MONDAY, 6 JUNE 2016
SUBJECT/S: Addressing the child care squeeze; Labor’s positive policies; Election 2016; CFA; Wages for child care workers; Turnbull dodging Sky People’s Forum
JENNY MACKLIN, SHADOW MINISTER FOR FAMILIES AND PAYMENTS, SHADOW MINISTER FOR DISABILITY REFORM: Thanks everyone for joining us here today at the Ivanhoe Children’s Co-op. First of all, I want to thank Melinda and all of the staff for having us here today. This is a wonderful children's co-op. Thank you so much Melinda for the way in which you do so much for the children in our area and have done for so many years. I also want to thank all the parents, especially those on the parent committee. Rick has just had to go off to work but I do want to publicly thank all of the parents who make this co-op such a fantastic place. It's great to have Bill Shorten and Kate Ellis here with us today to continue to show Labor's commitment to making sure that parents can find and afford a child care place. This wonderful co-op here in Ivanhoe has a three year waiting list. Yes, it's a great service but of course, what this demonstrates is that we need more great child care centres in our area and in other parts of Australia. And that's why I'm so pleased that Bill Shorten and Kate Ellis have come here today to make this very important announcement. Thank you, Bill.
BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Thanks, Jenny. Good morning everybody and it's great to be here with two of Labor's child care champions, Kate Ellis and Jenny Macklin. And it's great to be able to announce that Labor's plan for child care will make child care more affordable and more accessible for Australian families. Quality child care, affordable child care, accessible child care, is a game changer. It's a game changer for families. It's a game changer for children. It's a game changer for the Australian economy. When more parents are able to participate in work, particularly women, are able to participate in work, and be able to make sure their kids are in quality child care where they can find a place and it's affordable, then this is a game changer for the Australian economy. Labor yesterday announced we would improve, the pressure on the cost of child care, that we woul d make it better by improving the benefit and the rebate. And today we're addressing the other big issue in child care which is finding a place, waiting lists. Today I'm pleased to announce that over the next three years Labor will put in extra money, $100 million, which will provide literally thousands of extra places in areas where there are high demands. Everybody knows that if you can't find a place for your child, that becomes the big issue, as opposed to even just cost and the quality of child care. But Labor's got a package of measures on child care because we think it is fundamentally important for working parents, for working mums, and also for the Australian economy because an investment in child care is an investment in the Australian economy. I'd now like to get Kate to talk about our announcement with regard to out-of-hours school care and also our child care waiting list programs. Thank you.
KATE ELLIS, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EDUCATION, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EARLY CHILDHOOD: Thank you so much, Bill and thank you Jenny. It's wonderful to be here today and to add on to yesterday's announcement about delivering affordability assistance for Australian families when they need it from 1 January next year, in stark contrast to this Government who have gone years and years without delivering a thing. We also know that the issue about accessibility has been left on the sidelines, completely ignored by this Government, who even if their child care reform package comes into effect finally in two years' time, still offers absolutely nothing to address accessibility and waiting lists. Now let's be clear. This is something that Australian parents are grappling with across the country. This is something that is affecting right now today people's ability to return to work. But this is also something which add s to the inflationary nature of child care fees. It is simple supply and demand. We know that if there are not enough places, then there is pressure on fees to increase. Labor has a plan to address that. What we're announcing here today is an investment of $100 million to expand services and add new places in areas of very high need. We've already heard that the service we meet in today, this fantastic service in Ivanhoe, has a three year waiting list. What that means in practice is that when a parent calls to ask if there is a place for their child, they're told there might be a place for the next child that is born for that family. Now clearly that is not good enough for Australian families. Labor will invest in the areas and neighbourhoods that need it in ensuring the places are there for families to access and to return to work.
