone to threaten or disadvantage a witness on account of evidence given to a committee, and such action may be treated by the Senate as a contempt. It is also a contempt to give false or misleading evidence. Witnesses also have the right to request to be heard in camera.

The Senate has resolved that an officer of a department of the Commonwealth or of a state shall be not asked to give opinions on matters of policy and shall be given reasonable opportunity to refer questions asked of the officer to a superior officer or a minister. This resolution does not preclude questions asking for explanations of policies or factual questions about when and how policies were adopted.

If a witness objects to answering a question they should state the ground on which that objection is made, and the committee will determine whether it will insist on an answer having regard to the ground which is claimed. If the committee determines to insist on an answer, a witness may request that the answer be given in camera.

Commonwealth officers appearing today are also reminded of the Senate order specifying the process by which a claim of public interest immunity should be raised. A copy of that order is available from the secretariat.

The extract read as follows—

Public interest immunity claims

That the Senate—

(a) notes that ministers and officers have continued to refuse to provide information to Senate committees without properly raising claims of public interest immunity as required by past resolutions of the Senate;

(b) reaffirms the principles of past resolutions of the Senate by this order, to provide ministers and officers with guidance as to the proper process for raising public interest immunity claims and to consolidate those past resolutions of the Senate;

(c) orders that the following operate as an order of continuing effect:

(1) If:

(a) a Senate committee, or a senator in the course of proceedings of a committee, requests information or a document from a Commonwealth department or agency; and

(b) an officer of the department or agency to whom the request is directed believes that it may not be in the public interest to disclose the information or document to the committee, the officer shall state to the committee the ground on which the officer believes that it may not be in the public interest to disclose the information or document to the committee, and specify the harm to the public interest that could result from the disclosure of the information or document.

(2) If, after receiving the officer's statement under paragraph (1), the committee or the senator requests the officer to refer the question of the disclosure of the information or document to a responsible minister, the officer shall refer that question to the minister.

(3) If a minister, on a reference by an officer under paragraph (2), concludes that it would not be in the public interest to disclose the information or document to the committee, the minister shall provide to the committee a statement of the ground for that conclusion, specifying the harm to the public interest that could result from the disclosure of the information or document.

(4) A minister, in a statement under paragraph (3), shall indicate whether the harm to the public interest that could result from the disclosure of the information or document to the committee could result only from the publication of the information or document by the committee, or could result, equally or in part, from the disclosure of the information or document to the committee as in camera evidence.

(5) If, after considering a statement by a minister provided under paragraph (3), the committee concludes that the statement does not sufficiently justify the withholding of the information or document from the committee, the committee shall report the matter to the Senate.

(6) A decision by a committee not to report a matter to the Senate under paragraph (5) does not prevent a senator from raising the matter in the Senate in accordance with other procedures of the Senate.

(7) A statement that information or a document is not published, or is confidential, or consists of advice to, or internal deliberations of, government, in the absence of specification of the harm to the public interest that could result from the disclosure of the information or document, is not a statement that meets the requirements of paragraph (1) or (4).

(8) If a minister concludes that a statement under paragraph (3) should more appropriately be made by the head of an agency, by reason of the independence of that agency from ministerial direction or control, the minister shall inform the committee of that conclusion and the reason for that conclusion, and shall refer the matter to the head of the agency, who shall then be required to provide a statement in accordance with paragraph (3).

(d) requires the Procedure Committee to review the operation of this order and report to the Senate by 20 August 2009.

(13 May 2009 J. 1941)

(Extract, Senate Standing Orders)

CHAIR: I now welcome our first witnesses: representatives from the Department of Employment and Workplace Relations and the Department of Education. I understand that information on parliamentary privilege and the protection of witnesses giving evidence to Senate committees has been provided to you.

Thank you all for your time, your appearance here and your correspondence in recent hours. Department of Employment and Workplace Relations, I note your letter yesterday. You would have been aware for some weeks, I imagine, that this inquiry was afoot. I'm wondering why you haven't done a submission.

Ms Wang : As I recall, we received the invitation to make a submission on Tuesday. In the time available, we outlined some of the government's election commitments in the letter, but we are happy to provide further details today, and if there are further details after today's hearing we will take them on notice and give you a comprehensive response.

CHAIR: Thank you very much, Ms Wang; that's very good to hear and I think the committee would look forward to sending further questions, perhaps questions on notice today but subsequently, as our inquiry unfolds. Thank you for indicating you'll give them your full attention and give us detailed responses.

I'll start with some questions for the Department of Employment and Workplace Relations but they may also have some relevance to Education. Your department, as you indicated in your letter, has responsibility for policies and programs that build work participation and help individuals to balance work and care through appropriate workplace relations settings. Which of those settings or tools and instruments that are available to you do you find, your analysis tells you, are most effective or important?

Ms Wang : I might start with the workplace relations framework settings. Then I will hand over to my colleagues from the department to talk about the program to improve workforce participation. From a workplace relations perspective, the lever we have is the Fair Work Act. One of the objects of the Fair Work Act is:

… assisting employees to balance their work and family responsibilities by providing for flexible working arrangements.

That's one of the objects of the Fair Work Act.

The Fair Work Act provides some workplace rights and entitlements for employees, to assist them to find, for the workplace, a flexible arrangement with the employers. One is the National Employment Standards, which applies to all national system employees and is the right to request flexible work arrangements. That applies to a number of cohorts of employees. They're eligible for that entitlement—namely, people with caring responsibilities. Employers can only refuse those requests on reasonable business grounds. The National Employment Standards have minimum entitlements, such as paid and unpaid personal and carers leave.

Further, the Fair Work Act has a provision called the individual flexibility arrangement, so all awards and enterprise agreements and other registered agreements have to include an individual flexibility arrangement clause. If any agreement doesn't include one, the model clause from the Fair Work Regulations 2009 will apply. The IFA, the individual flexibility arrangement, is used to make an alternative arrangement that suits the needs of the employer and employees, but that agreement cannot remove or reduce employees' entitlements.

Another one in the Fair Work Act that you're probably aware of is the unpaid parental leave. That provides workplace rights for people to take 12 months leave—every employee, of the employee couple—and another 12 months upon request. Again, the employer can only refuse on reasonable grounds.

They are a number of the key settings in the Fair Work framework. In terms of whether they are effective or not, I might point to a number of commitments following the Jobs Summit. The government committed to strengthen the flexibilities provided to employees through the flexible work arrangement, which I just mentioned, under the National Employment Standards and unpaid parental leave provisions.

I might pause there and hand over to my employment colleague to talk about our participation program.

Ms O'Regan : Thank you very much. I think it's probably worth saying at the outset that these sorts of policies do cut across a range of other portfolios as well: Department of Social Services, in terms of carer policy, family policy; Department of Health and Aged Care, in terms of services for older people, including their carers; and Office for Women, in terms of that cross-cutting women's economic security policy, for example.

In terms of women's workforce participation, it's probably worth highlighting three key drivers which are well understood and you're probably well aware of. First, work and caregiving, which is the subject of this inquiry. Obviously women's workforce participation and unpaid caregiving are highly correlated, with women disproportionately exiting the labour force following the birth of a child to take on the additional unpaid care load. Even as children grow, this imbalance is never fully rectified, with women's workforce participation remaining lower for all age groups through to retirement age.

