Press Conference with Minister Grace Grace – Brisbane – Wednesday 28 June 2023


SUBJECTS: Cheaper Child Care; Free Kindy; Productivity Commission Inquiry into ECEC; ECEC Workforce

GRACE GRACE, QUEENSLAND MINISTER FOR EDUCATION: Can I welcome you all to the G8 Learning Sanctuary, which is in the middle of the city, in the heart of the city, part of my electorate. It is a beautiful space where young people can grow and thrive. Can I thank Hannah and Pesh for having us here at G8. And can I welcome my Ministerial federal education colleague, Jason Clare into my electorate in the inner city. It’s wonderful to be here to talk about free kindy and childcare subsidy schemes that start on Saturday.

Free Kindy, we know, benefits children in those early years before prep. And what we want to ensure is that every family has the ability to attend kindy before they start prep in school. And our investment in free kindy will hopefully attract up to eight thousand additional children that we know are not in kindy at the moment into centres like this. Hannah was telling me they’ve got capacity here to take more children. So, if there’s any inner-city families or who work in the inner city that need kindy, they can come to this fantastic centre here. And Hannah’s giving me the thumbs up already.

Free kindy is saving families up to $4,600. In a long daycare centre like this, the average saving’s between $1,800 and $2,000 for families. That will be absolutely free next year. Queensland Government’s investing a further $645 million over the forward estimates for free kindy. We know – I was at the QTU, Queensland Teachers Union Conference with Minister Clare this morning and every teacher nodded when we said they can tell the difference between a child that has gone to kindy and then started prep to one that hasn’t. And there’s a big difference between the two. And what we want to make sure is we can get those early supports to the children, we can identify them. There’s money in the budget for kindy uplift to provide those additional supports, money for staffing retention and attraction, and we’re working with the centres to roll this out in 2024.

It marries beautifully with the Childcare Subsidy that the federal government is now implementing from Saturday. And we can’t wait for these savings to go to families. We know they’re doing it tough at the moment. We know that cost of living is pressuring a lot of families. And when you can save thousands in free kindy and with childcare subsidies, it goes a long way to helping families make ends meet. But I’ll hand over to Jason. Welcome, Jason, to the McConnell electorate and this beautiful centre in the middle of the city, providing great support and great childcare and kindy for the children around this electorate.

JASON CLARE, MINISTER FOR EDUCATION: Thanks, Grace. It’s great to be here with you and it’s great to be here at G8. Pesh and Hannah and the whole team, thanks for making us feel so welcome. Thank you for the opportunity to spend a little bit of time with the educators and the teachers and most importantly, the children that are here.

The first five years of a child’s life are really everything. When you visit a centre like this, you get that if you haven’t before, that everything that a child experiences in their first five years of life, from what they eat through to what they read, every single experience shapes the person that you grow up to be. And that’s why the work that we do here in centres like this is so important.

This isn’t babysitting, this is early education. You are so right, Grace, that what happens here really does have an impact on a child’s readiness to start school, to make sure that they don’t start behind and they’re less likely to fall behind as well. Teachers will tell you that, parents know that and making this more affordable helps more children to get access to that quality early learning education.

Early education is expensive. Any mum or dad who has children in care or who has had children in care knows that it’s gone up by about 49 per cent over the last ten years. The changes that we committed to in the Budget last year, that we passed legislation to implement last year and that we are now implementing in July, will make a big difference for families.

Cheaper Child Care will mean that it’ll be cheaper for parents to have their children in early education and care from next month than it otherwise would have been for more than a million Australian families. Apart from the mortgage or the rent, for a lot of families their childcare bill is the biggest bill that they have to pay each and every month. If you’re a family on a combined income of about $120,000, then the changes that come into place in July mean that you will save $1,700 than you would otherwise have had to pay in childcare bills every year. That’s if you’ve got one child in care, if you got two children in care, then the bill is even bigger, so the saving is bigger still.

If you can make it cheaper, then that means more money in the pockets of parents. But it also gives parents the opportunity to work more hours if they want to. Goodstart will tell you that the changes we’re making for a family on a combined income of about $120,000 will mean that they effectively get one day in care free. That makes a big difference in the decisions that parents are going to make about whether they save a bit of money that they would have otherwise had to pay or whether they can go back to work and work an extra day or work more hours. That’s good for business, because for business that means you get your skilled workers back sooner. We’ve got a skill shortage crisis in this country. That means training people up. But if you can get people who are already skilled up back to work, then that’s good for businesses as well.

But I want to go back to where I started. Think about the children that we just got an opportunity to play with and talk to a minute ago. If they’re ready for school, if they get that high-quality early education that G8 is providing here, then that’s good for them too. It helps to make sure that they grow up not only ready for school but ready for life. The President of the United States made the point, in his State of the Union address recently, that a child at the age of four that’s in preschool is 50 per cent more likely to finish high school and then go on to college or to university.

It’s not babysitting. This is early education. That makes a difference for children, makes a difference for parents, makes a difference for our whole country. It’s the whole trifecta. That’s why I’m so glad to be here with you, Grace. I can’t wait to get this started next month. Thanks very much.

JOURNALIST: Can I just ask both ministers, perhaps Minister Clare first: if this is so important to the nation why is it not completely free for parents? I know the Productivity Commission is looking at this, but would you like to see early childhood education become an extension of the schooling system? 