But I want to turn to another forgotten part of the child care sector, and that is outside school hours care. If you actually have a look at what is acting as one of the biggest barriers against workforce participation, it's a lack of places when it comes to outside school hours care. There are many parents who are seeking to return to the workforce but as a result of the fact that there are no places for their children after the school bell goes, they are having to turn down job offers and opportunities. That is because we know that the Australian workforce today doesn't finish when the school bell rings at three o'clock. That is why we need to invest in outside school hours care. Today we're announcing a plan to expand up to 1,200 outside school hour care places across Australia to establish thousands of additional places, so that we know thousands of additional parents can return to the workforce. These are all very im portant measures. We are very proud they are part of our positive plan for child care, that they build on the announcements we made yesterday to increase affordability through the increased child care rebate cap and increase to the child care benefit. I also want to reiterate one part of yesterday's announcement which is incredibly important when it comes to affordability in this country. Let's be clear that the Government have absolutely no plan to limit the out-of-pocket costs of Australian parents. Even if their reform package, which has been a mirage for years and years, one day comes to fruition, there is nothing in it to limit the out-of-pocket costs for Australian parents. Well Labor knows that we need to make sure that taxpayer dollars are going towards assisting Australian families, not into boosting the profits of our child care providers. That's why yesterday we announced new measures to put downward pressure on child care fees. Just quickly to run through all of this, this includes mandatory fee reporting. It also includes independent price monitoring. We will be asking the ACCC to look at monitoring our prices so that we can ensure that we can see any unjustified price increases and any price gouging that occurs within the sector. To add to this, there will be new investigation and compliance powers given to the Department of Education. What this means is that when we see unjustified price increases, there will be consequences and there will be compliance actions and those actions can be as severe as cutting a child care service's government assistance altogether. We also know that parents want transparency and accountability and we will also be establishing a new complaints hotline. Only Labor will act to put downward pressure on fees and ensure that parents are accessing more affordable child care. We’re not just limiting the amount government invests in the sector. We’re very proud of a ll of these announcements, particularly the announcements today on waiting lists and outside school hours care.
SHORTEN: Thanks, Kate. Are there any questions?
JOURNALIST: You say today's announcement is a re-allocation of existing money. What is the Government currently spending this money on?
SHORTEN: Well when you look at the total Budget, Labor has decided to prioritise child care amongst the mix of our policies if we are elected. In the last year, the Opposition I lead has torn up the conventional small target approach, and we've outlined our savings and improvements to the bottom line of the Budget. I think the latest count is we have outlined over $170 billion worth of improvements to the bottom line over the next 10 years and from within that, the priorities and decisions we have made, we've chosen to make child care a priority. A high priority. I actually think any responsible government in Australia should regard child care, the provision of affordable, fair, quality child care as a matter of high priority. Labor's doing this because we understand that if we can give working parents, working mums, the opportunity to be able to afford child care rather than having to make the choice of work ing or being able to afford child care, we want to make sure people are able to participate in this economy. We also want to tackle the real problem of waiting lists. If you talk to parents across this country, especially in areas of high demand, the waiting list is as big a problem as the price of child care for many parents. This is just who we are. We are backing in child care because we think an investment in child care is an investment in the future of this country.
JOURNALIST: If the waiting lists are as long as you say they are, a crisis around the country as you say it is, how will an average of $300,000 per centre fix that crisis?
SHORTEN: Well, it is a crisis and you look at areas of high demand and you see the long waiting lists. It is a problem. The Productivity Commission's estimated waiting lists in places are well in excess of 100,000 places - the waiting lists are going to grow over the next 10 years. So what we are doing is we are providing sensible support to approximately 300 centres which will provide thousands of extra places. I might get Kate to further expand on how we deal with it.
ELLIS: It's important to know that occupancy rates in child care centres around Australia are patchy. At the same time where we have suburbs with waiting lists that go for years and years, we have other parts of Australia are operating with low occupancy rates, some as low as 40 per cent. So this isn't an issue for every community and every neighbourhood, but the communities and neighbourhoods that it is hitting, it is hitting hard. And that's why Labor has said we will direct these funds only towards those areas where there is very high need that is not currently being met. We know that today's announcement will ensure that we have thousands of additional places and those places are located where the waiting lists are currently the longest and where supply is not meeting demand.
JOURNALIST: What's your advice to anyone thinking about voting for the Greens and Independents? And will you negotiate at least with whoever holds the balance of power if there is a hung Parliament?
SHORTEN: Sorry the first part of your question?
JOURNALIST: What's your advice to people considering a protest vote for the Greens?
SHORTEN: Don't do it. Vote Labor. Labor's got the best policies. If you care about the environment, Labor's got proper policies for climate change. If you care about the education of our young, Labor's got funded policies for schools, TAFEs, universities, and now we are outlining child care. If you care about real action in terms of the NBN, Labor will outline its policies in coming weeks to make sure we have better internet speeds and access for more Australian households. If you care about defending Medicare, then you should vote Labor. We’re the party that has outlined tackling the real issues around the rebate, making sure that we protect bulk billing, that we will disband the taskforce to privatise parts of Medicare. If you care about the quality and direction of this country, I wouldn't vote for a political party who can't form a government, I'd vote Labor. In terms of the sec ond part of your question, Labor is in this election to win it. We've still got the best part of four weeks to go. As I travel around the country, when I talk about our positive policies, every day the feeling gets better and better about Labor's positive plans. They are starting to have a hard look at the Liberal Party. Their case for re-election is they've done nothing for a thousand days and they'd like another thousand days to carry out cuts and meanness to the Australian way of life. Mr Turnbull is proposing as his only economic plan, or his latest economic plan, is some extravagant tax give-away to the big end of town. Remember, Mr Turnbull has had three economic plans in this election so far. A 15 per cent GST. He's parked that for the time being. He had the proposal to allow state governments to levy income taxes. He's parked that for the time being. Now he's having another crack at his economic plan which is to give away a lot of money th e Budget can't afford to big banks and large corporations who don't need this at this point in time, when we need Medicare, schools and child care properly funded.
