ABC INSIDERS - 15 MAY 2016

SUBJECTS – Liberals’ failed nanny program; the Liberals’ inaction on child care; the benefits of investing in better school education; Labor’s commitment make sure children have water safety skills; NXT Party

BARRIE CASSIDY, PRESENTER: Our program guest is the Shadow Minister for Education and Shadow Minister for Early Childhood. Kate Ellis joins us from Adelaide.

Good morning.

KATE ELLIS, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EDUCATION: Good morning, Barrie. Great to be with you.

CASSIDY: Do we take it from that that this whole concept of subsidised nannies is just too hard for governments of all persuasions, just too expensive?

ELLIS: Sorry, Barrie, I'm actually having trouble hearing you. You've dropped out.

CASSIDY: OK. I'll ask the question again. This whole concept of subsidised - subsidised nannies, is that just simply too expensive for governments to deal with?

ELLIS: Well I think the real problem here is that the Government made a clear election promise that they would make child care more affordable. They've broken that promise. They haven't done a thing except cut programs, except for this one program - this one program where $185 million of taxpayer funds going towards subsidising nannies and today we learn that that money has assisted just 60 families across Australia. It's a pretty clear example yet again of just how out of touch the Government are that they expect that this program is going to help your average family when families are being asked to pay $35 an hour for a nanny. This isn't a solution.

CASSIDY: But properly funded though, can it work?

ELLIS: Well, what we've seen at the moment is that there are major issues in matching nannies with families. I think the short answer to your question is this is not the solution for the majority of Australian families. When we have a look at the cost of a nanny, even with these subsidies, when we're talking about costs of $35 an hour, then clearly that is more than most families earn in an hour and that's not the solution for them. What we want to see is a flexible child care system that is affordable, that is accessible and that helps the vast majority of families out there who are continuing to struggle.

CASSIDY: Well Bill Shorten seemed to suggest this week that you might be targeting those in incomes between $60,000 and $80,000. Is that what you've got in mind, some special assistance for people in that wage-earning bracket?

ELLIS: Well, we do know the evidence shows that where child care subsidies make the biggest difference in workforce participation is at the lower end of the income - income scale. The Government have announced a $3 billion package which remarkably, makes tens of thousands of Australian families worse off. By their own accounts, one in four Australian families would be worse off under their child care reforms and independent analysis actually puts that figure at one in three. But what's really concerning is that when you look at families on an income of under $65,000 a year, half of those families will be no better off under the Government's package. That is $3 billion of taxpayer funds to go into the child care system which means that half of families under $65,000 are either no better off or indeed are worse off. That gets a fail in my - in my book.

CASSIDY: Now you spent the best part of the week with Bill Shorten and you wanted the focus to be on education, but there were so many self-inflicted distractions. Do you think the message got through at all?

ELLIS: Oh, look, I am sure that between now and election day the Australian people are going to hear us talking about our positive plans to boost every school and ensure that every student gets the individual attention that they need. We will be out there every day, as we have been this week, because we know that this is critically important to those students, to their families, but also to our community and to our future economic growth.

CASSIDY: But was part of the problem that Bill Shorten overegged the economic benefits by getting trapped in this - trying to put a figure on how spending on education will deliver a growth dividend? That kind of attempt is fraught with danger, surely.

ELLIS: No, look, I mean, we are clear and we absolutely believe that there is a strong link between having a quality education system and having a community that has the skills for the jobs of the future, which means that we can boost our future prosperity. There is no argument from Labor about that. But you're right, this debate did start up this week because Mathias Cormann in response to the OECD report that Chris Bowen quoted at the Press Club tried to argue that we wouldn't see any benefits till 2095. If the Government seriously want to argue to the Australian people in this election campaign that investing in quality education will not have an impact on economic growth, then they should feel free to do it because we are up for that debate each and every day of the week.

CASSIDY: But why try and put a figure on it at all? I's almost impossible to measure.

ELLIS: Well, what we were doing was quoting from an OECD report about the links between education and economic growth. That was not specific to Labor's plans and it's not something that we're factoring into our costings. But we are saying that the benefits of fixing our education system - I mean, I think everybody agrees that there are clear issues in terms of our international competitiveness of our education system, but most importantly, we know that there is a massive equity issue in Australia, that the gap between poor-performing schooling and high-performing schools is larger than the OECD average and that is a very big concern. So we're saying that of course there are economic reasons why we should fix that as well as being really critically important social reasons.

CASSIDY: And of course if more money leads to more effective education then fine, but why has more money in recent years not led to better outcomes? What's the problem?

ELLIS: Well, luckily we know what the problem is, Barrie, because in order to address the issue that more money was not leading to better outcomes, when we were in government we conducted the biggest review of our school education system in 40 years. It clearly identified the problems in our schools, but it also outlined the solutions and the solutions were needs-based funding and ensuring that that funding was directed towards the key areas of improvement that we know will lift student outcomes. That is why at this election we're clearly saying that we will implement the solutions that have been identified. We will stick with the current funding agreements, but importantly, we will go further than that; we will provide funding certainty for our education system over 10 years. The Government is saying, yes, well there's a report on the table that identifies the problems and the solutions, but that it's not a priority for them to address. That is why we think that this will be a key issue for the Australian public come July 2.

CASSIDY: There was a report this morning saying that you'll be offering all school kids water safety and swimming lessons, a $40 million program. That's not a Federal Government responsibility. Is this a consequence of a long election campaign that you're searching for announceables and so you're going into State Government responsibilities?

ELLIS: No, it's not. This is something that we've been working on and that we're very passionate about. We know that at the moment there is no national approach to water safety and there are too many tragedies in this nation of young people drowning that could be prevented. We also know that there's a really alarming number of young Australians who get to high school age and do not have the basic swimming skills. And this is for a variety of reasons, but sometimes it's because they are from disadvantaged communities and that money is a factor. Different states and territories have different approaches to this and what we're saying is we want to work with the states and territories to make sure that we can I guess identify those communities that are missing out on basic water safety skills and assist them to make sure that our kids are safe. I just think that particularly in a country like Australi a, in an island country like Australia, one with the climate that we have, having basic water safety skills is something that every Australian child should have and that's why Bill will be announcing a plan today for us to help ensure that they do.

CASSIDY: You're from South Australia. I just want to ask you finally about Nick Xenophon and whether his party can win a House of Representatives seat and multiple seats in the Senate. Do you think that will happen?

ELLIS:: Well, the short answer, Barrie, is I don't know the answer to that. It is incredibly unpredictable. We know that Nick Xenophon has been very popular. We don't know how much of that vote will transfer to the Lower House and we also know through the South Australian experience that he hasn't always had the best of luck in the candidates that he picks. So whether the community will see that there is some risk in voting for a Xenophon candidate who they may not know, who they do not know what they stand for - we had another local story running today about one of Nick Xenophon's candidates who has some pretty unusual views that I don't think the community would see as mainstream. So it means that Lower House seats in South Australia are incredibly unpredictable at this election and it means that we will be out there trying to make sure that the community knows that there is a big risk because these candidates are unknown quantities and we've seen through the State Parliament that sometimes Nick Xenophon's mates don't make the best contributions to our democracy.

CASSIDY: Alright, Kate Ellis, thanks for your time and apologies for the sound problem off the top.

ELLIS: No problems. Thanks, Barrie.

ENDS