Second, industry and occupational segregation seems to be firmly entrenched, with patterns of, for example, subject choices in higher education not only being gender segregated but becoming more so in recent years. For example, if you look at a field like IT, in 2005 women accounted for 27.4 per cent of people with higher education qualifications. That's actually fallen to 25.2 per cent in 2021. Third, workplace flexibility, which my colleague Ms Wang has outlined the responses to. Obviously that plays a major role in enabling women to participate in the workforce.

In terms of programs, we do have one that assists employers to improve their capability to offer more-flexible working arrangements. It's called Career Revive. At the moment, we have 90 businesses participating in that program. It's aimed at medium to large businesses. It's about helping them to better attract and retain women returning to the workforce after a career break. It basically assists the business to review all of their practices, their processes, their policies and their workplace culture to identify potential barriers. It helps them co-design a tailored action plan which includes designing a returner program—you might have heard of returner programs—to bring more women back to work after a career break. It includes targeted senior management mentoring for diverse workforces, specialised HR advice on inclusive recruitment and innovative coaching, upskilling of middle management, and support to then implement those changes. That's one worth highlighting.

We also have the Launch into Work program, which delivers pre-employment projects co-designed with employers. That's one that really starts with the job and then co-designs a pathway into that job. It doesn't exclude men, but it's targeted predominantly at women for identified entry level roles. That program has been extended to 30 June 2028. There is the Local Jobs Program, which is about workforce solutions at the local level. That operates in all 51 employment regions across Australia. Each region develops, with their local jobs and skills task force, projects that help address labour market issues in the local area. We do have quite a number of such projects targeted at women.

There are also some in the skills area. We don't have somebody representing skills here today but, for example, there's Mid-Career Checkpoint, which assists people who've spent time out of the workforce undertaking caring responsibilities and are now looking to return to paid employment. It also supports carers who've recently returned to paid employment and would like to advance or change their career. We have a grant program, the National Careers Institute Partnership Grants Program, which provides funding for organisations like employers, training providers, schools and community organisations to work collaboratively to improve career outcomes and create education and training pathways for Australians. We have round 3 of the program, which commenced earlier this year, and there are 42 projects focusing on women. I might leave it there.

CHAIR: Thanks, both of you. Ms Wang, you mentioned the Jobs and Skills Summit. The presentation right at the beginning of Danielle Wood from Grattan Institute, who we'll be hearing from over the course of this inquiry, highlighted the lagging rate of participation amongst women and, by implication, carers in paid work. Given the very wide gap between our participation rates and those of most of our OECD trading partners and given the contribution that would be made to GDP and to the incomes of households and families if they were able to participate at the level they want to, including, of course, the many women in Australia and carers who work part time—an unusual pattern we have relative to others in the OECD—what's your evaluation and what existing material, evidence or analysis do you have of how effective what both of you have just named is in addressing our participation challenge and our skills shortage? I think this question is also relevant to the education department. What is your assessment of the effectiveness of the existing regime that you've just described?

Ms O'Regan : I might say that, in relation to the programs that I outlined, I'm happy to take on notice some further information about, for example, whether there's evaluation evidence available. Certainly, Career Revive has demonstrated innovative approaches to supporting women into male dominated workplaces. Those 90 businesses do cover many thousands of employees. When you look at it in that regard, it does have a relatively large influence. But, for the other projects, I would have to take on notice what information we might have about how they're going.

CHAIR: I'd be interested, and the committee would welcome not only that evidence but also a larger assessment about how adequate that suite of programs is to address the challenges we face.

Ms Wang : I might add to what Ms O'Regan just said about flexible arrangements. There is very limited evidence about the utilisation of a flexible work arrangement. What we've found, through the Fair Work Commission's general manager's report, is that that hasn't been utilised very widely. So that's another reason why we are, as a government, committed to further strengthening those provisions to allow that to become more accessible to people with carer responsibilities.

CHAIR: Do you have analysis on the other measures you mentioned—for example, paid and unpaid forms of leave and the adequacy of them relative to the challenge that working carers face?

Ms Wang : Paid parental leave is a responsibility of the Department of Social Services. In the Fair Work Act, there are leave entitlements which are unpaid. We are aware of some shortcomings of those provisions, and they may restrict how the parents can access that block of leave in a flexible way. The government has committed itself to these things, which are currently under consideration.

CHAIR: Thanks for pointing us to the importance of having submissions from other departments: the Office for Women, the Department of Social Services and—who else did you mention?—the health department. We will definitely pursue that, as you suggested. The committee would be interested, I think, in any analysis you have of who has access to what forms of leave by gender, by industry, by occupation and by casual and permanent status. I think those issues may be of interest to our committee. Could we go to child care, and then I'll hand over to my colleague Senator White.

Ms Arcaro : I think that one of the biggest programs the government has, in terms of encouraging workforce participation, is the childcare subsidy. The way that works is that the amount that families get is income tested, so, the higher up you go, the less subsidy you receive from the government. Another key element of that is the activity test, and one of the key points of that is to encourage people to do some form of activity: either working, volunteering or studying. That's a way to encourage people to get those subsidies from the government in relation to the level of activity they do.

In relation to carers, there are some extra exemptions and things available, particularly for grandparents and those receiving the carer payment, which is DSS's remit. The activity amounts that are allowed, before the subsidy is cut out or the subsidy rate is reduced, are increased for those particular cohorts. It really is about encouraging not only carers generally but also those particular types of carers that may have difficulty in having certain levels of activity and things like that in the workforce to participate. So that needs to be scaled to allow them to work, as well as care for their children.

CHAIR: And can you give the committee any analysis about the adequacy in terms of support for the financial costs of child care, the adequacy of provision—accessibility across our country—and the quality? And how are they impacting on participation rates in employment?

Ms Arcaro : Childcare costs are only one element that impact on parents' ability to participate, or carers' ability to participate. There is a whole bunch of reasons. There are family benefits, there are income taxes and there's the childcare subsidy. So targeting childcare subsidy is only one way that we can help encourage people to participate in the workforce. It's really difficult to get an understanding of whether that's having an impact across all levels, because, unless we ask every individual parent for the reasons that they don't work more or that they don't work at all, we just don't have that analysis that we've done.

There's a range of reasons, like cultural preferences, or people can't work more because they can't get additional hours or they have a preference to be at home with their children. So it's really hard for us to untangle how much difference the CCS actually makes as a benefit to those particular areas. But we do know that it does reduce the cost of child care for people who are participating and receiving CCS.

Accessibility is another issue but, again, it's really hard to understand exactly what's happening in the market and whether families are able to access the amount that they want or in the places that they want. It's something that the department is looking at and, certainly, what the government has committed to look into with the PC and ACCC inquiries. Some of those elements will be part of those inquiries.

CHAIR: And when might such analysis be available around availability, accessibility and so on across the nation?

Ms Arc aro : I think it's through those inquiries, and that's still being determined by government.

CHAIR: Okay. We'll come to you, Senator White.

Senator WHITE: Thanks. You've detailed the number of programs that you have to assist women to get into the workforce. What programs have you got to encourage men to take carers leave and take on that role?

