Doorstop Interview – Brisbane – Tuesday 24 October 2023


SUBJECTS: Affordable child care; Cyber security; Engineered stone ban; Student teacher pay; Hong Kong police training in Australia; Bushfire preparedness.

JOHN CHERRY, GOODSTART EARLY LEARNING: Morning, everybody, I’m John Cherry from Goodstart Early Learning. We’re delighted to have the Deputy Prime Minister and Education Minister here today. We’re particularly delighted because our families have enjoyed a 15.5 per cent reduction in out of pocket costs thanks to the government’s childcare reforms introduced in July. And the amazing work that the government is doing with the sector to develop a universal childcare system and to deliver better pay outcomes for educators. So delighted to have you all here today, and to have our friends from the United Workers Union here as well.

JASON CLARE, MINISTER FOR EDUCATION: Thanks very much, John. It’s great to be here. Ayan and the whole team, thanks for making us feel so welcomed here, at Goodstart in Wishart. Early education is important, but it’s expensive. Apart from the mortgage, or the rent, it’s the biggest bill that a lot of Australian families pay. Ask a lot of parents and they’ll tell you that when their children finish early education and go to primary school, it feels like they get an instant pay rise. So what we do here is important. Over the course of the last four years in the last government, we saw prices skyrocket, double the OECD average. That’s why we took to the last election, a plan to make childcare cheaper. That’s now coming into effect. And we’re already seeing the impact of that. John, you just made the point that in your centres there is an average cut of 15 per cent- that’s above the national average, which is about 14 per cent. But let me give you just one real example; if you’re a family, on a combined income of $120,000- so two parents combined income of $120,000- and you’ve got one child in care, three days a week, than you’re likely now to save about $2,000 a year. That’s real money. That is making a real difference. But that’s just the first step. There is more work to do here. The next stage of our reforms is the ACCC Review. We’ve got the interim report from the ACCC about last month, that talks about the price cap and price controls, naming and shaming bad operators. And then the next step after that is the Productivity Commission report. And we expect to receive their interim report next month, which is all about building a universal quality education system, one that’s affordable and accessible, and helps every child to be set up for life. Because what we do here counts. It is good for children, it’s good for parents, and it’s good for the economy. And that’s why I’m so glad that Richard as the Acting Prime Minister, he’s here today to see the great work that Goodstart is doing and the good, good work that we’re doing right across the country.

RICHARD MARLES, ACTING PRIME MINISTER: Thanks, Jason. Great to be here with Jason and John and Ayan. And thank you very much for having us at Goodstart centre here today. My father was a school teacher, a principal, a lifelong educator. And I never forget him telling me the day that he retired that after a life in education, he had come to the conclusion that the best indication of how a kid would finish his education or her education was the way in which that child started. And that the most important year that children have in their education is the first year- right here in early childhood, in early child care. This early childhood education is a fundamental part of a child’s journey throughout their education. And it’s why we have been so focused on providing support to this sector and making it more affordable. It was really the very first significant policy announcement of Anthony Albanese’s leadership of the Labor Party was to make childcare more affordable. And as of July of this year, that’s what’s happened. We’ve seen prices dropped by 14 per cent on average, across the sector for families who have their kids in child care, which is a real difference in terms of what is a very expensive part of the household budget. And this forms part of a broader agenda that the Albanese Government has in place around easing the burden of the cost of living, they’re putting downward pressure on energy bills. They’re making medicines cheaper. The 60 day prescription which makes medicines cheaper for those who use them frequently- all of these measures that we put in place along with getting wages going- to ease the cost of living pressures that families are facing around the country. And that is going to be the focus of this Government going forward, as it has been since the moment that were elected. And it starts right here in child care.

JOURNALIST: Just on another matter, today’s Microsoft announcement. Why is a $5 billion investment by Microsoft needed to boost cybersecurity needed? Just how high is the cyber threat?

MARLES: Well, firstly, this is a huge announcement. And it’s really important for our economy, because I think the great challenge of Australia’s economy is to climb the technological ladder to infuse our economy with science and technology. And this announcement from Microsoft in relation to its investment into Australia is a huge boost in that regard. Nine new data centres across the country, but also, as you said, working with the Australian Signals Directorate- ASD- to help boost the cyber security of our country, both across the government, but also the private sector. There’s a sense here of needing to improve our public cyber health to make sure that companies around Australia are doing what they need to do to protect themselves against data breaches. We’ve obviously seen some significant data breaches over the course of the last few years, that is part of what it is now to operate a business in modern society. And you go around and talk to major businesses in this country, and this is one of the single biggest issues that they face. The investment of Microsoft into Australia is going to be a huge leap forward in relation to that, as well. As it will be in terms of training Australians that Microsoft’s talking about 300,000 Australians getting greater access to training around it. And that’s going to be really important.

