The Abbott Government’s lack of commitment to kindergarten funding; Tony Abbott’s Child Care Cuts; Abbott Government’s unfair Paid Parental Leave scheme; Parliament House child care centre.


KATE ELLIS, FEDERAL SHADOW MINISTER FOR EARLY CHILDREN: I’m pleased to be here today with Shadow Minister Jenny Mikakos but also with Jennifer Kanis, the local member here, seeing yet another great Victorian service which offers a wonderful kindergarten program as well as an ongoing early learning program.

Today we come out and say enough is enough. The Liberal Party must stop stringing along Victorian families and Victorian kindergartens and announce the funding for next year. We know that for a long time they have been hiding behind reviews but there is nothing left to hide behind. This week the Productivity Commission draft report made absolutely clear how vital it is that the Federal Government continues to fund 15 hours of kindergarten access. Right now in Victoria there are kindergartens across the state who do not know how many places they will have next year, how many hours they’ll be able to offer next year and whether or not their service will be viable next year. This needs to end.


The Victorian State Government and the Abbott Federal Government have the capacity to end the uncertainty and announce that this vital early childhood education will not end up on the chopping block like so many other bits of education have from this Federal Government. We know that the Prime Minister was happy to come out and defend his Paid Parental Leave scheme. It is time he came out and defended Victorian children’s right to access kindergarten programs. There is no reason for the Federal Government to not come out today and commit and give certainty to funding for next year.


It is extraordinary that we now sit here in almost August and yet centres in Victoria have no idea of the funding they’ll be receiving in just a few months’ time. Parents cannot plan their commitment to the workforce, centres cannot plan how many staff they’ll be able to fund, and children, we do not know whether they will be receiving 10 or 15 hours a week. All of the evidence is in. There are no more excuses. It is time for Tony Abbott to act and I will hand over to Jenny to add from the Victorian point of view.


JENNY MIKAKOS, VICTORIAN SHADOW MINISTER FOR CHILDREN: Can I just add also that I’m calling on Denis Napthine to stand up to his mate, Tony Abbott, and call for the continued funding of 15 hours of four year old kindergarten next year. As we’ve heard, many kindergarten committees, and cluster managers, and parents are facing the uncertainty of not knowing whether the funding will be there beyond December of this year. They cannot plan for their hours, they cannot plan for their staffing commitments, parents cannot make workforce decisions about what their requirements will be going into next year.


We also know that kindergartens are saying that without that Federal Government contribution there, that if they wish to continue the 15 hours that they are looking at likely doubling their fees. So that will have a huge implication for parents’ cost of living and their ability to continue to make those fee payments.


So it’s time that the uncertainty ended, we need an announcement now. We need them to make it clear whether the funding is there. We’ve had everyone making it clear that there is a continued role for the Federal Government, the Productivity Commission says so, the sector says so, parents say so, it’s just the Liberal Party that is holding back.


ELLIS: Any questions?


JOURNALIST: What effect would this be having on the child care industry?


ELLIS: Well we know that if Tony Abbott doesn’t come through with this funding, that fees will have to increase, that places will have to close down, and that less hours will be able to be offered. That will have flow on implications for the broader early childhood education sector, where we know that if people are not in kindergarten places, then they’ll need to access more child care places, which are already at stretched waiting lists in parts across Victoria at the moment. The key point here is that Victorian children should not have to pay the price for Tony Abbott’s Budget cuts and it’s time that he made it clear that they will not.


JOURNALIST: Do you think the relationship between the Napthine Government and the Abbott Government is having an effect on negotiations?


ELLIS: Well we should see that with a Liberal Victorian Government and a Liberal Federal Government, Denis should be able to call his mate Tony and secure the future funding for Victorian children. If he cannot do that, then I think Victorians can rightly ask ‘why not?’. Why is it that four year old children should have to pay the price because Liberal Governments, State and Federal, cannot get it together when it comes to kindergarten?


JOURNALIST: How long has this been brewing for?


ELLIS: This has been brewing since the Federal Government refused to commit to ongoing funding in their Budget. But we also know that the pressure is building each and every day. Each and every day that this uncertainty continues then centres across Victoria are unable to plan for what’s going to happen from January next year. That uncertainty has to end now.


JOURNALIST: How much funding nationwide are you looking for? Are you looking for an increase? Is there any figure?


ELLIS: Well we know that the previous Labor Government, when we first announced funding for Universal Access, was almost $1 billion over four years. But we also know that this Prime Minister is willing to commit over $20 billion for his unfair Paid Parental Leave scheme.


It doesn’t make any sense that at a time the Productivity Commission themselves are saying that we need greater investment in early childhood, not cuts, that yet this Federal Government is setting to cut preschool and kindergarten access, as well as cutting up to $1 billion in the child care programs. So we know that they’ve got money but we also know that they’ve got the wrong priorities to spend that money.