Ms Wang : In the workplace and industrial relations framework, we are aware that it's still not a norm for men to take leave to perform unpaid care functions. As I mentioned earlier, one of the reasons is the lack of flexibility to encourage that shared care and undertaking of work among the employee couples. Currently under consideration is how we improve the flexibility of unpaid parental leave to create more choice for employee couples, to share that leave entitlement and, in a sense, to share the unpaid carer responsibilities at home.

Senator WHITE: So you're hoping that these provisions, the changes, will encourage men because it's going to be more desirable—is that the way you think this is going to be?

Ms Wang : Maybe I'll explain how the current provision works. The current paid parental leave requires the leave be taken predominantly as a continuous block—almost as a take it or leave it. So that does provide an incentive for one carer to take all the leave, otherwise they will lose the entitlement. We see it is quite a norm for women, particularly, to take the leave first after having a newborn, and our current settings do not allow them to take a break between leave. They have to take the whole leave, so that could result in quite an extensive period away from work.

We hope that the current considerations will find how to improve flexibility in those provisions and will provide that flexibility. If the mother doesn't need to take all the leave entitlement as one block, that may encourage the other party or partner to take leave in the early days of their child. Hopefully, we will embed that and share the care and responsibility from the early days.

Senator WHITE: I guess it's reasonably unattractive to take unpaid parental leave, because you don't get superannuation either. That's a disincentive too, isn't it?

Ms Wang : As I said, paid parental leave is in the social security portfolio. The payment from the government and the leave work together, because they provide the payment when the people are absent from work. With the paid parental leave payment, initially when it was designed it also needed to be taken in a block, but now there is a 30-day component that can be taken flexibly. Correspondingly, in the Fair Work Act there is a 30 days flexible component as well, allowing parents to take that. So they can be eligible to claim the payment. Also, we acknowledge that a lot of businesses do go beyond the minimum standards that are in the Fair Work Act and provide paid parental leave as their own workplace policy.

Senator WHITE: Are there any statistics that support the proposition you've put? Are there statistics that show what is actually happening? The NES and award standard is quite low. How many businesses offer above that, and what is the best practice you've seen in relation to that?

Ms Wang : The evidence—unfortunately, I don't have that in my folder. I can take that on notice.

Senator WHITE: Yes.

Ms Wang : There are a number of data sources that we can utilise to provide an answer to that.

Senator WHITE: I know there's analysis of the enterprise agreements at the Fair Work Commission, and it would be interesting to know how many actually do that. I guess my point—going back to unpaid parental leave—is that that doesn't attract superannuation, so if you're out for up to two years you're without superannuation. I'm not talking about the paid government scheme. That's pretty unattractive, isn't it?

Ms Wang : I'll have to take it on notice and consult my Treasury colleagues. Under the Fair Work Act framework, the unpaid parental leave for that period counts as a service—

Senator WHITE: It does.

Ms Wang : in terms of the superannuation payable, for example, for people on unpaid parental leave. But to receive a paid parental leave payment under workplace policies, and how the superannuation is payable—I'd have to take that on notice.

Senator WHITE: Sure. I probably do know the answer but I'm happy to hear what you have to say. Isn't one of the other disincentives that you can't appeal under the Fair Work system when your employer denies a request for flexible work conditions?

Ms Wang : There are a number of things under this provision. One is the eligibility—who is eligible to have that right to request. Also, the Fair Work Commission has inserted a model clause in many modern awards, in terms of the process—the employer and the employee have to follow a certain process—and those clauses are subject to standard dispute resolution. If the request is refused on reasonable business grounds, the Fair Work Act currently prevents the Fair Work Commission dealing with that matter, whether it's a reasonable business ground or not. As I mentioned, the government committed to strengthening the flexibility under this provision, and, among many other things, that's part of the policy areas we are looking at.

Senator WHITE: I understand that. Are you able to get any statistics on how many people have exercised their right to try to get flexible work provisions outside the denied request? You said the provisions have been strengthened to allow people to use their usual dispute procedures. How many have gone to the commission as the final part of that, without looking at the reasonableness of the decision? Are you aware of that?

Ms Wang : Yes, we're aware of that. I'll have to take it on notice, but my recollection is that maybe last year it was 49—around that range.

Senator WHITE : Forty-nine disputes?

Ms Wang : Forty-nine disputes. As I said, the data from the Fair Work Commission's report shows that the utilisation of that provision is not particularly high, and there are low numbers of disputes recorded. Most of the requests have been granted—I think that's my recollection of what the commission has found, but noting that the number of requests is not particularly high—and last year there were about 49 disputes. But I will take it on notice to confirm that figure. If that assists, we can provide figures for previous years as well.

Senator WHITE : One of the things you mentioned—or it's in your letter—is that the government is going to strengthen the gender equity provisions of the Fair Work Act. Can somebody explain what is being proposed and what you're working on, and how you think that will assist both in narrowing the gender pay gap but also in encouraging women, or potentially men, to be carers?

Ms Wang : That's still me. I think you are right. The government has made a number of commitments, and I think the central object is to really tap into those underutilised resources, human capital and, namely, women and those with caring responsibilities. So, as outlined in the department's letter, there are a number of measures. One is to make gender equity and a secure job a new object of the Fair Work Act. Also, the government is committed to introducing statutory equal remuneration principles to help guide the way the Fair Work Commission consider pay equity cases.

The government also committed to setting up a pay equity expert panel and a care and community sector expert panel in the Fair Work Commission. Those two expert panels will be supported by a dedicated research unit, which will generate evidence and inform evidence-supported decision-making. Under the government's secure jobs agenda, the government is also committed to legislating a fair and objective test to define casual work. Those commitments are election commitments that are in addition to the two commitments that I mentioned, following the Jobs and Skills Summit.

Senator WHITE : I'll let you off the hook for the moment. Can I ask the Department of Education: what are the department's plans or strategies for addressing workforce shortages, and are there any particular programs that are in the midst of being developed in some of the key areas where women dominate?

Ms Still : Yes, there are. One of the key things that we are doing is implementing the workforce strategy that was released last year. Just recently, there was an implementation and evaluation plan—I think it was released on 5 September this year—which outlines the actions that we're going to be taking forward across all governments and the sector to address workforce shortages.

Senator WHITE : I think I'm right, Chair.

CHAIR: You're right? That was an easy answer for a very big question, wasn't it?

Ms Twyman : Senator Pocock, might I just add to that? That's in particular in relation to the early childhood workforce itself, where there are particular key challenges that we're looking at specifically because, as you'd be aware, there are a range of investments in the early childhood area at the moment and it's a key underpinning of workforce participation more broadly. It's really important that the strategies Ms Still outlined really do support the continued growth in employment in that sector, so that we are able to fulfill the growth that's going to be needed to underpin these economic challenges. The response was specifically in relation to how we're working with the early childhood workforce sector, and that covers the certificate III vocational education training, the diploma training and the work we are looking at to encourage more early childhood teachers into this space, as we develop preschool reforms, which will all be underpinning the economic post-COVID recovery.

Senator ASKEW: Thank you very much for your time today and for the evidence you have given so far. My first question—I am hoping you will be able to help me from within the Department of Education side of things—relates to teenage students who are still at school and who are caring for their parents or grandparents. Is that something you would be able to give me an insight into—what support is available to those young carers?

