Doorstop Interview - 28 April 2016

SUBJECT/S: Early education services in limbo from Mr Turnbull ending the Budget Based Funded Program; NT Government ripping $140 million out of schools;

LUKE GOSLING, LABOR CANDIDATE FOR SOLOMON: Good morning and welcome. Thanks for coming out to Bagot community this morning. We’ve just been visiting the child care centre here and talking to the passionate early childhood educators that of course receive federal funding at this stage. Which is in doubt and is in threat with the change of Government so it’s been good to speak with the educators here today about that. It’s also been great to have Kate in town, Kate Ellis obviously the Shadow Minister for Education. We had the great announcement yesterday about more funding for our schools here in the Territory. That’s additional funding so it’s been really good to visit schools out in Palmerston yesterday and then today to come out here and talk to some early childhood educators. Obviously the future of our Territory is based on having our kids have a great education for the jobs of the future but also to develop the North and you can’t talk about innovation without setting our kids up in those early years for a great education and fulfilling jobs for their future. So really great to have Kate in town and I’ll hand over to you.


KATE ELLIS, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EARLY CHILDHOOD: Fantastic. Well thank you so much Luke for having me here and thank you also to members of the Bagot community for allowing us to have a look around and to have some important discussions about the future of child care services here. The reality is unless there is a change in the Turnbull Government’s policy a number of services across Australia, potentially including this one right here, will be forced to close. At the moment there are about 300 services across Australia which are called Budget Based Funded Services, that being the Federal Government provides ongoing financial support to keep these services going. Now over 35 percent of those are in the Territory. 107 services in the Territory will be at risk of closing because the Turnbull Government is withdrawing this ongoing funding. This is of huge concern. It’s of huge concern to the children and to the families in communities like this one. But it should be of huge concern to everybody. We know that investing in critical early childhood education services is one of the best investments that we can make. We know that vulnerable children rely upon these services to set them up with the best possible start in life. It would be a short-term bad decision if this goes ahead.


JOURNALIST: There are other child care centres near here, isn’t there some sort of argument that it could be more economical to send kids to nearby centres outside of this community?


ELLIS: The problem that we have and it was really important to have discussions with staff and with some of the mothers who were in the service their today. The problem that we have is we know that if services like these ones close, it will be the most vulnerable children who will miss out. For many children services are a safe place and we know that when those services move away they may not have the family support to transport them to nearby services. The other thing is a number of these 107 services at risk of closing in the Territory are in remote communities where there are no other options available.


JOURNALIST: Some figures provided from the Coalition suggest that when Labor was in power child care costs went up by about 9 per cent every year, peaking in 2009 with 12.5 percent. They argue that under the Coalition child care costs have only gone up 3.6 percent last year. If that’s accurate that’s a pretty damming figure isn’t it?


ELLIS: Well one that’s not accurate. The latest figures that we have show that child care costs have increased by 15 percent in the Territory under the current Government. But even more importantly than that, families don’t want to hear Liberal and Labor politicians throwing figures back and forth and trying to confuse the issue. There is one very simple fact and that is before the last election the Coalition promised they would make child care more affordable, more accessible, during the last three years they have done absolutely nothing and they will go to the next election without doing a single thing. They announced a child care reform package but they failed to even bring it on for debate within the Parliament. The truth is that even under the Coalition’s own statements that you just put to me they have acknowledged that child care has become less affordable under them which makes a lie of their promise which was made to the Australian public.


JOURNALIST: Well I don’t think families care if journos throw figures around so bear with me for a minute.


ELLIS: Sure.


JOURNALIST: My understanding is that under that package, households with about $65,000 of income will get an 85 per cent rebate, but households on $170,000 would get about a 50 per cent rebate. Isn’t that sort of progressive means-tested rebate, isn’t that a key Labor value?


ELLIS: Look we’ve absolutely said that we would work with and support the Government to make child care more affordable. The package that they’ve announced has never been brought on for debate in the Parliament, so the Government have failed to deliver on their own package. The Government have failed to deliver on their own promise they made to the Australian public. It is as simple as that. The package that they announced, also by their own admission, they were spending and additional $3 billion but it would make one in three families worse off. That’s a pretty extraordinary thing to do. But as I’ve said, if the Government had brought on this legislation for debate we would have had a chance to discuss it, to see if there were ways that we could improve it or amend it, and to try and deliver a better outcome for the Australian public. The Government failed to even bring on the debate.


JOURNALIST: But aren’t those one in three families that are going to be worse off the people that can afford to pay for their own child care?


ELLIS: No. We actually know that a number of them are on under $65,000 a year. There was some quite controversial changes to the activity test. Which means that children from some of the most disadvantaged, vulnerable families would be the ones that would miss out and would slip through the cracks. There are serious concerns that had been raised about that. But as I said, Labor was absolutely up for working with the Government to try and improve Australia’s child care system. They failed to even bring it on for debate.


JOURNALIST: Given the Budget deficits how are you going to fund these 107 child care centres?


ELLIS: Well we will announce our full child care policy in the lead up to the election, which we’re expecting to be in just a few weeks. So you won’t have to wait very long for that. But we are really proud that we’ve already announced over $100 billion in savings initiatives. Some of that to be redirected towards Labor priorities like education. Some of that to go back to Budget repair. We know that the hard work has to be done, the tough decisions need to be made and it is unprecedented for a Federal Opposition to have outlined so many savings measures. We’ve done it because we know it’s important.


JOURNALIST: Well wasn’t the last Opposition Leader who was so detailed in his policies John Hewson, that didn’t work out so well for him.


ELLIS: Well I’m really proud to stand by our policies when it comes to early childhood education, but also when it comes to schools. And we have made clear that schools are absolutely, and education is absolutely one of Labor’s priority areas. That’s important for the Territory in particular because we know under Labor an extra $115 million will be invested in Territory schools in just 2018 and 2019. That’s money that will go towards evidence-based programs to improve every child’s learning outcomes. Under Malcolm Turnbull’s cuts not only have we seen money not go towards schools but we’ve also seen the Territory Government has been allowed to be let off the hook and actually cut funding to schools. It means that the Territory is now the only place in Australia where funding for Government schools is going backwards, at a time when we know our international competitiveness is slipping and the gap between high performing and low performing schools is growing larger.


JOURNALIST: Well the CLP Government in the Territory have argued that the Coalition Federal Government gave them extra money that they would’ve got if they signed up to Gonski anyway, but they didn’t get when Labor was in power in Canberra. So isn’t that just holding the Territory Government to ransom?


ELLIS: I make no apologies for saying that under Labor’s policy the Territory Government would not have been able to redirect the $140 million which was ear marked to go to Territory schools which they have sent off to other areas. We have no idea where that went but we know it did not go to schools because Canberra’s policy is we’re just going to send a blank cheque we hope it will be spent on education, but if it’s not then it’s nothing to do with us. That is not good enough for the families of the Territory and it’s something that I, Luke Gosling and Bill Shorten will stand up against.


GOSLING: I think it’s worth repeating that the Territory is the only jurisdiction in our country where school funding is going backwards. That’s a disgrace and that’s something that Labor’s committed to doing something about. So I’m really proud to be part of a Labor team and it’s been fantastic to have Kate in town to announce extra school funding for Territory kids. Because our kids deserve and need some extra funding. That’s what our needs-based funding is about. So if education is important to people I’m sure they’ll think about that in the lead up to the election.