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Transcripts from the Prime Ministers of Australia

Transcript 15875

Press Conference with Maxine McKew, Sydney Day Nursery, Sydney

Photo of Rudd, Kevin

Rudd, Kevin

Period of Service: 03/12/2007 to 24/06/2010

More information about Rudd, Kevin on The National Archive website.

Release Date: 17/04/2008

Release Type: Interview

Transcript ID: 15875

PM: Can I say how happy I am here this morning to be at SDN here at Erskineville. Because SDN is an organisation which has been going since 1905 and it has always had a particular commitment to the needs of kids and littlies in inner city Sydney.

What we have here at this centre at Erskineville is a effort to bring together two streams of services for our little children. Long day care on the one hand and preschool education on the other and to integrate them within the one location.

And as I have been advised by those who run this centre here, it is working very well. The proposal that I have put up for discussion at the summit this weekend would seek to build on such a model and try to bring together three streams of services and perhaps some additional services for children aged 0-5.

Firstly, maternal and child health and welfare. The basic health checks which the little ones need. And how to assist parents with the provision of basic health care to very little children. The second of course is the long day care requirements of working families and that is a necessary part of contemporary Australian life.

And the third is the really important emerging science and reality of early childhood education, called preschool, called different things in different states.

But basically, how do you assist little ones with pre-literacy and pre-numeracy and play based learning from the earliest stages of their cognitive development.

We think that if you take as your starting point the needs of working families struggling with making ends meet, struggling with the practicalities of little kids under five, often more than one, how do you best suit their needs long term and suit the nation's requirements long term as well.

And the proposal I have put for the Summit is that we set for ourselves a goal by 2020 of universal access to such services in single locations for working families.

Now when it comes to the Summit itself, I am sure there is going to be a lot of debate, a lot of debate about a whole range of proposals for education, for skills, for training. But can I say, early childhood education is really important.

When I became leader of the opposition a year or so ago, the first policy I released at the university of Melbourne in January of 2007 was on early childhood education.

This is really important stuff for the future. It firstly helps working families, secondly, helps in particular the families suffering from the challenges of disadvantage if you get it right and thirdly, it is the best long term investment in the workforce needs of the economy. Because what happens with the early learning experiences of very young children shapes so much of their later development in life including their emotional development, their social development and their skills formation as well.

And there is a persuasive literature around the world today, that if you invest decisively early on, the yield later on for families, for the economy and for kids themselves is much greater.

And the last thing I would say before asking Maxine to comment as the relevant Parliamentary Secretary is this, that when we came to Government, this country, Australia was running stone-motherless-last across the OECD in national investment in early childhood education.

If we are serious about debating our future, if we are serious about setting goals for our future, if we are serious about helping working families reach those goals for the nation, this area that's early childhood education, must be an absolute priority.

If I could turn to Maxine to add and then we will take some questions.

MAXINE: Thanks Prime Minister. I suppose I would like to say that this is a big idea that the Prime Minister has put on the table and my sense of the reaction this morning is that parents across the country have been saying, “you beauty”.

I think it is because this really is a response to what we pick up, both Tanya and myself in our own electorates and indeed the Prime Minister does.

Most certainly as you campaigned across the country last year. Parents are stressed these days. Parents are living busy complex lives and that stress flows on to the children so I think the task for smart Governments is to look at the way we can roll out innovative models that bring together a range of services that effect the future cognitive and social development of children and in turn take a bit of stress off parents.

And bringing together help, bringing together education, bringing together I would say as well special needs assistance for many children. That is a smart way to go. There are huge challenges which is why the Prime Minister, you know, COAG is the workforce. We know we will not achieve this unless we get agencies working together. Health and Education particularly, have to come together.

I know for instance say there are centres that are very keen to bring an infant health nurse into the centres where you have got long day care, Pre School, special help for children on the autism spectrum, but they are having real interagency fights over getting the health nurse in. Well as I say, I mean, I think this is part of the challenge that we have as a new Government to get all those agencies working together. So Prime Minister I welcome this initiative, I think it is a beauty.

