Tony Abbott’s broken promise to make child care more affordable; Abbott Government’s $1 billion cuts to child care


DR SALLY COCKBURN, PRESENTER: On the line is Kate Ellis, the Shadow Minister for Early Childhood. May I call you Kate?


COCKBURN: Thank you very much. And now this issue of child care and the way it is, I’ve heard on the news, you’re going to have to ransom the house, or hogg the house, to be able to get child care in the future. Where’s it going?

ELLIS: Well unfortunately we’ve certainly had a couple of nasty surprises coming. We were of course told that child care would be more affordable. Tony Abbott actually wrote to every child care centre in the country promising that if he was elected he’d make child care more affordable. But in the Budget earlier this year, some figures were released showing that child care fees will rise by 30 per cent up until 2018.

And then just a couple of weeks ago when Joe Hockey released the Mini Budget, we’ve actually learned that things are even more dire than that, and they’ve included that there has been a $2.4 billion blow out in the child care budget as a result of what they call ‘unexpected price rises.’ So I think parents right around Australia are obviously really deeply concerned that we keep hearing that there will be increases and then increases upon the increases, and are really desperate to hear some solutions.

COCKBURN: Well Kate has your party got any solutions? If you were the Minister at the moment, you’re the Shadow Minister, what would you do?

ELLIS: The first thing that we’re arguing is that at the same time that these price increases are coming into effect, the Government has actually cut over $1 billion from the child care system and from the support that parents rely upon. So the first thing we’re asking Tony Abbott and Scott Morrison to do today is admit that they got it wrong and reverse the cuts, the $1 billion, whether it be from Family Day Care, the Child Care Rebate freeze, Out of School Hours Care. This is not the time to be cutting assistance, at a time that parents are finding it harder than ever before anyway.

COCKBURN: So Kate, they would say that we’ve got to cut something. So they say we’ve got all these blowouts and all these things. What should they be cutting? Obviously every Minister and Shadow Minister is going to say ‘well don’t cut mine.’

ELLIS: Well that’s exactly right. Governing is all about priorities but unfortunately I would argue that this Government has their priorities very wrong when they are still committed to introducing a new Paid Parental Leave scheme. We don’t know what that’s going to look like, but we do know the proposals were to give very large pay outs to very wealthy women who don’t necessarily need it at the same time they’re cutting the child care assistance of low and middle income families. We’ve also seen the Government has managed to find billions of dollars for things like the Direct Action plan where they will pay polluting companies. So this is about priorities. We’re saying that child care needs to be a priority. It is for Australian families. And it needs to be for our economy. We know that if people can’t afford to go out and work, if we can’t find the skilled workers, then we can’t have the productive economy that we all rely upon.

COCKBURN: Look I can’t help agreeing with you, the priorities need to be children and families. But they claim they are their priorities. How can they be claiming that they are priorities and yet they’re doing this? What’s going on there?

ELLIS: Well I guess it wouldn’t be the first time that we’ve seen a politician, and I would particularly argue the Prime Minister as a politician, saying one thing and doing another. And we’ve seen many examples of that. What was said before the last Federal Election and what’s actually happening now. We are arguing though, the families who are out there who are looking to the New Year, planning what it is they are going to do, how many hours they’re going to participate in the workforce. [They] are seeing from the Government’s own documents that there will be very large increases in child care fees [and] are wondering what happened to the promise that child care would become more affordable, and really need to hear solutions. This Government did commission the Productivity Commission to undertake a review into child care…

COCKBURN: What was the outcome?

ELLIS:… and they haven’t released that report. They haven’t publicly released the report. So I mean if we’re going to have a real and serious debate about the future of the child care sector, that’d be a pretty good first step.

COCKBURN: So can you, just for the poltical perspective, if reports are commissioned and they can just say sorry we’re not going to tell anyone what it says? They can do that?

ELLIS: Sometimes they can. In this particular instance, the report needs to be tabled in the Parliament within 25 sitting days. But if we’re talking about such a serious issue, I would argue why delay it? Let’s release it now, have the debate and come up with some solutions for Australian families.

COCKBURN: So what if they don’t table it at the 25 days? What happens then?

ELLIS: Well they get a big slap on the wrist. They need to be released. The Productivity Commission has undertaken this work. We’ve seen a draft report which was released in the middle of this year. It had some quite controversial recommendations. So I think families are in limbo, families are faced with uncertainty and we really need to be discussing the way forward. But as I said, the one thing that the Government could do today is come out and say ‘we’re going to reverse the $1 billion in cuts that we’ve already made to the child care sector which of course we didn’t tell anyone we were going to do before the last election.’

COCKBURN: So this is not something that they even talked about during the election? I don’t remember them saying they were going to do this.

ELLIS: No, of course not. This was all quite a surprise and it’s had a bit of a crippling impact on – there have been big cuts – we often don’t talk about Out of School Hours Care, but we know that that is a real issue for working parents. Sometimes they’ll finish at 3 o’clock in the afternoon and if you can’t find a place you have to reconsider your options.

COCKBURN: Well this is the other thing, we lose people from the workforce because it’s actually going to be cheaper not to work.

ELLIS: It’s not the best outcome for anyone. There are some people out there, and you may have some listeners shouting at the radio right now saying ‘well if people can’t look after their children why are they having them? Why should my taxes have to support that?’ But the simple fact is we need, we’ve put a lot of money rightly into our education system, we need to make sure we’re getting the most out of our society and that we’re looking for skilled workers. It doesn’t make any sense to have people who want to work who simply can’t afford to as a result of the fact that they’re having children.

COCKBURN: Indeed. And so, this is Government subsidy, so people who can afford it could still pay? But the Government subsidy is being cut? Is that the knub of it?

ELLIS: Well, yes. We’ve seen, for example, there’s been a cut to Family Day Care in the amount of funding that they receive which means that the Family Dare Care Australia organisation have estimated that fees would have to increase by $35 a week to cover those cuts. So it has a flow on effect. We need to recognise that there are two options – Government that provides the funding, or it is all placed on the shoulders of parents, and that’s a pretty scary proposition.

COCKBURN: Kate Ellis, thank you so much for your time, really appreciate it. And obviously I’m sure if we could get hold of the Minister then we’d speak to him, but well, we weren’t able to. Never mind, Kate thank you so much, really appreciate it.

ELLIS: Thank you so much for having me. Have a good New Year.

COCKBURN: And you too, and to South Australia!