Press Conference with Jim Chalmers – Brisbane – Wednesday 21 September 2022

SUBJECTS: ACCC inquiry into the cost of childcare, Reserve Bank bond buying program, multi-employer bargaining, Hawthorn Football Club allegations.

JASON CLARE, EDUCATION MINISTER: Well it’s great to be here in Brissie with Jim and can I thank Sandra and the team at C&K for welcoming us here to the centre.

This time next week, I’ll be introducing legislation to implement our plan for cheaper childcare. It’ll cut the cost of childcare for more than a million Australian families right across the country. Childcare, early childhood education is important for our kids, for our parents, and for our entire economy. For our kids, it helps them to get ready for school. For our parents, it helps them to go back to work. In particular, for Australian mums, it will help them to work more hours and work more days to earn more money and have more money to retire on. And for our economy, it means businesses will get thousands and thousands of skilled workers back at work. For every dollar we invest in early childhood education, it creates $2 for our economy. That’s why when people say that investing in childcare is welfare, they’re wrong. This is economic reform, was one of the key policies that we campaigned on during the election. And we’re implementing that promise and introducing that legislation next week.

But another part of our plan that we promised during the election, and that we will implement is an inquiry by the ACCC into the cost of childcare, looking at all of the elements that drive prices up in childcare – and we know that the cost has gone up by 41 per cent just in the last eight years – and what further measures we can take to drive prices down. And today with Jim, we’re announcing that that work by the ACCC will kick off on the 1st of January, report by the end of next year, with the potential also to deliver an interim report that will guide the implementation of our legislation for cheaper childcare that starts on the 1st of July next year.

JIM CHALMERS, TREASURER: Thanks, Jason. Cheaper childcare is cost-of-living relief with an economic dividend. And that’s why I’m so pleased to work closely with Jason Clare and with Anna Aly to deliver this really important commitment from the Albanese Labor Government.

When I hand down the Budget next month, cheaper childcare will be the biggest on-budget commitment that we make. And that’s because we understand that the cost of childcare is the decisive element in the decision taken by new parents and especially new mums on whether or not they can work more and earn more. If we’re serious about getting wages moving in this country, we’ve got to make it easier for people to earn more and work more if they want to. And that’s what our cheaper childcare plan is all about. So cheaper childcare provides that cost-of-living relief to families under pressure at the same time as it has the capacity to deliver vast dividends for our economy. 

When Anthony Albanese and I convened the Jobs and Skills Summit in Canberra earlier this month, one of the key things that people right around the country were calling for were Labor’s cheaper childcare plan because they recognise it ticks more than one box. Responsible cost-of-living relief is cost-of-living relief which makes it easier for Australians without putting extra pressure on the independent Reserve Bank to raise rates – and that’s why the economic dividend is so important. Our economy – with unemployment around three and a half per cent – is generating jobs and opportunities and we want to make it easier for people to grab those opportunities in more parts of Australia. That’s why cheaper childcare is so important to our economy. It’s why it’s so important to families at the same time. When the cost of childcare is such a decisive element in people’s decisions about how much they work and how much they earn, we want to make sure that the pricing structures are right, we want to make sure that we maximise the ACCC’s role in pricing over the course of this inquiry and then ongoing so that we make sure that Australian parents are getting a fair deal and a fair go when it comes to the provision of childcare. This is an absolutely central component of our economic plan. It’s about wages, it’s about workforce participation, it’s about cost-of-living relief delivered in a responsible way. That’s why I’m proud to be here with Jas today and proud to deliver this important policy in the October Budget. Over to you. 

JOURNALIST: Treasurer, with a post-COVID propensity for many parents to continue working from home, is there a danger that that arrangement and those who opt out of childcare – the same way we see the same impacts on health insurance, for example – will force the price of childcare up as fewer people participate? 

CHALMERS: I think one of the welcome developments out of what we’ve been through the last couple of years is that employers and employees have worked out what’s best for their own situation. And I commend the employers of this country and the workers of this country over the last couple of years having to make difficult decisions about how much they work and where they work from. And obviously, there has been a bit of a reshuffling of the deck when it comes to people’s work habits. And most of that, in my view, is welcomed. But there will be strong demand for childcare regardless. Jason and I know from our own peer groups, our own personal experiences, just how important childcare and early education is to the functioning of Australian families and that will remain the case, even as people’s work habits change. 

CLARE: Can I just jump in and add to Jim’s point? Adam, I guess the opposite is true. I know having a little fella in care, we can only get him one day a week. But there’s a shortage of early childhood education workers right across the country at the moment, something like six and a half thousand short. And if the predictions are right, we’ll need more and more early childhood educators in the years ahead. Partly because in places like New South Wales and in Victoria, they’re expanding preschool for four-year-olds and three-year-olds by the end of this decade. That’s why the extra university places in areas of skills shortage that we’ve announced are really important. That’s why those 465,000 free TAFE places are really important as well because we’re going to need more early childhood education workers right now and in the years ahead because more and more parents will want to get their kids into care as it becomes more affordable. 

JOURNALIST: With this inquiry into childhood education – what’s the purpose of holding an inquiry if government policies won’t change? 