PM: And finally on that, it is also about joined up Government. You shouldn't have bureaucratic turf fights between, you know, agencies about how services are best delivered for children and for their families in the centre.

Otherwise you have got services being dictated by agency squabbles in Canberra or in Philip St or Macquarie St or wherever. That shouldn't be the case. The starting point should be to whom is the service being delivered. The little children in the first instance and their mums and dads in the other, their families. And then the dividend is also for the economy long term.

Over to you for some questions.

JOURNALIST: How do you plan to involve the private sector, I mean you have got, the private sector, not for profit sector, the not for profit sector is saying (inaudible) they are the best placed to deliver all of these services, do you plan to involve the private sector as well?

PM: Absolutely. First of all, put the status of my proposal into context, this is a proposal for discussion at the Summit. I challenge the nation to think ahead, more than a decade's time for 2020, I felt as if I had some responsibility to put something on the table myself, this is an idea and let's see what the response is.

Secondly, if there is support for this and if there is, and there may be additions and subtractions from the idea, we have no ideological approach whatsoever in terms of the form of ultimate delivery. Not for profits like this one here who do a fantastic job. But as Maxine was saying outside, there are certain for profits around the country who are doing good things as well.

The key thing is to get policy setting right. Do we want to have, for the nation, this service delivered in a single location for working families across the country. Universal access. No one will be mandated to use such service. What you do with children zero to give ultimately involves high levels of parental discretion.

But, the key thing is, getting that policy direction settled, agreed and then you look at different forms of delivery.

JOURNALIST: But how are you going to guarantee low cost child care if you are turning it over to the private sector?

PM: Well can I say, right now, we have childcare delivered by multiple forms right across the country. For profits and others. And you know, they do a generally pretty good job and some do fantastic jobs from within both sectors.

I don't think we should get obsessed with the actual form of delivery, that is the actual mechanism of delivery. What we've got to settle is the actual end point which is that a working family in Western Sydney, under financial pressure, has access within reasonable reach to a centre which brings together maternal and child health, brings together long day care, brings together early childhood education, play based learning, and, where necessary, additional outreach services for particular families who may need further help with their kids early learning development or with their basic health care.

MCKEW: Could I just add to that, just very briefly. Affordability is an issue, but you know, it's very interesting. I could take you to some of the top quality centres in the country and they set some of the most competitive rates.

The issue that comes up as well as affordability is the most important one of quality. Where you see high demand for particular services, it's where there is a premium put on quality. So that's the message we're getting.

JOURNALIST: Mr Rudd, there's some criticism of you of the timeframe for this plan. 12 years you are looking at. And the fact that the 260 childcare centres promised during the election (inaudible) haven't been built?

PM: Well, for the 260 childcare centres which form part of our pre election commitment, we, as I understand it, have identified already I think some 38 priority sites. They will be funded with the upcoming Budget and then the roll out of bricks and mortar through the planning process for each of those sites proceeds accordingly.

It's very difficult from Canberra to say that a piece of brick will be laid down on a particular date at a particular location 38 sites across the country. I don't intend to do that. And the rest of the 260 will be laid through a methodical process based on needs analysis and locations.

But you talk about 2020, my challenge to the nation is this: let's lift the sights above short term planning, let's engage in some long term thinking for Australia's future. Where do we want littlies such as these to be in a generation's time. And my view is, let's have the debate. That what this Summit is about. On how do you best provide for the future for little ones like this, their families, as well as for the nation. And the literature I read over the summer before last by Heckman, and others, about the absolute importance of investment in young children's lives in the zero to five bracket, is compelling.

As is compelling, the fact that we are the world's worst national investors in early childhood education. That's unsustainable long term. When I was recently in Britain I was advised by various people working with the British Government that the intensity of their research now lies in the earlier sort of neurological examination of the formation of a young child's brain, and therefore, how can we best provide the most effective learning environments and nurturing environments for those children.