Ms Twyman : I think that is certainly a question for the Department of Education. We don't have the person from the schools side with us today. We're happy to take that on notice. We do have some data in relation to the chaplaincy program and the BU mental health program. I'm not sure this is fully answering your question, so it is really for information—my apologies—but I can tell you that we invest approximately $61 million annually to support the National School Chaplaincy Program, which supports the wellbeing of students who require a range of supports, and we also support the BU program, which is a national mental health program in schools that provides teachers and early learning educators with information, advice and support for young people. That is $144.6 million over seven years, from 2016-17 to 2022-23. Finally, this is complemented by the Australian Student Wellbeing Framework, which is being developed collaboratively by the jurisdictions. I'm very happy to take it on notice if you require more information from our schools colleagues.

Senator ASKEW: Thank you. If you are taking that on notice, I wouldn't mind knowing how those interrelate and the numbers of people employed through them.

Ms Twyman : Absolutely.

Senator ASKEW: Earlier, we were talking about the Launch into Work program. Could we get a little bit more information about that and how many people it is supporting?

Ms Wearne : I have a little bit of information. The Launch into Work program itself is designed to support the delivery of pre-employment projects and to prepare individuals for specific entry-level roles. Projects are co-designed with business and tailored to the needs of businesses. There is a specific focus on secure employment for women. One of the program's aims is to create long-term, secure employment for women. I understand there have been about 50 projects to date, with around 529 people supported. I will take that on notice and check how up-to-date that information is, but I think that gives you a bit of a guide.

Senator ASKEW: Does 'pre-employment project' mean they are doing training and preparation for interviews, with styling and clothes and all that sort of stuff? Is that part of that?

Ms Wearne : It's entry level, but it does provide training, work experience and mentoring to support jobseekers to prepare for roles, and that can include in the care and support workforce. It's really entry level preparation support.

Senator ASKEW: That leads me to a question. You've got the care and support workforce, and I know we've already had some questions about it. What do you think needs to be done further in that area to encourage more people into the care and support workforce? Obviously it's so undermanned at the moment, and we need to get more staff working in that area. Is there anything that's been planned already or that is coming that will increase those numbers?

Ms Wearne : There are some other activities. As my colleague mentioned earlier, there's the Local Jobs Program, which helps support jobseekers to reskill and upskill into employment. The department also runs jobs fairs which help connect people with employers, and it has run a dedicated care and support element of jobs fairs. Other things that may be relevant relate to some webinars that the department has conducted that help businesses attract and recruit workers. In partnership with the Department of Health and Aged Care, there have been three webinars to inform employers of programs and services available to them to find and prepare a suitable workforce. Coming up, in mid-October, I think, there are plans to deliver a care and support sector jobs showcase, which will target and provide information to people who are interested in finding out more about working in the sector. That will talk about the types of roles available, tips on how to apply for jobs, guest employer speakers and links to current jobs and things like that. Previous showcases have attracted over 500 attendees, but they have had a different focus, so we can provide more detail on the upcoming showcase if you need it.

Senator ASKEW: Are those showcases going nationally, or are they just in particular areas of shortage?

Ms Wearne : I understand they're in particular areas, but I could take that on notice since the relevant officers aren't here at the moment. I can get more information.

Senator ASKEW: That would be very handy. Obviously that sort of thing—the showcases—is something you would want to have in regional areas as well, because there seems to be a disproportionate rate of underemployment in those regional areas, so I would be interested to know whether that is actually happening in regional areas as well. Very good.

The national grants programs you talked about—could you give me more detail on those as well? I didn't get enough notes down at the time to actually understand exactly what they were targeted at.

Ms O'Regan : I think you're referring to the National Careers Institute Partnership Grants that I mentioned earlier.

Senator ASKEW: That was it. I didn't get that down right when I wrote it.

Ms O'Regan : It comes under the skills area, and, unfortunately, we don't have anyone from skills here with us today. All I have is what I said earlier—that there are 42 projects focusing on women out of round 3 of the program, which commenced earlier this year. The National Careers Institute is part of the skills portfolio, as I mentioned. Was there something in particular you would like more information on? We can get that to you.

Senator ASKEW: I wouldn't mind having a bit of background on the grants, what's available, what sort of dollars are available, what they're for and what the time frames are around the rounds. If we are in round 3, how much has already been granted and what outcomes have been achieved, if it's not too early for those?

Ms O'Regan : I will see what's available.

Senator ASKEW: Thank you very much. Sorry, I was trying to write notes madly before and I was missing bits out. My final area I wanted to touch on a bit more was grandparents looking after grandchildren. I notice you mentioned that that was DSS. Is there any specific support for grandparents over and above the carer allowance or carer contribution? It really is a growth area. We are seeing this increase so much across the country.

Ms Arcaro : DSS actually is responsible for the payments, but under the childcare system we have particular supports for grandparents as well on top of those payments that are through the family benefits system. One of those is the base childcare subsidy, which is the one I talked about a little bit before. It is based on income and activity levels. But we also have what's called the additional childcare subsidy, which is on top of the base rate. Grandparents can get up to 120 per cent of the hourly rate cap, which is how we calculate how much subsidy is provided to families through the CCS. That's on top of their base childcare subsidy rate, and that's particularly for grandparents looking after children. That extra subsidy is available per grandchild being looked after. So there's that component.

There are also some exemptions to the activity test available for grandparents looking after children. So, instead of having to have a particular amount of activity to receive a certain amount of childcare subsidy, grandparents can get an exemption from that also and then are able to access more hours of subsidised care irrespective of the level of activity that they're undertaking.

Senator ASKEW: I know there's been talk about a lot of grandparents saving the childcare system and whether or not there is some sort of potential payment for them. I don't know that that's ever going to happen, but are there other things that they can apply for, such as respite care or something like that? A lot of grandparents become quite elderly while they are still looking after children. I just don't know if there is any other support for them.

Ms Arcaro : That is certainly not something that I am aware of, but I suspect the Department of Social Services may be able to help you with that.

Senator ASKEW: Okay. I might save those questions for them.

Senator BRAGG: I'll take the department back to the statements it made about the return-to-work scheme. Can you remind me what that was called.

Ms O'Regan : Are you referring to Career Revive, which I mentioned earlier? That is working with employers.

Senator BRAGG: Yes. Is that a pilot or is that up and running now?

Ms O'Regan : We are not referring to it as a pilot, but it started off relatively small and has expanded over time. As I mentioned earlier, employers apply to participate in the program. They are medium to large employers. We have contracted with KPMG to deliver these services to those employers to help them review their processes, policies and workplace culture. I think I mentioned 90 businesses earlier. I might have said that was currently the number, but I have to correct that, I think. Let me just check. There might be 90 over the life of the program.

Senator BRAGG: So it is pretty small?

Ms O'Regan : It's relatively small, but, as I mentioned, these are medium to large employers and so their footprints in terms of employees would be much larger, of course.

Senator BRAGG: How are you doing that? Are you going direct to these businesses or are you working with business chambers and the like?

Ms O'Regan : I would have to take on notice whether business chambers have been involved, but, as I mentioned, there's an expression-of-interest process and so businesses apply to the department to participate and they are selected to work with the consultant to build their capability.

Senator BRAGG: From your point of view, what is the objective of the scheme? What are the measurable objectives for this scheme?