CLARE: Let me just lead off on it. We want to make sure that we’ve got all of the necessary measures in place to push prices down. We’ve already got caps on the childcare subsidy. But if the ACCC recommends that there are other things that we can do to put downward pressure on prices, then that’s a good thing. And that’s the sort of thing that we would want to implement. 

JOURNALIST: If the ACCC says increasing subsidies is inflating prices, will you reconsider your childcare policy? 

CLARE: Well, as I said, we’ve already got caps that keep a cap on those prices. The purpose of the legislation is to push that down. So the legislation I’ll introduce next week will mean for an average family that’s on about 120 grand, their cost of childcare will drop by about $1700. This is a big part of a family’s budget if you’ve got kids in care. You know it’s expensive, you know the cost has gone up, you know that you need a bit of relief. And for a lot of parents, in particular mums, the cost of going back to work is too high. It costs more to go back to work if you’ve got your child in care. The money that you make from day four or day five is outweighed by the cost of your child being in care. And if it’s all gobbled up in childcare fees, then you don’t go back to work. And that means that businesses miss out on a lot of skilled workers. That’s why this legislation is important and it’s complemented by this inquiry that the ACCC will do. 

JOURNALIST: Treasurer, the Reserve Bank says its $300 billion bond buying program during the pandemic had benefits but will also create big losses for the bank which could be as much as $58 billion to the taxpayer. How concerned are you about these losses? 

CHALMERS: The bond buying program that the Reserve Bank engaged in was a really important part of Australia’s response to the pandemic and inevitably, that has consequences for the Reserve Bank’s balance sheet. I’ve engaged with the bank on this over recent weeks. The advice is that we don’t require an additional capital injection, the bank will repair its capital position over time, and that’s appropriate. So I think we do need to recognise just how important that bond buying process was. The bank has conducted its own review of that to better prepare itself for next time. The position of the Reserve Bank is pretty clear when it comes to their capital. It doesn’t require for the time being a government injection and they will rebuild their position over time. 

JOURNALIST: The RBA says it won’t be able to pay its usual dividend to the government for several years. What pressure is that putting on the Federal Budget you’re handing down? 

CHALMERS: It’s no surprise to us that there won’t be a dividend from the Reserve Bank this year given the pressures that they’ve been under and the decisions that they’ve taken and I’ve run through the consequences of that. We weren’t counting this year on a dividend from the Reserve Bank. I think it’s been obvious for some time that there won’t be one. We’ll continue to engage with the Governor and with the Reserve Bank as well into the future as they repair their position, their budget position at the Reserve Bank. That will have implications for the Commonwealth Budget as well but they are largely understood. 

JOURNALIST: Will you be looking at childcare workers’ – looking to legislate to allow workers to negotiate their pay and conditions with multiple employers? 

CLARE: Yeah, a good question. And particularly on that point, it’s no surprise that the highest paid early childhood workers in the country are the beneficiaries of a multi-employer deal. We’ve seen that in Victoria where 70 centres came together and negotiated an agreement. The law doesn’t allow for all of those workers’ agreements to be settled in one go at the Fair Work Commission. So there’s red tape there that needs to be sorted out. But that shows you that when you can get a lot of small businesses together, negotiating at one time with their workforce, then you get a better deal for the business and a better deal for the workers. We’ve seen improvements, as of the first of July, with the increase in the minimum wage, which has flowed through to a lot of workers in this sector – a 4.6 per cent increase – that’s a good thing. The Libs opposed it – that’s a bad thing. But a four per cent increase is just the start. We want to make sure that our workers in early childhood education – there aren’t many workers in this country that do more important work than the people that I see in front of me here today – get a better deal. And that means the work we do on the minimum wage, the work we do with setting gender equity in the Fair Work Act, and also the work that our friend Tony Burke is doing with the development of multi-employer bargaining. 

JOURNALIST: Minister where does the value of the $10 million review lie if it’s not reporting back until after the subsidies kick in? Do you get early access to an interim… 

CLARE: Yeah, we do Adam. Yeah, that’s a critical point, I made that point in my introduction – that they’ll be able to provide us with interim advice before the 1st of July. And so we’ll be the beneficiaries of their recommendations in the first half of next year as well as at the end of the year. 

JOURNALIST: Treasurer, there’s been some pretty damning revelations revealed by the ABC this morning regarding Hawthorn Football Club – players being separated from their friends and family and in some cases being told to terminate pregnancies. What’s your reaction to that? 

CHALMERS: That was the first thing I read this morning. I think – like a lot of Australians – I found it incredibly concerning, if not distressing to read some of the revelations and the allegations that were in that report. It’s good that the AFL is doing what they can to get to the bottom of what’s happened here. There is absolutely no role for any kind of racism in any sport. We want our sport to be more inclusive, not less inclusive. And so, let’s get to the bottom of what’s happened here. Incredibly concerning, incredibly distressing allegations have been made in the course of that inquiry. We obviously support the AFL doing whatever is necessary to get to the bottom of what’s happened here. But I think a lot of Australians will be shocked and distressed like I was when I read that report. 

Thanks very much.