JOURNALIST: So do you think it would be appropriate to transfer that money from the Paid Parental Leave scheme into more early childhood?


ELLIS: Look, I think that early childhood should be a priority. I think that Tony Abbott is seriously mistaken if he thinks that children only need support for the first six months of their life through the Paid Parental Leave scheme, and that all of a sudden everything else is taken care of. The reality is that there is an army of critics against the expensive and unfair Paid Parental Leave scheme and that many, many people have pointed out areas where that money could be better spent, and that Victorian kindergartens should not have to pay the price for this Prime Minister’s wrong priorities.


JOURNALIST: How concerned are you over reports the Parliament’s child care centre could close?


ELLIS: Look I know that many, many people fought for many, many years to ensure access to quality child care within Parliament House. I have heard the reports that that is now under threat. I have written to both the Presiding Officers of the Parliament and urged them to do everything in their power to sort this out and to make sure that the child care centre could continue there. We know that working parents right across Australia rely upon access to affordable and accessible child care and that’s true in Parliament House too.


JOURNALIST: Did the Department of Parliamentary Services make it too hard for a provider to operate in Parliament House?


ELLIS: Look I think the Department of Parliamentary Services need to look at what the obstacles are that the child care centre is facing and resolve them. There are a lot of very smart people within that building and they manage to solve a lot of problems each and every day. I would say that ensuring access to child care should be a priority that they should put their minds to and make sure they solve it. We have a number of services – we can effectively run a gym, hairdresser, a number of cafes and restaurants. The Department of Parliamentary Services needs to make sure we can also have a child care centre.


JOURNALIST: Would you like to see that service extended up to kids that are five years old?


ELLIS: Yeah I think it makes sense to look at ways that we can make the centre more viable but also ways that we can make the centre more efficient for parents. And that means that we need to look at a range of options including expansion, but also looking at what it is that is acting as a barrier at the moment to a viable centre and removing those barriers one by one.


JOURNALIST: What does this say about how accessible a political career is to people that have children, particularly people that are primary carers?


ELLIS: Look I think that we need to be very clear that there are a number of families out there, there are hundreds of thousands of families out there that are doing it really tough when it comes to juggling work and family, when it comes to accessing quality child care, and I wouldn’t put politicians at the top of that list of people that are struggling to do that. There are people that are working shift work, there are people that are working in areas that there just aren’t centres available and there aren’t services available, and I think that politicians need to turn our minds to those families first and foremost.


Having said that, we all believe that employers should make it as easy as possible for their staff to be able to balance their work and family. That includes the Department of Parliamentary Services. We have a number of people that work unusual hours, we have a number of people that travel away from home and don’t have family supports, and we have a number of people - MPs, journalists and others - who absolutely rely on that child care centre each and every day in order to do their jobs, that’s why it’s important.


JOURNALIST: Thank you, could I ask a couple of questions of Jenny? Firstly, what do you think Denis Napthine should do at this point to try and resolve this dispute over early child care funding?


MIKAKOS: Look the Premier needs to be far more strident in his commentary around this issue. He needs to stand up to the Prime Minister and stand up on behalf of Victorian families who desperately need these 15 hours of kindergarten to continue. He needs to put the interests of Victorians first and the Liberal Party second. We’ve not had any great advocacy by the Premier to the Prime Minister to date and this is why this continued uncertainty goes on.


We are now getting towards the end of the year. The kindergarten committees desperately need to plan for next year, and they’ve been saying to me for many months now that they are extremely concerned. They can’t organise their rosters, make their staffing arrangements, know whether they need to be offering redundancies to staff. Parents are very concerned because they don’t know whether their fees will be going up next year, whether they need to make other arrangements for either child care or their costs will be going up. So there is a crying need for this uncertainty to end and for a decision to be made. The review is already weeks overdue, the sector, everyone, was expecting a decision last month and we still don’t need a decision.


JOURNALIST: There were fresh polls out this morning. Do you think this is an issue that could hurt Denis Napthine in the polls?


MIKAKOS: Well clearly the Victorian Coalition are failing Victorian families on many levels. Education is just not a priority for the Liberals. We have seen cuts to education maintenance allowance. We’ve seen schools falling apart because the investment is not happening into our school buildings, and this is just another example of the Victorian Coalition failing Victorian families. So they need to invest in education, education should be a priority area for State Governments, and they need to ensure that we have quality early childhood education.


In this case there was a partnership there between the previous Federal Labor Government and I applaud them for the very significant reforms that they rolled out to the early childhood sector to ensure that every child in Australia would have access to a quality four year old kindergarten program. That’s now at risk. We risk going backwards. The sector and parents have worked extremely hard over the last five years to actually roll out all the necessary infrastructure, the staff qualifications, all the changes that accompanied these reforms of 15 hours. They worked extremely hard over five years and we risk now going backwards, and all these very good reforms being undone.