Interview - ABC RN

29 January 2024


Minister for Early Childhood Education

Minister for Youth


SUBJECTS:  Australian Competition and Consumer Commission report into cost of childcare; International Court of Justice ruling for Israel to take all measures to prevent genocide in Gaza; UNWRA funding halted.

PATRICIA KARVELAS, HOST: You may have heard from Gina Cass‑Gottlieb, the Chair of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission. They have put out a report into the cost of childcare, which has found the childcare market is not accessible and not meeting the demands of many families. And while the report found that Labor's changes have made things a bit better for families, they could be undermined by rising costs, and the system itself needs an entire overall. Anne Aly is the Minister responsible for early childhood education. She joins us now. Welcome to the program. 


KARVELAS: So, what's your reaction to this report, and will you accept its recommendations?

ALY: First of all, I think it's an incredibly thorough report. I have read it from page to page, and I know that I will go back to the report over the course of charting a system that works for parents and for children.

I think the report gives us some really useful insights into how the market operates and gives us some real cues on how we reform the system so that it works better, particularly for those cohorts that are currently missing out that are under‑served or unserved in the words of the ACCC, the words that they use to describe those cohorts.

So, working through the recommendations, but certainly at this time really absorbing everything that's in the report, and particularly the point that is made in the report that the current system, where a one size fits all isn't working for all children. And so we need a different approach to ensure that we achieve what it is that we want to achieve with Early Childhood Education and Care, and that is a system that is affordable, that is accessible and that is inclusive of all Australian children.

KARVELAS: So are you prepared to intervene into the market where the market is failing, and what would that look like?

ALY: I think the report makes it very clear that some form of regulation or intervention is needed in areas, as you say, where the market is failing, or where the market just isn't delivering for the needs of parents and children.

I think that's one of the key findings of the report, and the key recommendations of the report, that different kinds of markets, and the kind of the categorisation into markets that, or demographics that are served, demographics that are underserved and demographics that are unserved makes it very clear that we are going to need some form of intervention or regulation to ensure that those areas that are unserved or underserved get the same level of access.

What that looks like, I think it can look like a whole lot of different things, but I think that needs to be taken into consideration and what it's going to look like in terms of how we're going to reform the entire system, for children with disability, for example, to ensure that it's inclusive, for example.

KARVELAS: You've said that you'd like to see a total overhaul of the childcare system, but the variety of different types of providers makes that really hard.

ALY: Yeah.

KARVELAS: And it's a decade‑long task. Is that total overhaul going to be part of this?

ALY: Oh, huge, I think so. I think ‑ so you know, the reason, Patricia, that we commissioned the Productivity Commission Review and the ACCC Review as well as some in-house reviews on our Inclusion Support Program and our In Home Care Program, for example. All of these reviews together are really going to come together and give us an overall picture of what it kind of currently looks like and where we need to make all of those changes.

But I think that the most kind of cognisant thing that we have at the moment, or the clearest thing that we have at the moment is that the market is not working for every child, and that is why we need a system reform that is going to work for children, for parents, and ensure that every child, no matter what they are, no matter where they live, no what their background, has access to quality Early Childhood Education and Care.

KARVELAS: I just want to take you to a couple of other issues before I say good‑bye to you, Anne Aly, just on some huge stories coming out of Israel‑Gaza. I want to ask you about the International Court of Justice's ruling that Israel is to take all measures to prevent genocide in Gaza. Should the Albanese Government place sanctions on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his government if these recommendations are not followed?

ALY: Look, I welcome the ICJ ruling, and in many ‑ I understand that there are a lot of people who thought it didn't go far enough. But the fact is that the ICJ ruling really kind of reiterates what we've been saying all along, which is to really stress and put pressure on Israel to ensure that it abides by International Rules of Law.

In terms of the kinds of actions that we take in response to the ICJ, I think that's something that would need to be considered, particularly in terms of the kind of impact that they would have. I think it's not unexpected that Israel would kind of dismiss the ICJ ruling, or at least push back on the ICJ ruling. They have done so in the past, not so much with the ICJ but with other, you know, international organisations.

KARVELAS: It's been dismissed, the ICJ generally, by Israel. Do you think this case has merit?

ALY: I think that it's difficult to see the images coming out of Gaza and Palestine and not feel concern and not feel empathy and not feel that something needs to be done.

I don't ‑ I haven't got the full details of the case that was brought to the ICJ, and I am not an international justice specialist to be able to make a determination of whether or not it has merit.

But I share the passion and the anguish of many people in the community around what is happening at the moment to people in Gaza and the West Bank.

KARVELAS: Labor has joined the US, Canada and Britain in halting funding to UNRWA who are providing aid in Gaza. Of course, this follows Israeli allegations that they took part in the October 7 Hamas attacks. Do you agree that the funding should be halted?

ALY: I think that these are pretty serious allegations; I don't think anyone can deny that these are fairly serious allegations, which is why not just Australia, but a number of countries have taken that step.

The Foreign Minister, Penny Wong, has been speaking with UNRWA, as far as I know speaking with UNRWA about this. What I'd like to see is a resolution as quickly as possible, so we can get that aid back into where it's needed in Gaza and in Palestine.

KARVELAS: So it does worry you that it's ‑ the pause, how temporary would you like it to be?

ALY: I'd like it to be as short as possible. I think it's pretty clear that one of the most vital services for people in Gaza and in the West Bank is provided by UNRWA, they provide, you know, essential - essential aid to people who, you know, really, really need it at the moment, and have needed it and have been, you know, the primary source of aid for Palestine and Gaza. 

And so I would like to see this resolved as soon as possible, given that they are fairly serious allegations, but I ‑ and I understand that UNRWA is currently investigating, and I hope these investigations are swift, and we can restore the funding as soon as those investigations are done.

KARVELAS: Do you agree with former Prime Minister of New Zealand who spoke to us earlier, who said that the cutting of the funding at this stage could be catastrophic?

ALY: I think the whole situation is catastrophic. I mean, you know, you want to use the term "catastrophe", I think that describes the entire situation.

I hope that it gets sorted out as quickly as possible so that it doesn't get to the point where it is absolutely catastrophic.

KARVELAS: Thank you so much for joining us.

ALY: Thanks, PK, and happy birthday by the way.

KARVELAS: Thank you. Early childhood Education Minister, Anne Aly, clearly briefed on a couple of other things there too. You're listening to ABC RN Breakfast where it's quarter past 8.