FRIDAY, 13 NOVEMBER 2020
SUBJECTS: Labor’s Working Families Childcare Boost; importance of early childhood education; Budget Reply; economic recovery; Chifley report on childcare; coronavirus vaccines; climate change; relationships between staff and politicians; net zero emissions by 2050; bushfire recovery.
EMMA MCBRIDE, MEMBER FOR DOBELL: Good afternoon. I’m Emma McBride, the Federal Member for Dobell. This NAIDOC week I’d like to begin by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land on which we meet, the Darkinjung people, and to pay my respects to elders past, present and emerging. Today I’m delighted to welcome back to The Coast the Labor Leader, Anthony Albanese, Amanda Rishworth, our Shadow Minister for Early Childhood Education, and joining us today is Brett Gale from Chifley. Thank you to Chris and Rosanne for making us so welcome at KU Ourimbah Preschool and Children’s Centre. When Anthony said he wanted to come to The Coast, I said he had to come here, because I’ve been so impressed by the quality of early education that you offer to young people and the support to their families.
We’re here at KU Ourimbah Preschool today because a parent, Sarah, wrote to me about the quality of early learning here and her concerns that working families who have been hard hit by COVID, especially families with kids in care who are struggling to balance the budget in regional coastal communities like ours, with tens of thousands of young families, many with parents commuting. It’s been really, really tough. Unemployment and underemployment is having a big impact more so on women. Underemployment of women in some parts of our community has increased to 34 per cent. Before COVID, the Central Coast had one of the highest rates. To talk more about Labor’s plan to support working families and particularly women, I’m so pleased to welcome Labor Leader, Anthony Albanese. Thank you so much, Anthony.
ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Thank you. Thank you very much, Emma. And I do want to thank the staff here at KU Preschool and Childcare Centre here in Ourimbah. And I in particular want to thank the kids. The children were really welcoming this morning. And what we saw was the benefit firsthand, once again, every time I go into an early learning centre, what I see is dedicated staff making a difference. We know that in the first five years of life 90 per cent of brain development occurs. And we see that here, this wonderful centre, where the children get to wander around the grounds here of the campus. They get to look at the flora and the fauna, including, we had a very detailed discussion about moss with a very young person. And they were really conscious about learning and making sure that children really benefit. I do want to say thank you to all early childhood educators out there who are making such an enormous difference to the future of our country. And that’s why today’s report from Chifley Research Centre is so important, about investing in early childhood learning. What the report says is that compared with the OECD average of 18 per cent of costs being borne by families, in Australia that figure is 37 per cent. We learned from Senate Estimate process after the Budget that childcare costs are expected to increase in Australia in the coming year by 5.3 per cent. Now we know that inflation is negligible. We know that wages aren’t going up. So, a 5.3 per cent hit to living standards will just further exacerbate the problem that Labor’s investment is aimed at fixing. Labor’s commitment to remove the cap on the subsidy, to lift the subsidy up to 90 per cent and improved the tapering so that 97 per cent of families will be better off, will make an enormous difference. And that’s why we regard this as an absolute priority and why it was the centrepiece of our Budget Reply. Furthermore, we know that if you’re about growing the economy as part of the recovery, then you’ve got to actually have economic reform. And we know that the three Ps behind economic growth are all covered by this policy. Participation is the first P. And what it’s about is improving women’s participation in the workforce. The fact is that it’s extraordinary that in 2020, we still have a disincentive for second earners, usually women, to work a fourth or fifth day. It also improves productivity. Because if people are able to work full-time and able to get that support, then productivity will be lifted, because people will be able to fully participate in the workforce and careers will be able to be built. And too often, companies lose that experience and are not able to get it back. And the third, of course, the third P is population. And we know that when families are weighing up when they might have a first child or another child, then they weigh up the economic costs. And this will make a difference to population as well. So, this is sound policy. It’s good economic reform. It’s good for children. It’s good for families. It’s good for our economy. And that’s why now, more than a month after my Budget Reply, the Government needs to do more than just simply say that everything’s all okay and that there’s nothing to see here when it comes to childcare costs. Because families out there know, in communities like this on the Central Coast, that this is a real inhibitor to them fully participating in the workforce. And I’d ask Amanda to say a few words. And I just want to thank Brett and Chifley for the work that they’ve done on this report.