JOURNALIST: How high is the cyber threat?

MARLES: The cyber threat is really significant. Again, if you talk to companies around Australia, this is one of the preoccupations that companies have. And we’ve seen significant data breaches which have put this into the public light, but companies big and small, are feeling this. And it’s really important that companies are doing the basics in terms of securing the data that they hold. Australian consumers have an expectation that when they give their information over to companies, that information is going to be kept in a safe way. But that is a real challenge for those companies. And it’s why this is a really important step forward.

JOURNALIST: Unions are wrapping up their push for a ban on engineered stone, do you support that?

MARLES: Well, we’ve been examining this question. And we’ve seen – it’s a question that has been under review. We absolutely are aware of the significant health impacts associated with working with engineered stone. We are very mindful of this, and we are working with trade unions who have been very active in this area – rightly – around what the way forward is. This is a significant issue for worker health – public health, but worker health. And it’s really important that we get this right going forward.

JOURNALIST: Should the Safe Work Australia report into engineered stone be released to the public?

MARLES: Well, again, we’re working through the report, and we’re working through what it is saying and speaking with unions about this as well, so that we can plot the best way forward. I mean, this is a very significant area, but it is a very significant issue that workers who are in this space are having, and it’s really important that we are making sure that Australian workplaces are as safe as they can be. And that very much includes in respect of engineered stone.

JOURNALIST: Just on final matter, six members of the Hong Kong Police Force recently completed management courses in Australia and toured key sites. Is that appropriate?

MARLES: Look, I must say I’m not aware of the detail on that so I’ll need to come back to you.

JOURNALIST: Just couple for the Education Minister, if that’s alright? Thank you. The Women’s Economic Equality Task Force recommended teaching students should be paid when they are on mandatory placements. Do you think that’s an idea worth pursuing?

CLARE: Well, it’s an idea that’s in the Employment White Paper that we released only a couple of weeks ago. It’s an idea that was in the Accord Interim Report. In the visits I’ve made to universities talking to teaching students, but also nursing students and early education students as well, people will often talk to me about placement poverty, about the fact that they’ll often have to give up their part time job to do prac. The amount of time that a nursing student, for example, spends in hospital, to learn to become a nurse while they’re still at university, something like 800 hours, so it’s significant. And if you’re trying to pay the rent, live out of home, you need a part time job. And you can’t do that job because you’re spending all the time working in the hospital or working at a school. But that’s one of the things that can contribute to people dropping out. And we need more nurses, we need more teachers, we need more early educators. So that’s one of the things we’re looking at here, the White Paper has asked me to scope out what this might look like, and what the states and the Commonwealth might do together here. But beyond that, in looking at paid placements, look at what the private sector and business could contribute as well.

JOURNALIST: And when will you make a decision on whether it’s an idea worth pursuing or not?

CLARE: It’s something that we’ll look at in the context of next year’s Budget. I’m also waiting for the Accord final report, which will present recommendations to us at the end of the year.

MARLES: Can I just say one thing, we’re very mindful of fires which are burning right now in the Western Downs. We’ve seen the loss of some houses. And we know that fire and emergency crews are working diligently at this moment to keep those fires under control. Our thoughts are very much with them as our thanks are with those fire and emergency crews. It’s a reminder that we are here in the second half of October, we’ve got a long summer ahead and the forecasts are for it to be a hot summer, and a summer with bushfire threat. I think if there are any people who are in danger in respect of these fires, make sure that you are contacting emergency services, that you get all the appropriate information that you can in relation to this and that you follow the advice which has been given to you by those emergency services. And for the rest of the country, all the preparations that people need to make, in terms of being bushfire ready for what is going to be a hot summer. This is a reminder to do that right now.

JOURNALIST: I mean, it’s not even summer yet. Do you feel confident in Australia’s preparedness for this bushfire season?

MARLES: Well, we’re working very hard in relation to our preparedness. But particularly people who live in bushfire prone areas cannot be too diligent in making sure that they have their own preparedness in place in terms of their houses to make sure that they’re ready. You’re right, here we are, 24th of October there’s a long way to go before the end of summer and we are seeing bushfires start now. And all the long-range forecasts for this summer is it’s going to be a hot one, and it’s going to be one where there is a bushfire threat. And I think what we’re seeing in the Western Downs now is just a reminder, people need to make sure that they get themselves prepared.