JOURNALIST: The CFA were protesting yesterday and they say they are not being listened to. Why weren't you at the rally?
SHORTEN: First of all, I have the highest regard for both our volunteer firefighters and our professional firefighters. The issue about working through the EBA, or industrial relations framework, for the CFA professional firefighters is a state issue. Of course we expect, and I would hope Premier Andrews consults the volunteer firefighters, just as they've been working with the professional firefighters. But it is a state issue. Much like the industrial arrangements are for police and for other matters, and I would expect the State Government to bring the parties together. You know, Mr Turnbull's turned up at a rally and he's said he's going to fix it by changing the Fair Work Act. He needs to explain how he will do this. I think it's really the fact that he's causing more trouble where there's already enough trouble existing at the moment.
JOURNALIST: You say you can afford these child care changes. The Government insists you can't. Australians can't make a meaningful judgement on that until we see Labor's costings. On what date in this campaign will Labor make public its costings and if you can't tell us that, why shouldn't we believe you're just delaying it to prevent scrutiny of these costings until late in the campaign?
SHORTEN: Tim, I don't accept the assumption of your question. The Opposition I lead, the united Opposition I lead, has changed the rules of political debate in this country over the last 12 months by putting forward our positive policies and explaining where we would make saves. Now there's another four weeks to go in this election. So we haven't unveiled all our policies. When we've unveiled all of our policies, at that point we will then outline our final costings and measures. Let's not air brush what happened before the calling of this election. History didn't start on the day that Mr Turnbull called the election. It's been unfolding ever since he became the Prime Minister. In the same time that he's wandered across the paddock with GST increases, with proposals now for a corporate tax splash, Labor's been outlining how we will improve the bottom line. And I'm happy to remind, yet again, $32 billion saved by winding back unsustainable tax concessions to negative gearing and capital gains tax discount. $50 billion saved by not passing over a truck load of Budget money to large corporations. $17 billion saved by not proceeding with a tax cut for people who earn a million dollars a year. The Emissions Reduction Fund, Mr Abbott's climate sceptic dream, we are going to save money there, billions of dollars, by not proceeding with that. We've said we will stop the rorts in vocational education. Billions of dollars there. It’s Labor that has led the debate on making multinationals pay their fair share. It's Labor who's led the debate about improving the sustainability of our superannuation tax concession system. That saves billions of dollars. Labor has done what the Government's shown it can't do. We've put forward an alternative economic approach and at the core of our measures, we're investing in education because that invests in the economy. We are investing in infrastructure because that invests in the economy. We are investing in child care because that invests in the economy. We are investing in the environment by taking real action on climate change. Labor has got its policies well and truly lined up. And you know, hold on to your hats because the next four weeks you will see more positive policies which make a practical difference in the lives of all Australians.
JOURNALIST: Yesterday you said when you announced the original child care policy that men in Australia rely on the women in Australia to do the child care and organise the child care. Is that comment not sexist? And do you regret making those comments?
SHORTEN: Thanks for asking the question. Men are stepping up in terms of child care. In this centre you will have noticed as you walk around, dads here absolutely pulling their weight. But the fact of the matter is that the burden of child care falls disproportionately on working mums. And what Labor wants to do is make sure a government is backing up working parents in Australia and backing up working mums, full stop.
JOURNALIST: The latest polls you've lost - Labor has lost its lead over the Coalition. You still continue to trail Malcolm Turnbull as preferred Prime Minister. You say you've got positive policies but are you worried these aren't getting reflected to the Australian people?