AMANDA RISHWORTH, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION AND DEVELOPMENT: Well, thank you. It’s so wonderful to be here. And I’d like to thank Rosanne and her team of wonderful educators for showing us today what quality really looks like in the early years. Quality in learning, quality in the experience that the child gets. And importantly, I think it’s fair to say, making sure that the children are at the centre of the learning experience. And that was really, really special. And I just like to thank them for the work that they’ve done for many, many years. But also, particularly during this COVID period. It’s been a very difficult time for educators, the anxiety, they kept turning up to work, looking after children, supporting families. And I think it’s really important we acknowledge that at the same time as keeping quality education up. And as Anthony said, Labor has seen the early years as critically important. We believe that the early years deserves investment. That’s exactly what the Chifley report says. This report says that it is worth investing in the early years. We should be investing in the early years. And that’s what Labor has announced. We’ve announced, as Anthony has outlined, in particular, some more support for families, a smoother taper rate, an increase in the subsidy and removal of the annual cap. But Labor has also announced that we want to make sure that money goes back into family’s pockets. And one of the key elements of the Chifley report is that at the moment, there isn’t transparency across the system in where the money goes. That’s an important point. And that we need to make sure that the money that we put into the system is driving quality, is supporting paying educators and is going into developing the best services possible. So, the report clearly demonstrates that we need more transparency and a better understanding of the cost drivers. That is why Labor has said that part of our policy will get the ACCC to have a careful look into the fee structure to make sure that our support, our significant increase in support for families, goes into quality education and as support for families directly. That’s what we want to see. Because that will give not only children the best start to life, it will give family support and it will make sure that we are driving the economy forward. And I have to say, this Chifley report adds to the growing evidence that this area is so critical to tackle, whether it is in supporting families, whether it is in growing businesses, whether it’s growing the economy, this is a win-win-win policy, and something I’m proud to be advocating. And I am going to introduce Brett now from the Chifley. Normally I’m the last one. So, welcome Brett.
BRETT GALE, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF CHIFLEY RESEARCH CENTRE: Thank you, Amanda. And thanks to Emma and thank you Albo for launching this report. It’s great to have the Labor team here with us launching this really important report because early childhood care and education is one of those areas that is actually really easy in public policy to put on the backburner. That’s because most people, the only time they actually focus on this issue, is when they themselves have small children and they’re going through this. And so, it’s easy to forget it. And once it is out of mind, it is out of sight. But it’s great that the Labor team actually gets it. And that’s why it was so heartening to see the policies that Amanda and Albo launched the other week, that really will do a lot to help people struggling with childcare fees and getting people back into the workforce. Because what we do know is that it’s in our long-term economic and social future for Australia that depends on getting the best quality start to education for our youngest Australians. And we also know that Australia’s economic recovery from COVID-19 depends on an affordable and accessible early childhood sector that will get people back into work quicker. So, it really is heartening the changes that Labor’s announced that they will do if they get into office. That’s what we’re trying to do here with our launch of this policy brief today is really take that national conversation to the next step, to take it further. And what the report calls on is for us to begin treating early childhood education as another important plank in the full education continuum. From preschool all the way through to university. And it encourages us to draw on what we know works well in the school system and apply it to early childhood education. For instance, what we see, clearly see in the data, is that quality matters. And quality, as Amanda has alluded to, is a function of where we choose to spend our money. And what the data shows us, unequivocally, is that those centres that spend a higher proportion of total expenditure on educators have higher quality education and care outcomes. And that’s really important. And there is a stark divide, we find, in the data between not-for-profits, and for-profits, those that are ploughing their resources back into educators. And it’s not just wages for educators, it’s training, it’s career paths, it’s skilling-up educators. And that is the most important thing that we’ve drawn out of this study that we’ve done. So, what we would really love to see is our early years education sector as equally in focus on universality and on quality as our school system is. And to that end, we recommend three actions in our report. Greater transparency from providers as to their spending on service quality. Greater investment in a skilled and stable workforce, with more investment in educators’ time and careers. And using the lessons from our school system to build a fit-for-purpose model for universal ECEC provision. So, it’s great that the Labor team have taken this seriously and are willing to have a think about what we’re recommending here. I would urge all policy makers across Australia to do the same, because for too long, we’ve let our youngest people down. And now it should stop, and we should push forward. Thank you.
ALBANESE: Well, thanks very much, Brett. Can I also before taking questions say this; Brett Gale will be finishing up at a Chifley at the end of this week. This has been something that he wanted to have concluded and released. And he’s done a fantastic job as the Executive Director of the Chifley Research Centre. And has made a major contribution towards policy debate in this country. And I wish you well, Brett, for your future. Happy to take questions.
JOURNALIST: Mr Albanese, the Government says it has 134 million doses of vaccine candidates. Are you comfortable the Government has enough of the vaccine?