Ms O'Regan : It is one that's difficult to measure outcomes for because things like changing culture are very difficult to measure. But the objective is to support those businesses to better attract and retain women returning to the workforce after a career break. That involves changing culture and processes within an organisation. In terms of outcomes, the program has demonstrated those innovative approaches to supporting women. One of the ways we can look at what it's achieving is the way that businesses change their practices, and so we do observe that they're changing their practices. It's improved workplace facilities and culture. There are some examples of returner programs being established among those businesses. And it does take a regional focus to strengthening opportunities for women in regional areas. I think I mentioned 90 businesses; I think 30 of those are in regional areas. And we can see that businesses have developed resources to help them adopt similar actions. What we can observe is the change in practice of those businesses.

Senator BRAGG: I might get you to come back on notice with a bit more information about the cost of this scheme, what sort of engagement you're doing with business chambers, and anything else you can provide on measurable objectives, because I think it's quite an interesting idea. Can I also change tack and ask about the CCS.

Ms Arcaro : Of course.

Senator BRAGG: What is the cost of the CCS this year?

Ms Arcaro : The government is expected to spend about $10.7 billion this financial year on the CCS.

Senator BRAGG: That's it cutting out as it is currently legislated, right?

Ms Arcaro : That's correct.

Senator BRAGG: What's the projected cost under the new proposed scheme?

Ms Arcaro : As part of the election commitment, the government CCS reforms, I think $5.1 billion is what the PBO costed.

Senator BRAGG: That's in addition, isn't it?

Ms Arcaro : That's correct.

Senator BRAGG: What is the department projecting is going to be the result of these changes in terms of increased access and then participation?

Ms Arcaro : The department has been working with the Department of Treasury on that, because Treasury will be responsible for the modelling of the broader economic impacts. I can take on notice whether that can be released. But I think it's still part of government deliberations before the budget, so it may need to wait a little bit until that can come out.

Senator BRAGG: One of the challenges in this area is that we can take a narrow, short-term view and have a whinge about the issues with staffing, which is a serious issue, but over the long term I would have thought measuring these things is a more complex calculation. I guess what I'm wondering is: where is the analysis going to be undertaken on the efficiency of that spend? Everyone agrees that it's important that there is increased expenditure on this front, but is the best solution here ploughing more money through these centres, or is it going to be looking at in-home care and other things like that? I guess I'm asking you a long-winded question here, but where is the analysis going to be on the efficiency of the increased spend?

Ms Arcaro : We expect that that will be part of what the Productivity Commission will look at as it does its broad review of the sector. That's still being determined. But I think that, as part of their investigation, for want of a better word, they will look at things that will include the current system, what the new reforms will do and how the system is working broadly across all kinds of levels of government and the various programs that form part of the early childhood system.

Senator BRAGG: Am I right in saying the main programs are preschool, zero to five? Is that the main use of the CCS at the moment?

Ms Arcaro : The CCS is used up to the age of 13. There are a lot of families that have children in school care that obviously—

Senator BRAGG: I understand that, but I'm just trying to work out what the main use of funds is at the moment.

Ms Arcaro : The main users are centre based day care, which is providing the long-day-care hours.

Senator BRAGG: It's long day care for preschool, right?

Ms Arcaro : It can be preschool; that's right, but preschool is usually for four- and five-year-olds, whereas the childcare system, outside of that, is usually through centre based day care.

Senator BRAGG: Are you including after-school care in that?

Ms Arcaro : After-school care is included in the childcare subsidy bucket, if you like, because—

Sen ator BRAGG: I understand that. But are you throwing those in the same bucket or are you separating those?

Ms Arcaro : I guess I'm including them in the bucket.

Senator BRAGG: Can you give me a breakdown of the use of the CCS between before a child goes to kinder or prep, depending on which state you're in, and then the proportion of CCS that goes into after-school care and similar services?

Ms Arcaro : I'll just see if I can find that in my folder.

Senator BRAGG: You can provide it on notice if you want. I'm just trying to establish the baseline.

Ms Arcaro : I can tell you that, on average, around 59 per cent of children access centre based day care. That would be that zero to four, if you like, age group. Around 37 per cent are accessing after-school hours care, so that's probably your five- to 13-year-old group.

CHAIR: Can you repeat that statistic?

Ms Arcaro : Centre based day care is 59 per cent, and outside-of-school-hours care is 37 per cent. Then we have family day care, which is another element, which provides longer hours. It's predominantly for zero- to four-year-olds. That's seven per cent.

Senator BRAGG: Can you provide all that on notice, please?

Ms Arcaro : Yes, absolutely.

CHAIR: And those statistics—can I just check, Senator Bragg?—were for participation of cohorts in care—

Ms Arcaro : That's right.

CHAIR: That wasn't the breakdown of the budget of CCS?

Ms Arcaro : No.

CHAIR: I think Senator Bragg is interested in that as well.

Senator BRAGG: I'm keen to hear both.

Ms Arcaro : We'll take that on notice.

Senator BRAGG: I'd like to get both if that's all right. Effectively what's happening at the moment is there is going to be legislation presented to parliament which is going to expand the CCS, and parliament will have to come to a view on that, but then separately there's going to be a broader review into the CCS by the PC. Is that right?

Ms Arcaro : That's correct. The PC will look broadly at the early childhood education sector, and of course the CCS is a major component of that.

Senator BRAGG: Will the department provide the PC with the terms of reference?

Ms Arcaro : Sorry; you cut out a little bit. Are you talking about the terms of reference for the Productivity Commission?

Senator BRAGG: Yes. Will you provide input on that?

Ms Arcaro : The department is working with various agencies across the APS and with various offices about those terms of reference. They're still being determined.

Senator BRAGG: Will they look at in-home care?

Ms Arcaro : Currently the terms of reference are looking at all areas of the early education system. We expect that in-home care will be a part of that.

Senator BRAGG: That's very helpful. Thank you very much.

CHAIR: I might do some follow-up questions and then move on to a second round of questions. Thank you for the evidence you've given so far and for your willingness to take so many questions on notice. On the childcare system, what is the recommended best level of preschool—if I can use that word; I know different states use different words—for three- and four-year-olds? What's the best international practice in terms of hours of participation?

Ms Still : Currently the Australian government provides funding to states and territories for 15 hours of preschool per week, which equates to 600 hours over the year. That's for children attending preschool in the year before they start formal schooling. You might have seen that New South Wales and Victoria have made some recent announcements on what they're looking to do in investing, and they are also considering expanding that to 30 hours. But primarily the role that the Australian government plays is to provide that funding for the year before formal schooling, and that is for the 15 hours a week, which equates to 600 hours over the year.

CHAIR: And, if you could answer my question: what's international best practice? What does the research tell us a child of three or four benefits from in terms of preschool?

Ms Still : I think international best practice would say that—and my colleague might be able to provide a bit more detail—in terms of providing tangible outcomes, it's important that as many children attend and have access to preschool, certainly for four-year-olds. Let me see if I can find some more detail, but I believe the best-practice evidence would also suggest that the more hours that a child can attend will provide them with the best educational pathway through into early learning. Let me check whether I can find any more detail.

Ms Twyman : I might build on that, too. We know that preschool has particular importance for children from disadvantaged families and children who have suffered disadvantage. A number of the states are introducing three-year-old preschool. The Commonwealth is still funding the four-year-old preschool. Part of the measures that we're introducing as part of the Preschool Reform Agreement—and we're in negotiations at the current time with states and territories for an agreement from 2022 to 2025—involves looking at trying to define an outcomes measure so we actually get to know what is the right dosage at the right age for these children to be attending.

