Minister Rishworth interviewed on ABC Radio Breakfast with Stacy Lee and Nikolai Belharz


Topics: Early Years Summit, Early Years Strategy, Industrial Relations

NIKOLAI BEILHARZ, HOST:    There has been a lot of focus on early learning recently. How your kids, how your grandkids develop in those early days and how much it can impact their later lives. We saw at a state level there was a Royal Commission that has been announced, now nationally at a federal level – a big summit is being planned. It's a bit like the Jobs and Skills Summit we saw earlier this year. Amanda Rishworth is the Minister for Social Services and joins us this morning. Amanda Rishworth, good morning. 

AMANDA RISHWORTH, MINISTER FOR SOCIAL SERVICES:     Good morning, great to be with you.

NIKOLAI BEILHARZ:     You don't do something like this without there being a problem or problems that you see as needing work or need to be addressed. What are the problems?  

AMANDA RISHWORTH:     I think firstly what we need to make sure is that our kids are going best prepared, ready for school, but also for life. This isn't just about school. This is for life as well. And what we know is 45 per cent of children are developmentally vulnerable before they start school, as they enter school. But really what this is about is looking at what programs and systems we have in place, how do we get them working together. Not just in education but in health, in wellbeing. Across the board, we want to make sure that we're getting the best outcomes for our children in those early years. So this is about getting departments, getting programs, getting systems to work better together for children and their families. 

NIKOLAI BEILHARZ:    So you mentioned 45 per cent of children are developmentally vulnerable. What does that mean? Who's missing out?

AMANDA RISHWORTH:    It can mean a range of things. It could mean that they haven't been as best prepared for school. It could be that they might have a health issue that hasn't been diagnosed or treated properly. So it's a range of different indicators on who is developmentally vulnerable. But what it means is that we have the opportunity if children are developmentally vulnerable to really push forward at school. If they are then there is a threat and a risk that they won't reach their full potential. So it can be a range of different things. What we need to do is work out how to prevent some of these things from happening. I think prevention is key and that's why this Summit will not be just looking at birth. It will be looking at before birth. So the health of the mother, the health of the family is part of this. But looking right across the board about how we can best support our children and their families. 

STACEY LEE, HOST:    And so are you trying to look at whether or not an extra year of kindy before children go to reception would be beneficial? Or are you looking at childcare earlier? Or is there anything specific? 

AMANDA RISHWORTH:    I'm keeping a really open mind because what we're doing is bringing together experts from a range of different fields. But it's not just a focus on education. I need to be really clear about that. Education is part of it. But what we know, for example, is I recently launched a strategy on playgroups. Playgroups can be equally important to supporting children getting ready for school. So I'm not going to be confined to a particular area. What we know, though is that we need our systems and our supports for families to be better integrated. And what we want to do is bring the experts together to look at what works and how we actually implement that.

NIKOLAI BEILHARZ:    So to use an example, would it be something like if or your child or grandchild, is it childcare and say an educator, you know, notices maybe that they're not growing as you would expect them to physically, that then that is kind of referred to a health service rather than just being a thought that kind of gets lost?

AMANDA RISHWORTH:    Look, that's an example of how systems could better work together. We want to make sure that we are looking at all the systems. We know that, for example, children get an early check when they are first born from a visiting nurse. How do all these systems work together? There's a four-year-old child check on health and development. How does it all work together to make sure that families and children don't fall through the cracks And where are there actually gaps in our system as well? So those are all the sorts of things that we'll be looking at. And also importantly, how the Commonwealth works together with states and territories. I've seen situations where the Commonwealth programs have been duplicating state and territories and then there's been gaps in other areas. So obviously states and territories have a huge role in this along with the Commonwealth. So how do we ensure it's not just families and children trying to navigate this system, but it is all working together.

STACEY LEE:   Well, speaking of duplication, just a couple of weeks ago we had Julia Gillard, former Prime minister, on this program to talk about the Royal Commission into early childhood education and education here in South Australia that she's undertaking at the request of Peter Malinauskas. So how will you ensure that they're different? Or are you going to be speaking to Julia Gillard and working in conjunction with the South Australian Royal Commission? 