ALBANESE: Well, it’s good that the Government has stepped up its deal-making with regard to vaccines. The Government now has four deals with potential vaccines. And that is a vast improvement on where it was just a short time ago. But best practice indicates around the world that best practice is five or six. So, we’d like to see the Government pursue further deals. We also think that it is important that Australia is able to help our Pacific neighbours in particular. We have a leadership role in this region. And the distribution of vaccines, should one be successful, and all of us hope that there is a breakthrough, is an important priority. There is no more important priority, not just for Australia, but for our region.
JOURNALIST: Will Mark Butler remain as your Shadow Climate Change and Energy Minister?
JOURNALIST: And do you plan to shift Mr Butler to end the deadlock of people like Joel Fitzgibbon?
ALBANESE: I think my answer was pretty clear. Yes, Mark Butler will remain as our Climate Change and Energy spokesperson. Mark Butler is doing a fantastic job in that role. There’s no one who knows more about this area than Mark Butler. It’s a critical area for the Labor Party. And the Labor Party understands that action on climate change will do three things. It will create jobs, it will lower emissions, but it will also lower energy prices. And that will have a boost for manufacturing and a boost for our industry.
JOURNALIST: You mentioned the other night that Labor supports the Ministerial Code of Conduct introduced by Malcolm Turnbull. What does that mean in terms of relationships within Labor?
ALBANESE: I’m just not sure specifically what you’re asking?
JOURNALIST: Are you outlawing all relationships between politicians and their staff, including backbenchers?
ALBANESE: Well, we are saying, and I issued a statement yesterday, I don’t believe, and Labor doesn’t believe, we had a Shadow Cabinet meeting yesterday, and released a statement after that, we don’t believe it’s appropriate that Members of Parliament, whether they be House of Reps members or Senators, have personal relations with their own stuff.
JOURNALIST: When did you introduce that?
ALBANESE: We announced just after 2018 in March, after Malcolm Turnbull made that announcement, Bill Shorten, made an announcement supportive of the principles. We also developed in 2018 our own procedures around a sexual harassment and bullying policy. That applies not just in terms of within the Parliament, but is a broader policy as well, about conduct of members of our Party. And indeed, action was taken. There was a complaint against a staff member earlier this year that was resolved to the satisfaction of the woman involved. And that was reported on publicly.
JOURNALIST: The Government will adopt the Bushfire Royal Commission recommendations. Does that satisfy you?
ALBANESE: Well, the Government needs to more than just make announcements. This is a Government that established a $4 billion fund, an Emergency Response Fund, to deal with not just the aftermath of bushfires, cyclones, floods, but also for mitigation. And that’s $200 million each year, $150 million for recovery, $50 million for mitigation. They haven’t spent a dollar of it. And the first year is gone. That was last financial year. They took money from education in order to create that fund, and then haven’t spent a dollar. This a Government that is all about the announcement and never about the delivery. Always there for the photo-op, never there for the follow-up. And there are people who’ve lost their homes around New South Wales, but around other places as well, who lost their homes over the bushfire season that we saw with catastrophic consequences last year, who are still living in caravans. And indeed, there is one person, at least, affected this week in Kristy McBain’s electorate of Eden-Monaro, where there was a concentration from the Government for a brief period of time while there was a by-election, who lost their homes, were living in a caravan, and with the flooding that occurred in the last fortnight, then had their caravan flooded. These are circumstances in 2020 that just aren’t good enough. So, what I want to see from the Government isn’t just announcements, I want to see delivery and action on the ground. And that’s what the victims of the bushfire season deserve. And it’s what they should expect. And it’s what they should receive.
JOURNALIST: You’ve been pushing the Government to have more ambitious climate targets. But do you acknowledge that’s not a recommendation of the report and heard from climate change experts as well?
ALBANESE: Well, we support zero net emissions by 2050. Along with the National Farmers Federation, the Business Council of Australia, Australian Industry Group, every state and territory government, Labor and Liberal, Santos, BHP, Qantas, the Commonwealth Bank, ANZ. Major industry across the board all support it. The Government doesn’t. All of our major trading partners, the United States under the Biden administration, Japan, South Korea, the United Kingdom, Europe, all support zero net emissions by 2050. And indeed today, there’s a report from the Bureau of Meteorology that identifies that the bushfire seasons will be more extreme in the future and recognises that climate change isn’t something about the future, that it’s here. It’s having an impact. This is the Bureau of Meteorology. This is science. And one of the reasons why we’ve got through the issue of COVID better than most countries is that the Government, and governments in terms of state governments, have all listened to the medical advice. They’ve listened to the science. That’s a good idea on everything, to listen to the science. And the science on climate change is very clear. Thanks.