International evidence has suggested that the earlier you can get children into play based learning, particularly disadvantaged children, the more they can reap benefits in the longer term. That goes to the benefits of access to a high quality preschool, which provides benefits in terms of greater educational outcomes and less access to more of the support services in later life. So we know it has benefits. We're certainly trying to get the year before full-time school right, so we're working with states and territories on what the outcomes can look like, so we have a body of information in Australia that can tell us what is best for Australian children. As we look overseas, we're looking at OECD figures et cetera around what works for disadvantaged children, what works for children aged three and what works in play based learning. We're looking at that now. We're also working with the states and territories, in preschool, looking at not just enrolment, which was previously the universal access, but on attendance. So, in other words, it's dosage, it's not just around, you may be enrolled for a day or two, but you actually attend, and that's how we're trying to look at the outcomes measurement. So it's a work in progress, is a long way of answering your question, but we're looking to international precedents as well.

CHAIR: I'm intrigued by your use of the word 'dosage' as a description of preschool. It's a funny, interesting way of referring to any form of education, but I understand your point.

Ms Twyman : I found it that way, too, originally. It's come into the language, probably from the health profession. We are working very closely with a team of experts on the outcomes measure in preschool. They have been appointed to provide advice to Minister Aly, and we have a range of experts on there. Some of them are from the health profession. It's around what is the right dosage, the right amount of time. So, I think we might be hearing a bit more about that too.

CHAIR: We're going to be hearing from carers and parents, and there's some evidence in submissions we're receiving about the interface between preschool and other care—whether it's care by grandparents, but especially care in a long-day-care setting. It's a very painful and poorly functioning interface, in my personal experience, which was many years ago. What would be your assessment about how well we're supporting working carers who need more than four hours preschool for the care of their children?

Ms Twyman : I'd probably need to take that on notice, and have DSS colleagues involved in that conversation because of their awareness of the caring programs. Certainly, one of the issues that have been raised with us is the interface between the play based scenario, where parents can stay with their children—before the children actually enter the education system where parents don't stay; it's often called the soft entry point—and then the preschool or more formal childcare environment. It's often been stated that we do need to ensure that those linkages are strengthened so that parents have that trajectory as well. But I would need to take on notice the carers programs per se.

CHAIR: How would you characterise the Australian spend on early childhood education and care? How do we compare as a nation with trading partners, say, in the OECD?

Ms Still : I think we'll have to take that question on notice.

CHAIR: I'm very interested in the detail of that, the rankings internationally and perhaps some information on how we're tracking over time. Are we improving up the rankings or not? Are we falling down? And how does our spend compare in terms of its character as well—how we spend it across the ages?

I'm wondering how you would characterise the relationship between the states and the national government in this area. It's grown like Topsy, if I can put it like that, hasn't it? States have very different arrangements, and we have parents managing things very differently in different parts of our country. What's your view on the relationship of cooperation, or not, between the states and the Commonwealth, and are we managing this well as a country?

Ms Still : I think the primary role for the Australian government is to assist with the funding. It's a responsibility of state and territory governments to deliver on preschool, and schooling outcomes as well. I think it's fair to say that we work very well with the states and territories. We collaborate strongly with them to ensure that the money that is collectively provided to the system addresses some of the key reforms that we're trying to achieve through the Preschool Reform Agreement in this context, particularly around attendance and outcomes, and understanding the benefit of preschool for children and their readiness to attend school. So I think the assessment is that we work very strongly with the states and territories. I'm sure we can always do better, but that's a key role for us—to work collaboratively with them, and there are a number of formal governance mechanisms that we use in order to have formal discussions and then, obviously, to work informally multilaterally and bilaterally with the states and territories.

Ms Twyman : Just to add to that, Senator, you may recall that there was a communique from the National Cabinet at their meeting on 31 August which is seeking a national vision. I think your comment is quite right; there are a plethora of and myriad funding arrangements. We've recently heard from New South Wales and Victoria about their significant announcements. I think what National Cabinet has agreed to do is ensure that we bring this together in a coordinated way. We have a body, the EMM, the Education Ministers Meeting, which will be thrashing out some of this to make sure that we are coordinated—in particular, focusing on how we address those workforce shortages that we talked about earlier in the early childhood education and care field to ensure that that underpins the vision appropriately. We're looking forward to that work.

CHAIR: I wonder if we could come to the pandemic—and I'll come to your assessment also, Employment and Workplace Relations, of what the lessons from the pandemic might be for employment. But, in the childcare sector, we had a very interesting experiment for three months, or thereabouts, of free child care. I wonder what your reflections are on that, on what we learned, and what analysis you have done.

Ms Arcaro : It's probably fair to say that the pandemic affected women predominantly, more than men, just because of the type of work they have and the fact that they usually are the predominant carers in an arrangement. So we know that it was affecting them. The government in 2020—a little bit before my time at Education—introduced what was effectively free child care for a couple of months. The intent of that policy was to support the viability of the sector, because a lot of parents weren't sending their children to care—they were being asked not to by state governments asking them to stay at home, particularly in Victoria. So the idea was to maintain the sector, to make sure that people weren't leaving the childcare workforce, effectively. The government provided additional support for the sector during that time. The way that the childcare subsidy works is that unless providers charge families what we call the 'gap fee' they're unable to claim the subsidy from the government, so if those providers were not charging families then they wouldn't have earned any income at all through that time. So the government basically kept providing the subsidy to providers, allowing those parents that were essential workers to use and access the childcare system and allowing those services to maintain that.

Some of the things that we've learned out of that were: most providers did see a significant drop in the number of children attending, despite the fact that child care effectively was free. I think that was mostly because of, obviously, the requirements that were being put in by the states and the fact that it was really mostly for essential workers, rather than for all parents, to use. But we've had some anecdotal evidence that some parents used more child care during that time because they didn't have to deal with the administration side of things, which can sometimes be a little bit complex for some families. Those families that were already in the system either kept using that amount or used less. We didn't see a huge increase in the usage of child care during that time, despite what you'd almost assume to happen because parents were looking after children a lot more.

CHAIR: I'm interested in that issue of administration—the load on households. I understand the research tells us that much of that falls to women, and there's quite a lot of it, in managing household arrangements. Is that your perception—that some households do find that onerous and it is a level of work that's required?

Ms Arcaro : I think it's just another thing families have to deal with. But once you're in the system, it's actually quite streamlined and quite simple. The providers generally deal with the CCS element. Families are obviously provided with reports and accounts and things like that. Most things are done electronically. Certainly, most families don't have to physically do anything week on week to actually access the system. But it is something else to deal with, and—as a parent and a mother—that usually does fall to the women.

CHAIR: To the Department of Employment and Workplace Relations: I wonder what your reflections are on the lessons of the pandemic for work and for care.