You know, I think this is a really important area for the future and why politicians often walk away from it is that, let's just say were talking about investing in these things long term, well, you don't see the yield for 10, 15, 20 years time. Usually outside the normal political cycle. That's why we are having the Summit.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister under this plan -

PM: Proposal. Proposal that's what the Summit is about it is for proposal to be discussed. And as I said, it may not attract a whole lot of support, we'll see. Sorry, go on.

JOURNALIST: Where do the traditional baby health care centres, normally attached, say, the local council and the like with the one or two nurses that may be there offering free services. But where do they sit once you shift everything to bigger child care centres?

PM: Well, baby health care clinics, and I've seen them in various forms around the country, and often attached to local authorities on local Government premises, and sometimes in my own state of Queensland delivered slightly separately. They do a fantastic job. It's just that we would, under this proposal, like to see that made easier by way of access for parents by locating in a single centre your core needs for the delicate and difficult task of raising very small children.

JOURNALIST: Are they to be replaced under this proposal?

PM: No, no. Can I just say, under this proposal, a future model, all those baby clinics just remain right where they are. And if we design a future model, into the future, into the 2020 plus bracket, then you would want to bring these services into a single location so that those services continue to be delivered, continue to be delivered as they have been delivered well by those care providers now.

GINNIE UDY - SDN: Could I just make a comment there, because we've been piloting and shown that this model already works. And while the ideal situation would be a stand alone centre, there is so much that you can do already on the basis of what we already have, and a lot of it is not about even actual physical co-location, but the kind of across system links that Maxine was saying at the moment can be so difficult.

We have proven that through just local connections you can build up a much greater integrated service, even if it is not physically co-located. The relationships that our centres have built up with their local baby health clinics, where we've had those staff choosing to come and run some clinic days from our centres or we've run a playgroup in their building.

So it's a lot about the relationships that you create and being more flexible and open minded and thinking laterally. Not just about the bricks and mortar. So it can start earlier, and we have already been doing it. And shown it's worked.

JOURNALIST: While you've stepped forward there, there's been a bit if debate this morning on radio, which effectively rolls around the idea and this was mentioned earlier that the private sector might in some way consume community (inaudible) process. Do you see a risk in that?

GINIE UDY - SDN: The not for profit sector is a third, still, of the sector and there's 3,000 childcare centres across the country. Ideally, it may not mean that absolutely every single one of those centres has to be augmented in this way we've talked about a concept of lighthouse centres, and you don't need a lighthouse on every cliff. You just need a focus of attention, you need that spilling out of networks and connections and a place where people can go. It doesn't need to be on every corner.

JOURNALIST: But you obviously believe that the not for profit sector is better placed to supply these services than the private sector. You said that to the Prime Minister outside.

GINIE UDY - SDN: The value base of the not for profit sector, we believe, is most consistent with this model.

PM: You know, you can construct some conflict up the middle of this if you like, and I know that's where you're going. But can I just say the debate we're having about this proposal is, what's the best end point? And frankly, there are great contributions to be had.

I've got stacks of not for profits in my own electorate in Brisbane. I've got stacks of for-profits. I see good things everywhere. And it's entirely legitimate for not for profit sector to say, ‘hey, we do it best, this is what we do'. I'd expect that, that's normal.

Let's sort of get passed the stage where you're going to have a debate about the future delivery points for effective early childhood services to people that, you know, here is right, here is wrong, here is black, here is white, this is good, this is bad. You know, we need to get beyond the, you know, win/lose on to some real focus and agreement about where we want to land long term. And if that is agreed that that is the destination point. Which is to provide integrated services for children aged zero to five, then, the models for delivery can be appropriately discussed. We haven't got to stage one yet, which to a degree, that's the end point.

JOURNALIST: (Inaudible) because the private sector has a profit margin. And if you allow that sector to take over this idea there are real concerns around affordability.

PM: Well can I say as Maxine said before, two objectives we have, the nation, which is high quality, and high levels of affordability for people right across the country. And our starting premise is always what's possible and best for working families.

