Press Conference - Sydney

07 May 2024


Minister for Early Childhood Education

Member for Youth



Minister for Early Childhood Education

Member for Youth


STEVE MOORE, COO, PLAYGROUP NSW: Welcome everyone to beautiful Randwick this morning. My name is Steve Moore. I'm the Chief Operating Officer for New South Wales. I’m incredibly lucky to be here with my daughter Juliet and also so many sector leaders in the early learning area and of course, the ministers, the Honourable Minister Rishworth and the Honourable Minister Aly. Incredibly exciting announcement this morning on the Early Years Strategy. One that's very close to my heart, not just because of my work at Playgroup New South Wales, but because as a new father, I've been so lucky to see the benefits already of some of the key things that are in this Strategy. It’s great to see further investment in the strategy and I really look forward to that and seeing the benefits of that for families around Australia. I'll now introduce Minister Rishworth to speak. Thank you.

AMANDA RISHWORTH, MINISTER FOR SOCIAL SERVICES: Thank you very much, Steve. It’s wonderful to be here today with my ministerial colleague Anne Aly, to launch what is the first National Early Years Strategy.  This is an important piece of work that has taken 18 months to put together. What this Strategy does is outline a vision that Australia has for its youngest children. It outlines the principles that will guide us, it outlines the outcomes we want to achieve, and importantly, actually ensures that we have priority focus areas that direct government investment. This hasn't been a document just of Government, though, this has been put together and expertly steered by our Early Years Advisory Panel and two of our members are here, Sylvana and Emma, who have helped guide this work to be the document it is today. Of course, we also wanted to ensure that children were centred in this document and that families and parents were critically at the heart of it. That's why we spoke to over 4000 parents, caregivers and others that have a role in the child's life to seek what is it that they wanted. And the message was really clear. They wanted the Government to ensure that there was better coordination and integration of supports and services. A quick stocktake of just Commonwealth websites showed that there were over 50 websites that give support to parents. So we need to do a lot of work to ensure that that coordination is much better. Of course, parents also wanted to make sure that they get support at the right time when they need it. And so that was a critical focus of the Early Years Strategy as well. Parents and caregivers, and indeed children, are deeply embedded in this document.  This document is for families, children, carers, those that work in early education care, other health and maternal services and it will guide our Government into the future. Of course, part of that is ensuring that the voices of parents and carers are deeply embedded in our future work and that's why I'm so pleased today to announce that we will have a Parents and Carers Reference Group that will guide future work and ensure that the voices of parents and caregivers continue to be a part of the three action plans that will form the life of this of this Strategy. But it also is important in guiding other investments. And today, I'm very pleased that we have as a government have committed to tackling entrenched disadvantage differently and one of the ways we said we'll do this is through payments on outcomes rather than restricted activities. I’m really pleased that with the Outcomes Fund, we are going to focus on children and families. This is what an Early Years Strategy drives - a focus and determination from Government to elevate little children, in particularly young children, and their parents and caregivers. This is a really important foundation piece that we'll continue to build on with our three Action Plans. But I need to be clear we haven't stopped still when it comes to investing in the early years, whether it's economic security through our expansion of Paid Parental Leave, adding superannuation onto Paid Parental Leave, whether it's our expansion of playgroups and toy libraries with over 300 new or emerging playgroups as a result of our Government's investment, whether it's an extension of the Parenting Payment, or indeed the uplift to community services. Our Government is very focused on investing in the early years, but this framework, this direction is critically important to drive that investment and importantly, coordination and collaboration further. I'll now hand over to Minister Aly. Thank you. 

DR ANNE ALY, MINSTER FOR EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION AND YOUTH: Thank you. I thought I might be upstaged today by the children here – if there is a competition, they definitely win! What a great day to be launching the Early Years Strategy. This Strategy really demonstrates a couple of things. First of all, our Government’s recognition that those first five years are critically important to a child's development and to a child's success. Not just in those first five years, but what they carry through childhood, adolescence and into adulthood. We know that if we get those first five years, those critical first five years right, we can make a huge difference – a huge difference to a child's life. And that's what drives the Federal Government on this. That's what drives Minister Rishworth. That's what drives myself, that recognition that we have in our hands the ability to tackle entrenched disadvantage, the ability to change a child's life and the ability to ensure that no child born into any form of disadvantage should have to carry that disadvantage through their lives. Already, just in the development of this work, the strategy has brought together community, it's brought together different departments that are usually siloed. It's brought together experts, brought together parents and importantly brought the voices of children in the development of this Strategy. And it builds on the work that our Government is already doing. Amanda referenced the work that we're doing in paid parental leave and in the social services space. It builds on the work that we do in childhood education and care. We've already made early childhood education and care more affordable, reducing out of pocket expenses on average by eleven per cent as reported in the ACCC Final Report. Next month we'll be receiving the Productivity Commission’s report that will be informing Australia's early childhood education and care sector so that we are building a world class sector with accessible, affordable and importantly, inclusive early childhood education and care. So it really is a momentous day today, to have a government for the first time that is demonstrating a commitment to early child development in a way that we've never seen before. And that has built into the Strategy accountability for ensuring that our youngest Australians can thrive in those early years and throughout their lives. Of course a critical part of this was our advisory group. And we are so honoured to have members of that advisory group here today, two of whom are standing here today, Sylvana and Emma. I'd love to hand over to them to say a few words about their experience with this process. Thank you.