Ms O'Regan : I can probably make some introductory remarks and then see if others can contribute. As I think is well understood, women were disproportionately affected by the COVID pandemic. We saw a large fall in the labour force participation of women, especially in those early months when there was a very rapid switch to homeschooling. I should say that the impact across the sectors was quite varied. We had sectors like accommodation and food that were acutely hit by the lockdowns, and women are disproportionately employed in those sectors. We did, though, see strong recovery in sectors like health care and social assistance. You might recall as well that there was strong growth in retail sectors like supermarkets, so some sectors were growing and some were very strongly affected. But overall, for women, labour force outcomes bounced back rapidly. We now have relatively strong labour market conditions, of course, and the participation rate for women is just off near-record highs. We have the female participation rate currently at 62.3 per cent, which is still well below the male participation rate of 71 per cent, as at August 2022. But that participation rate for women of 62.3 per cent is only slightly lower than the record high of 62.5 per cent in June 2022.

In terms of our programs, many of them were quite disrupted by lockdowns. It made it very difficult to deliver the sort of assistance to jobseekers, for example, that we would normally deliver. I think the government priority at the time was making sure people were connected quickly to income support, so DSS might have some reflections on that. They might also have some reflections on things like domestic violence and the impact of lockdowns on women in that regard.

Ms Wang : In the workplace, we witnessed the pandemic really test the workplace relations framework on many fronts. Focusing on the particular work and care element: there were new flexibilities that needed to be injected into the systems during the pandemic. One example, I would say, is the span of the hours in some of the awards that may restrict the employee's work and care for their child at home. There were temporary variations made to awards to change the span of hours to allow employees to choose to work outside of ordinary hours, to balance their care needs when their child is home schooling. That is a most prominent example of how the pandemic can test the work flexibility in the WR systems. I will see whether my colleague Ms Wettinger has some stats on how the pandemic shaped some of the forms of employment.

Ms Wettinger : Just to add to what my colleagues have already outlined: during the pandemic we saw that casuals were disproportionately impacted as a result of COVID. As we know, more than 50 per cent of casual employees are women. We saw a decline of almost 500,000 female workers during the first few months of the pandemic, compared to around the 400,000 mark for men. As my colleague has outlined, we have seen a good bounce back, but, in those first few months, the type of work that women are predominantly in—that casual work—was impacted the most.

CHAIR: Can I follow up on that. There's been quite a bit of discussion about the expanded boundaries of work for people who worked at home. It's often a flexibility thing that workers welcome, but on the other hand work can grow its tentacles into your home and expand the hours of work. What are your reflections on that? Is there evidence on that? Do we have any evidence or analysis about working from home and how that is changing as the pandemic effects recede?

Ms Wang : I might take the details on notice, but I'm aware the PC has done some studies into work from home and that impact. As you said, it provides flexibilities to the employees but at the same time it might have a detrimental effect on the work-and-life balance. I can take that on notice, particularly about the PC's studies on that.

CHAIR: Thank you.

Senator WHITE: I'm certainly interested in work from home and whether or not there are studies about whether that does increase flexibility and participation rates. If there are any studies that you've seen in relation to that, I am interested to see whether that would increase participation rates.

On the COVID experience: have you seen any studies or anything that indicates there was an increase in access to carers leave or flexible work arrangements during that time? You talked about the award changes that were made about hours, but I am unsure as to whether that was accessed as much as you might think; you had to register in a number of awards to show that you accessed that. I don't think it was a high level of access, but I'm happy to be corrected. Have you got any other evidence about access to carers leave in those arrangements? Have you seen anything through that?

Ms Wang : Not that I'm aware of. As with all national employment standards, there is no requirement for the employee or employer to record the utilisation of the entitlements. Just anecdotally, I would think there would be higher access to the personal and carer leave categories, because of the nature of a pandemic—people who contract this virus and need to care for a child during an unexpected school closure, for example. They all would be, generally, permissible occasions for people to use that leave category. But I haven't seen any official statistics that record the access of those leave categories.

I might add, in the Fair Work Commission's report, in terms of flexible work arrangements, are the legislated statutory provisions, but also there might be informal arrangements made between employers and employees to make temporary or permanent workplace arrangements, and that wouldn't be recorded either. I'll take it on notice, to see what I can find, particularly the stats in the last two years and compare them to the historical trend, to see what we can infer from those observations.

Senator WHITE: Maybe it's anecdotal but there seems to have been a shift towards working from home; it seems to have been easier. Do you think there's a case for having standard provisions for working from home, under the flexibility provisions in the Fair Work Act? There's nothing there at the moment.

Ms Wang : I'm certainly aware of those suggestions. In terms of the how the current provision works, and I will confirm with my legal colleagues, my understanding of the provision for a flexible working arrangement doesn't restrict what type of arrangement it is. So if people make a request to work from home, that could well fall under this provision. But, you are right, there is no separate and specific right or entitlement, currently in the act, in relation to work from home.

Senator WHITE: It brings up all those other issues, that I think the chair has raised, about who bears the risk, occupational health and safety and a whole lot of things that people did on the fly, but if it increases workforce participation I'm sure those issues can be worked around. I'd be interested to see if the predominance of working from home has increased significantly and whether or not that would increase participation and the ability to care.

I want to ask the Department of Education: do you think that maybe taking JobKeeper away from childcare workers in July 2020 might have had something to do with the increasing of shortages of workers in child care? They were one of the first groups—

CHAIR: Yes, the first.

Senator WHITE: In fact, they were the first group to lose JobKeeper. I heard what you said—maybe I'm going to answer my own question—in relation to the subsidy of employers. That was what the policy was designed for, but wasn't the taking of JobKeeper away from childcare workers designed to discourage them from being in the sector?

Ms Twyman : I'll have a go at that one. It's certainly not appropriate for me to give an opinion on a government policy as a public servant. Certainly, that is factual, that it was changed. So far as I understand it, and I will defer to my colleague Ms Arcaro, there were arrangements put in place for the support for our services, during that COVID time, that did encompass support for their workforce as well.

Ms Arcaro : I can take this on notice and confirm, but my recollection is that as part of the ability to claim or get the CCS, during that time of free child care, providers had to commit to not lose staff.

Ms Twyman : That's right.

Ms Arcaro : So it was a bit of a—but the payment was almost to encourage providers to continue to pay wages and to support the sector during that time. That was the rationale, is my understanding, but we can take that on notice.

Ms Twyman : We will certainly get more details on that.

Senator WHITE: Why don't we find out how that went, then, taking money away from people and subsidising their wages? Did that help them stay? I'd be interested to see if that was a pivotal point in the decline of participation.

Ms Twyman : We'll take that on notice to get you the exact details of how that payment process works. My apologies, Ms Arcaro. You weren't in the department at that stage. But it was very much part of the workforce issue. We will take that one on notice.

Senator WHITE: Thanks. Perhaps I'll ask the other department: was there a decline in female participation in those other industries that didn't receive JobKeeper during the COVID period of time? I am thinking of universities and the way in which casuals participated. Have there been any studies in relation to what happened to the women workers in those areas because they didn't get JobKeeper?

Ms Wang : Questions on the eligibility for JobKeeper and also the utilisation of JobKeeper would probably be most appropriately directed to Treasury, who managed the JobKeeper payments.

Senator WHITE: Sure, but you look at participation rates and who does what jobs. My question is: was there any correlation between the decrease in participation rates and areas where women were unable to access payments?

Ms O'Regan : We could take on notice to provide a sectoral break down of the employment numbers from our National Skills Commission colleagues, but I think it would be difficult to attribute cause and effect. But we could certainly provide an indication of the employment trends over that period in those sectors.