CLARE: The reforms that come in place from next month are just the start. There’s more work that we need to do here. The Prime Minister has made it pretty clear that what he wants to do is a build a universal early education system. Just like Medicare offers a universal healthcare system to Australians, you don’t have to rely on your credit card to get good access to health care – it’s that green card in your purse or your wallet. Just like we’ve got a universal retirement system called superannuation, one of the legacies he wants to leave is a universal early education system. There’s big things happening here in Queensland, big things in New South Wales that are planned and Victoria as well, particularly amongst three-year-olds and four-year-olds. 

One of the things that the Productivity Commission is looking at is how all that integrates and harmonises over the course of the next decade. So this is just the start. But in addition to the Productivity Commission work that’s happening, we’ve also got the ACCC doing some work on cost pressures and prices here. Because you’re right, we want all children to get access to early education. 

I was at Chullora Public School just outside my electorate two weeks ago, and I said to the principal of the school, “Tell me about kindergarten.” They’ve got three kindergarten classes, 70 children. I said, “How many of them have been to early education and care?” The answer was two. And I said, “Can you see the difference in the children that have been to early education and the ones that haven’t?” And the answer was, “It’s obvious.” As Grace said, it’s the readiness to learn. It’s being ready to sit in a chair and listen and pay attention to the teacher. Not starting behind. 

For those other children at Chullora Public School, they’re at a significant disadvantage from the get-go. So one of the things that Professor Brennan is looking at with the Productivity Commission is what does a universal early education system actually look like for four-year-olds, for three-year-olds, for one-year-olds, for two-year-olds – the whole box and dice. That’s why this is such a big and important piece of work. We get the interim report at the end of the year and the final report next year. 

JOURNALIST: And another issue is that the child care and education unions are seeking a 25 per cent pay increase for staff because a lot of centres are having trouble finding enough staff. The government’s committed to being part of that process. But do you commit to funding a pay increase in the way you did with aged care, either federally or state governments? 

CLARE: It’s not appropriate for me to pre-empt that process, but you’re right, it’s now before the Fair Work Commission. That process is now taking place, as it should. There are more people working in early education and care today than there was a year ago. That’s a good thing. The data coming my way indicates we’ve got tens of thousands more people working in the sector. We’ve got more children in early education and care today than we had a year ago too, it’s about 50,000 more children in early education and care. And more centres are opening as well. But there’s lots of pressure on the system. There are more and more parents who want to get access to early education and care at the moment, so we need more workers, more centres. And part of that is looking at that pay claim, but it’s not appropriate for me to pre-empt that. 

JOURNALIST: But you agree in principle that taxpayers or governments should directly fund some of the wages rather than [indistinct]? 

CLARE: Natasha, I make the general point that there aren’t many jobs more important than the work our early educators do. Think about what I said at the start, the first five years of a child’s life are everything, and it’s the work that our early educators and our teachers do that shapes and changes and creates those lives. That’s why that matter before the Fair Work Commission is important. That’s why we’ve said we are prepared to participate in that process. But it’s not appropriate for me to pre-empt that process. 

JOURNALIST: You’re the Education Minister. If aged care is getting that assistance and the child care sector seem to be worried about staff [indistinct] aged care sector, as minister… 

CLARE: That process has just started. The bargaining will begin I think probably August, September or October. The Government has said its willing to participate in the process. It’s not appropriate for me to pre-empt that process. 

JOURNALIST: [Indistinct] subsidy kicks in, parents [indistinct] individual child care [indistinct] increase their costs. Is there anything that can be done [indistinct]? 

CLARE: There is a cap at the moment, a cap on the Child Care Subsidy, that most centres are underneath. What this will mean is, the injection of billions of dollars increasing the subsidy, will reduce the cost for parents right across the country, cheaper than it otherwise would have been. I gave the example of Goodstart where they’ve said that if you’re a family earning $100,000, the changes in the subsidy for them mean that you could effectively have the extra day of care. Or another way of describing it is, they’ve said that at the moment the out-of-pocket costs for their parents after they’ve received the subsidy are about $40 a day at the moment. With their fee changes and the increase in the subsidy that will drop to about $27 a day for parents. So that’s a good thing, but it’s just the start. 

Remember, in addition to this change, what the ACCC review, which is looking at caps, the way they work, the costs that childcare centres bear at the moment and what reforms we can make to improve the system, and then the big, long-term reform comes in that you were talking about, Natasha, which is that Productivity Commission work. 

JOURNALIST: And Minister Grace, [indistinct] you’re in charge of the state education system, would you support having more early childhood centres sort of on school grounds or next to school grounds, perhaps when you build a new school? 

GRACE: Yeah, we are rolling out school-delivered kindy. And a lot of our regional areas where the market can’t deliver, because our delivery mode at the moment, we’ve got 70 per cent in long day care centres, like today, to deliver kindy. We’ve got 30 per cent in standalone sessional, and then we’ve got about 160 schools that deliver in regional areas. We’re continually working with the industry where the market might fail because they can’t deliver it, and then we’re delivering schools [indistinct] way out there around the Longreach sort of area. That’s where we started school-delivered kindy, and you could see the kindy kids in with the preppy kids, and it was a fantastic delivery mode. And we’ve now extended that to 160, but we’re very much open that if we need to step in we will do so. But we want to make sure that no kids miss out. So what we’ve delivered now with kindy for all and free kindy is that no matter where you send your child, you will get it for free.