EMMA WATKINS, ADVISORY PANEL MEMBER: We are only two members of the Advisory Panel, but we are thrilled and honoured to be part of this amazing experience. We would like to thank Minister Rishworth and Minister Aly for collaborating with the Advisory Panel over the last 18 months. It has been incredibly tricky and challenging discussing all of the areas and services that we would really love to be seen within the strategy and today we're so thrilled to present that strategy to everyone.

SYLVANA MAHMIC, ADVISORY PANEL MEMBER: My eldest son is an adult who has a disability, and I spent my career in the early childhood intervention field, working and advocating for the rights and supports for children, very young children, with developmental concerns and delays and disabilities and their families. I stay in this field because what happens in these very early years sets the trajectory for children and their families for their future. And that's why I'm particularly moved today by this very important and historic first in having this Strategy which is going to be a Strategy that places the value of little children and their families and caregivers up front and centre. It will set the policy direction for the future that shows that children and their families and their caregivers all children matter and that this policy will set the direction for the future. It's all children, including those with developmental concerns and disabilities and their families that this strategy is going to provide support and guidance for, so caregivers, families, the children themselves and the whole of community can thrive. It's a really historic and wonderful experience. 

EMMA WATKINS: We would love for Australia to be the best place not only to be a child, but to raise a child and we want to be the forefront of this beautiful strategy that's about to be presented. Thank you.

ROBYN, PARENT: I'm Robyn. I'm a stay-at-home parent to two boys ages five and two and one of my children does actually have a disability and I am the volunteer coordinator for PG playgroup. And I just wanted to say a little bit about what playgroup has meant to my family. I've been involved with playgroup for four years and taken over as coordinator probably 16 months ago and it's just such a valuable resource for my friends and my neighbourhood and the community that we've built. I tried to make it an accessible, friendly and inclusive space and affordable also because I know that matters to parents these days. And it's just something that I think has been so beneficial for my children and I want it to continue for all the children and it's turned into a real community. We have parents swap groups, and you have meetups outside of playgroup, and it's just such a lovely community and I really think that I would have been lost without it. And it's a good resource also for parents who are trying to navigate those early years which is the hardest job in the world and there's no manual for it and a lot of it is just figuring out on your own, figuring it out on your own. And it's just nice to have connections with those that have been in your shoes before.

JOURNALIST: On the Strategy, can you give us an example of what parents can practically now see?

AMANDA RISHWORTH:    This provides a roadmap for the Government to ensure that we are elevating and focused in our policy development on the early years. So what it means is the Government is showing a commitment and one of the examples is where we direct funding. As I said, that community development funding through the Outcomes Fund, for example, will be directed to families and children. That is what the strategy drives, it gives us a vision. It also gives us a direction, it gives us principles. This will need to be embedded across the Commonwealth Government. I hope also that states and territories who are big investors in the early years will also work with us and align themselves to this strategy. I also hope as a result, and this is ongoing work, that we will see a better coordination across government to ensure that services and support are better integrated. That is ongoing work and something that will be driven by his strategy.

JOURNALIST: Can you give us an example of when parents will see this change, so is it more playgroups funding?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: As one example, what is discussed in this strategy is the importance of focusing on working with communities, so working with parents and caregivers. We’ve announced today a new Parent and Carer Reference Group that will inform policy. That is ensuring that we have the voices of children and parents in all policy development. But when it comes to things like playgroups, it's very clear in the Strategy that we need spaces and places that are child friendly and welcoming. Playgroups and toy libraries are one of those examples. Our Government has started the investment in playgroups. We've seen over 300 playgroups either start already started or starting as a result of our Government investment. This strategy is about focusing on how we deliver on those principles, those priority areas. And you will see the Government continuing to deliver on this.