Senator WHIT E: Part of what we're doing is looking at what happened during COVID and whether there were workforce shifts. There was more than one thing going on. There was COVID, clearly. There was working from home. There were industries that couldn't go on. There were job subsidies. There were a whole lot of things. I am not saying one is definitive. But it would be interesting to see if there is any correlation to whether people got JobKeeper or not.

Ms Wang : To clarify, would the employment figures by industry and by employment and form of employment assist? Would the breakdown of full time and part time assist?

Ms O'Regan : We can see what level of detail is available. Once you split it by sector, it might be hard to do form of employment as well, but we can see what's available in terms of those trends.

Senator WHITE: Thanks.

CHAIR: Just picking up on a point arising from your questions, Senator White, the French have a law, as I understand it, on the right to disconnect. Some enterprise agreements in Australia also have that provision now. I think the Victorian police have a provision like this in their enterprise agreement. I hope I have that right. I am wondering what your view is. It's about the right of a worker to turn off their technology when they're outside their formal hours of work. It's to deal with that boundary question. It might even be relevant for some public servants in the room—who knows? I just wonder what your view is about a possible legislative reform which would give some protection, if we're going to work more flexibly, that allows people to disconnect in order to be effective carers. Of course, it's very relevant for many men and fathers who do long hours.

Ms Wang : I am not here to express my views on certain policies. All I will say is that I am certainly aware of those international practices and the legislation frameworks and aware of the relevance of that in the current labour market and as the workplace evolves. Making relevant amendments about that is a matter for the government. But I think it is a relevant topic and we are considering it.

CHAIR: Great. Have you done any analysis on such a provision and how it might work in the Australian context?

Ms Wang : We do monitor, as I said, the flexibility required of people in when they work, how long they work and whether they were available to work. They are all interrelated topics. I will refer to the answer I just provided. It's all part of the contextual things we need to take into account to develop policies and legislation. It could be right to disconnect or provide more flexibilities, but we need to keep it balanced.

CHAIR: When we think about gender roles in Australian society and the low level of participation, for example, of most Australian fathers in taking paid parental leave, we often focus on men and paid parental leave, but I think hours of work are also very significant in the Australian context, with a proportion of Australian men doing long hours. Could you tell us, or provide us with an analysis of, the hours of work worked by men and women—particularly, focusing on men who do longer hours—so we can see what that proportion is like and how it is tracking over time, because it certainly impacts on who does the domestic work and the care at home.

Ms Wang : I might see whether my colleague has the data here, but there are ABS publications that we can use to estimate the average hours men and women work.

Ms Wettinger : I will need to take that one on notice to get that specific dataset for you.

CHAIR: Terrific.

Ms Wang : Maybe my recollection of the data is a few years out of date, but my recollection is: full-time male employees probably work, on average, four hours more than female full-time employees. But, as I said, my recollection may be a few years out of date, and we will get the latest figure for you.

CHAIR: I would be very interested in receiving that. I think it's an issue for us to think about, as a committee, and part of that analysis, if it's available, might separate paid long hours of work from unpaid—that would be of interest to us also, I suspect.

You're approaching the last lap, so thank you for sticking with it; it's a long session. Could you also tell us how enterprise bargaining has enabled dealing with work and care challenges for Australian workers. We heard at the Jobs and Skills Summit that, I think, only 11 per cent of the workforce is now covered by enterprise agreements. But have they facilitated, in terms of their provisions on work and family, the reconciliation of work and care for Australian workers, or have they not?

Ms Wang : I'll see whether my colleague has any figures about the enterprise coverage.

Ms Wettinger : Just to clarify: we know that around 14.7 per cent of employees are covered on current, not expired, enterprise agreements. In terms of the reflection on provisions to reflect work and care, I won't have that level of granularity right now but I'm very happy to take that on notice.

CHAIR: Thank you. We look forward to receiving that, and also, perhaps, a bit of an indication of how that's changed over time. The nature of agreements has probably changed quite a bit in recent years. So that would be useful. Ms Wettinger, you mentioned casual workers before, and their access, and how gendered that form of work is. I think it might be useful for the committee to have an analysis of the availability of leave across the Australian workforce—personal and carers leave, and access to paid parental leave, which varies according to your form of employment. I think that would be useful to have—by gender, if possible.

Ms Wettinger : Yes, sure. Absolutely, we can do that.

Ms Wang : Just to clarify: you're after the utilisation of those leaves by gender, or the legislative entitlements?

CHAIR: I think we understand the legislative entitlements. It's whether they are available—what proportion of the workforce, for example, has access to personal and carers leave, to paid parental leave, to unpaid carers leave and so on. We have submissions before us, for example, arguing that Australian workers might be benefited by separating carers leave from personal leave. So it would be very useful for us, as background to considering that, to know the incidence of the availability of that leave. And whether it's used or not would also be useful, if you're able to help with that.

Ms Wang : We will see what the data is able to provide, to inform those questions.

CHAIR: Thank you very much. You're going away with a long list of possible responses which we will be eager to receive. Well, I can't let go without one more question, and that's around programs. Many years ago we had quite active programs to assist women to participate in the labour market. I am thinking of the JET program, for example, many years ago in the 1990s, I understand. It was very active, supportive, educational childcare and work participation program. It was probably relatively expensive per person, but did have, as I remember from the evaluations, a real impact on the participation of women. I am curious about whether you have any evaluation or any intentions around improving or growing that kind of program.

The other thing I am interested in, given the expansion we're expecting in transition employment as we decarbonise, is whether there is any effort to set targets or to encourage the participation of women in those kinds of growth, skills and employment opportunities. There was some discussion about that in this room by the National Electrical Contractors Association in relation to the Jobs and Skills Australia Bill. He made the point that women who do apprenticeships often come into it older, in their mid-20s, to take on that kind of training. We need gateways and support if we're really going to lift from the current one or two per cent of electricians, for example, that are women in Australia. What efforts have you afoot on programs that help make those things happen?

Ms O'Regan : Firstly, I am aware of the JET program, but I would have to take on notice more detail about it and whether there's any evaluation evidence available. I'm happy to provide that to the committee. On the second one, about decarbonising, that might be a question best directed to the department of industry. However, I think my skills colleagues have provided information about a women in STEM program which might be relevant. There is a Women in STEM Cadetships and Advanced Apprenticeships Program, I believe, which supports women working in paid employment to undertake higher education study in a STEM field at a cost of $25.1 million from 2021 to 2024-25. I am aware of that one. I don't know if we have anything else.

Ms W earne : This is something for the skills area, but there is a new energy apprenticeships program. I don't have any detail at hand, but we could get some information on that. There are some additional fee-free TAFE places which have been announced recently. They give priority to young people, people out of work and unpaid carers, and provide a pathway to enter the workforce or to upskill. There are programs like that which our skills colleagues are responsible for, but we could get more information, if you need that.

CHAIR: Thank you so much. I think we are ready to liberate you. Thank you so much for your evidence and for your time and for the time that you are going to give us in the future by responding to the questions that we have. I am sure all senators join me in thanking you for your appearance. We look forward to getting answers to questions on notice, hopefully, by 29 September 2022, in a few weeks. I most sincerely thank you for your efforts in coming here and giving us your time.

Proceedings s uspended from 10 : 13 to 10 : 39