AMANDA RISHWORTH:    Well, there's a lot of synergy there, isn't there? Julia Gillard is bringing together evidence and information. This summit is also doing that. So I think it is perfect timing that both South Australia as well as other states and territories are looking at what's working best in the state to get a holistic vision for early childhood in the state. And I think that very much complements the work that the Commonwealth is doing in this Early Years Summit. The summit is really the start of it. There will then be a about a five-month consultation process. Members of the public, experts will be able to put in submissions to the strategy process. 

STACEY LEE:    [Interrupts] Yeah, but do we need both? 

AMANDA RISHWORTH:    Well, there is a role for states and territories. I, as the Commonwealth Minister, am not going to be able to tell the states and territories what to do. I think there's a huge opportunity where the state is looking at what they are doing and the Commonwealth looking at what we're doing and how we complement that is a huge opportunity. I actually see it as a huge opportunity.

NIKOLAI BEILHARZ:    Minister how do you make sure this isn't a talkfest? I mean that there must be concerns that you get everybody together great. You have a bit of a chat, you do a report and then kind of nothing really happens.

AMANDA RISHWORTH:    Of course that's always a concern. But I think from the Jobs and Skills Summit, that really was a very productive model. It's led to proper practical action. There were outcomes straight after the summit, but there was also ongoing work that now is being done through a white paper process. So I really envisage, whether it's our Advisory Group, whether it's the attendees at the Early Years Summit that are bringing lots of knowledge and information, I feel really positive that we can get some tangible outcomes. There will be, though, of course, not just for those that are attending the summit but there is a process in which people can feed in. There will be workshops around the country. So this is going to be very much listening not only to the experts, but listening to children and families themselves. 

STACEY LEE:    And the money that's allocated towards it - $4.2 million - is that to implement the strategies that come out of the talks and the listening? Or is that just to organise and set up the listening? 

AMANDA RISHWORTH:     That is about the process now of actually executing the strategy. So obviously the planning and we can't pre-empt the outcomes that will come from this. So that is part of the work that will still need to be done.

STACEY LEE:    So is the $4.2 million just to set up the summit and to talk or will that be used to implement the strategies that come out? 

AMANDA RISHWORTH:     No, that is part of the whole process of getting a strategy delivered. So it's the summit. It also involves all the consultations. It's the experts, it's the whole process. It's not about the implementation. That's the next piece of work that will have to be done once we have the strategy in place.

STACEY LEE:    Okay. Well, $4.2 million just to get a few people in a room and listen to what they think is a lot of money. I mean we've just heard about 500 high risk children here in South Australia that social workers have to go out and knock on their doors and check on them. If that money was distributed between the states and territories, that'd probably go a long way to helping children that are already identified as being vulnerable and at risk 

AMANDA RISHWORTH:     Well, firstly, I would say it's much more than a summit. It is putting together a whole strategy. As I said, we will be having consultations right across the country. There will be ways for people to involve themselves. This is not something that's going to be a one off thing. It's a really significant thing. But what we need to know is what works. We can keep duplicating and keep doing things that don't work but need to make sure we're doing things that actually work. So this is a large piece of work. It's not just a one off group of people. We are talking about a significant piece of work here, which I'm very, very pleased and very hopeful will deliver a real vision and pathway going forward.

NIKOLAI BEILHARZ:    Speaking of all things money we've seen earlier this week, there's been some concerns that childcare workers may be moving to the aged care sector because they feel that they can effectively get a higher wage there. Does more money need to be put into the wages of early childhood educators to stop them leaving that sector and leading to a shortage there?

AMANDA RISHWORTH:    What we've known is whether it's aged care workers, whether it's early educators, for many years they have been in female-dominated industries that have been underpaid. And actually, that's what our industrial relations changes are all about in the Parliament. Putting gender equity at the heart of the Fair Work Commission as an object of the Act. We know that when early educators last went to the Commission to try and get a pay increase, what happened was that they were turned away because there wasn't a proper comparison of a male industry. We're getting rid of that requirement in the industrial relations system. So that's why our industrial relations laws and changes that we are proposing are so urgent and so important because at the heart of them they go towards these female dominated industries. What we had in aged care was a process through the Fair Work Commission. What we're saying is the laws do need to be changed to make sure that different industries that are female dominated, that have been undervalued, actually get a fair hearing at the Fair Work Commission.

STACEY LEE:   Amanda Rishworth, thank you for your time.