SHORTEN: I think the record reflects in the last number of months that Australians are listening to Labor's positive policies. I'm enjoying this campaign. I didn't ask Mr Turnbull to call an eight-week campaign, but Labor has been ready for this election, we've been working on our policies. The truth of the matter is Labor has positive plans on child care. That's what we are talking about today. More affordable, delivered faster, better quality. That's the Labor Party. We are supporting working parents and working mums in this country in terms of child care. I'm enjoying that in the first week we were able to outline our schools and education policies. I like the fact we've been standing staunchly to defend Medicare, this election is a referendum on Medicare and we're standing up for the GPs, standing up for bulk-billing, we're standing up for a lower price of prescription med icine. As Australians get to hear our positive policies, they are increasingly responding positively. They want a choice. And what we're giving them is a choice of priorities. We choose child care, we choose Medicare, we choose education, we choose infrastructure, we choose public transport, we choose a proper NBN. Mr Turnbull? He chooses high income earners, he chooses large banks, he chooses to give away budget money to overseas companies. It's all a matter of priorities.
JOURNALIST: You said there would be a submission to the Fair Work Commission to support fair wages. How big an increase? Won't that flow into higher fees?
SHORTEN: Kate will answer that question in detail, but I want to put on the record that Labor supports the work of our child care workers. They are the early years educators. Really, the child care workers are the first people that families entrust their kids to when they leave home. So we think they are an important part of our workforce and haven't been sufficiently valued. And I'll get Kate to talk a little more about it.
ELLIS: Thank you, Bill. The reality is, is that it's up to the independent umpire to determine wage levels in this country and in this sector. And we're certainly not proposing to intervene on that. What we are saying is we would provide a supporting submission. In determining any wage case, and your question about the flow-on effects that has on fees, there is a wage case that is already under way regardless of the Government's support or otherwise, this is already proceeding and it will go through the course. But I think it's really to know, one, we value early childhood professionals and the job they do. And two, there is a significant workforce issue in this sector, where we see huge rates of staff turnover. Now that is an issue for the individual workers but it's also an issue for Australian parents. Because I can tell you, you can go out the front of this or any other centre and talk to the pare nts who are dropping their children off in the morning, they want to leave their children with somebody they know and trust and have built a relationship with. It does not assist anyone if we have workforce issues which are just encouraging churn and ensuring when parents drop their child off, they're putting them into the arms of a different stranger every few weeks. That's not the solution for the workforce. That's not the solution for Australian parents and it is not the solution for the Australian economy moving forward.
JOURNALIST: You hope the Fair Work Commission will listen to Labor's submission. What will it say? How big an increase will Labor push for?
ELLIS: It's not up to us to put dollar figures. What it's up to us to do is to point out that we believe there is a gender pay issue in this country. We've said that repeatedly. This is a feminised workforce, overwhelmingly and we believe it is fair that the Fair Work Commission should hear their case and determine the result. What we're saying is, the Government is going to say we support this profession, that we recognise their importance and that we absolutely believe that a Shorten Labor Government will do all it can to bridge the gender pay gap in this country which is still far too wide
JOURNALIST: You have agreed to do the Sky News People's Forum on Wednesday, not yet agreement from Mr Turnbull, are you hoping he comes round to the idea?
SHORTEN: Well, I think Mr Turnbull should give an answer to our challenge to attend the Sky News Forum. I think Mr Turnbull, clearly in this campaign, is doing whatever he can to avoid facing the real issues from real people. I think these People’s Forums are a great opportunity for Mr Turnbull to leave the bubble in which he is occupying and go out and hear what people are really talking about and give them the answers to the questions they're really asking. I actually think it's discourteous to Sky and to the people of Queensland that Mr Turnbull won't give an answer. And I think it just confirms Mr Turnbull can't talk about his own policy agenda, because he doesn't want to. All he can do is talk about Labor. I'll be there Wednesday night. I'll be fronting up to answer the questions of the people of Queensland.
JOURNALIST: Mr Turnbull has said to anyone thinking about a protest vote, that would be a return to the chaos of the Rudd-Gillard years. At the last debate you were asked how people can trust you given you were part of that chaos, you engineered some of those changes. Can you answer that truthfully today, why people should trust you after that?
SHORTEN: First of all, Mr Turnbull's engineered his own chaos on Tony Abbott, and just check with Tony Abbott, you don't have to take my work for it. And again, the evidence for us and why Labor is ready to be the Government of this country is the last thousand days. We are far more united than the Liberal Party and rolling out far more positive policies, we're able to explain how we would fund them. And we would be a Government of priorities of middle class and working class Australians. You can trust Labor to fight for Medicare, you can trust Labor to properly fund schools, you can trust Labor to take real action on climate change, you can trust Labor to have a fair taxation system and ensure that first home buyers aren't locked out of the housing market. You can trust Labor to make sure women get equal treatment in this country, and you can certainly trust Labor to make sure that child care is fairer, delivered faster and is certainly much more affordable. I think I might just finish on that note, thanks everybody.