But if you're talking about healthcare, you're talking about aged care, you're talking about a whole range of service deliveries across the country including school education. Let me tell you, we have diverse delivery models in every form right across the nation. We don't have a one size fits all approach.

The key thing in this debate is, do we as a nation agree, and that's part of the reason we're having this proposal discussed at the Summit, do we agree that where we want to land in a decade or so time, is to have these services integrated, not through silos which don't talk to each other, for little children aged zero to five, universally available.

That is the debate to be had. And if we agree on that, it'll be expensive. This has not been costed. It will be expensive. Then you go down to, as I said explicitly last night in my speech, it hasn't been costed, because we should test these ideas on their merits. Then we go down to the best models for delivery.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, are you able to just in some way define what you mean by universally available on the two key fronts, which are waiting times, or waiting lists, and cost?

PM: When I say universal access, it was outlined in the speech last night. This is to be the subject of debate at the Summit, and I welcome all contributions to it. By the end of the Summit you might have ten additions to what I've put forward and five subtractions.

But universal access means that you've got universal access to high quality, affordable, care for children and early childhood education and health opportunities for children.

That means that if you live in a particular location across the country, you have physical access to such services and it is within your financial reach.

At present that is not the case on either score right across the nation. That's why this is an important debate.

Doing this right for zero to fives is as important as doing it right for kids at university. That's why this debate is necessary.

Cast your mind back a hundred years, not many of us here were. SDN was. One hundred years ago the debate was about, should there be such a thing as universal primary education. And the debates at the time was, ‘good grief, we can't have that, because it is so expensive' and, you know -

MCKEW: Where will we get the teachers.

PM: where will we get the teachers. If the churches want to do that, that's fine. They can be private providers of it. But, you know, let's not have, ‘where will we get the teachers from, it'll cost the taxpayer', etcetera.

We went through that debate.

Come the Second World War, the debate around the country was ‘could we possibly be so bold as to think that we should have universal secondary education?'.

And most of the secondary schools you'll see built around the country, start being built in the post-war period. That's where you started to have secondary education at scale. And everyone said, ‘gee, is that the right way to go? Surely everyone should just go out and do X, Y and Z without going to secondary school, and it's not affordable'.

Then, come to the final quarter of the century we had a debate about universal access to post-secondary education. Be it through vocation education and training or to universities. And we went through the whole debate about affordability then, and we continue to have that debate

All I'm saying is, there is a fourth piece in this. And we skipped over it at the beginning. And that's what happens to zero to fives.

Getting this right is important for the nation, important for families and important for the little kidsters as well.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, (inaudible) support would you expect at the 2020 Summit this weekend given that it's your own idea that you're taking to your Summit?

PM: Oh, given the attitude which I imagine in an Australian democracy is often displayed towards political leaders, people will be robust in support and opposition. And, I frankly don't care. That's a matter for, you know, you've got to be pretty relaxed about these things.

Here is an idea, whack it out there, and I don't think, if we are involved constantly in this win-lose, right-wrong, you know, you're a dope for putting it up, you're really brilliant for not putting it up kind of idea, you know, we get no where.

When I said when I launched this Summit idea, the whole purpose of this enterprise is to shake the tree. To have fall out of the tree good ideas for the nation's future which come from beyond the ranks of Government.

I actually was dead serious. Because there is a whole lot of brilliance and innovation, I didn't even know about SDN until this morning, a whole lot of brilliance and innovation out there in the community which we need as a Government to tap into.

Another part of my address last night at the Sydney Institute said precisely that. Is that the Summit itself is about harvesting good ideas for the future from outside of Government. It's also about a new form of Government, whereby, we reach out from the narrow circles of politicians like us, bureaucrats, and I've been one of those as well, and actually to people at the coal face, who may not agree with 100 per cent of what we are (inaudible), I don't care. It's just that they are doing really good stuff, and how do you translate the innovation on the ground into good things for the nation.

That's the new form of governance that I want for Australia, and I'm absolutely passionately committed to it. Thanks, got to go.

Transcript 15875