JOURNALIST: You said there were around 50 different websites with information and resources for parents. Are there plans to condense that to be more streamlined?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: Our commitment, of course is to work on better integration and coordination. And that's one of the areas that we will certainly be looking at. How we have better integration and coordination for parents at the Commonwealth level. That's a big job and that work needs to begin. In addition to that, we need to collaborate much better with states and territories to ensure that it is not the system that parents are having to work around. But a much easier navigation process. 

JOURNALIST: Minister, the Treasurer has flagged additional support for people through social service payments in this year's Budget. Are you able to tell us a bit about that?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: On Saturday we announced improvements to the Carer Payment. So the Carer Payment is a payment that is made to those with caring responsibilities, but we have had feedback that that was not flexible enough, that the cancellation happened too quickly, and that it didn't allow carers to prepare for the future. For example, doing education or indeed volunteering was all counted in the participation rules. So already we've announced changes to that Carer Payment, that have been widely welcomed by carers right across the country. Obviously, in terms of additional Budget measures, you'll have to wait until Budget night. But we already have shown a clear track record, whether it is the increase in the base rate of Jobseeker, whether it's in the increase in Commonwealth Rental Assistance that happened in the last Budget - the largest increase in 30 years, whether it's the extension of the Parenting Payment Single up until a child turns 14. All of these measures have been about strengthening the safety net and improving things for people that rely on income support.

JOURNALIST: Minister, what about Austudy so you've already seen some Budget announcements related to student HECS changes and placement payment. So is there anything say for example about increasing the parental income, the definition of independence, or access for regional students that you're looking at changing?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: I would say that when it came to the last Budget, the increase to income support payments and that increase in the base applied to those on student payments as well. In addition, many students receive Commonwealth Rent Assistance because they rent in the private rental market and rely on income support. So in our last Budget, we've already committed to improving things for those on income support that rely on payments, like Austudy and Commonwealth Rent Assistance, and that is a lot of students. Of course, you will have to wait until Budget night for all the details, but as Minister Clare has already announced, we have also announced changes to the indexation arrangements for HECS that will help people with not accruing too large a debt, along with payments for student placement. These are all measures that we've already announced, but for the rest you’ll have to wait for Budget night.

JOURNALIST: The strategy is all about advising good policy. When can the average parent expect to see results?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: The Strategy in its development will have Action Plans that will go alongside which will show concrete actions that the government will take. We hope to have that out by the end of this year, so it is something we're working very hard towards. But we have already taken concrete actions to support families in the early years. And that's been partly been driven at times by the feedback that we've received. As I said, whether it is for example, the announcement of a standalone Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children's Commissioner, that is a very much in response to a lot of the feedback that we received through our children's policy area, as well as the feedback from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander parents and carers through this process. So there has been action taken. I'll give another example. Not only have we extended Paid Parental Leave to 26 weeks, but we've added superannuation on top of that. That was something that came out of the consultations with parents and caregivers, the importance of having retirement income, a better retirement income, for those who are taking time out of the workforce. So already we're driving and announcing changes, but this policy will have an action plan and we hope to have that out by the end of this year.

JOURNALIST: We've spoken a little bit about how this policy will help, the Strategy will help, close generational disadvantages. But I'm sure the siloed system doesn't create that. So what practical things, in that sense, will close the gaps of generational disadvantage are you looking at and what's the feedback no matter where it's at?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: One of the areas in which we get a lot of feedback is that organisations say they are only funded to do certain activities. They're not funded on the outcomes, they're not funded on the achievements they are able to make working with a parent or family overall. And that's what our $100 million Outcomes Fund is about - paying organisations, and states and territories, on outcomes achieved for those families, not necessarily siloed program funding. And so that is a change of working that we've committed to do and as I've said today, that Outcomes Fund is $100 million and it will focus specifically on making sure that organisations are able to disrupt that entrenched disadvantage. 

JOURNALIST: What’s your latest advice on what happened in Perth if it wasn't a terror attack?

ANNE ALY: Obviously, it's an investigation that is underway, so it would be unwise to comment on an ongoing investigation. I'll leave that up to the police in terms of their determination on whether or not it is an attack that will come out through the investigation. 

JOURNALIST: You've done a lot of work on deradicalisation of youth, what went so wrong? 

ANNE ALY: I think it's important to point out that these programs are by and large successful for the majority of young people who partake in these programs. Unfortunately, as is the nature of things, we only hear about them when something goes wrong. In fact, I would say that many of your viewers and in fact many of the people in Perth wouldn't even know that these programs exist or that people are participating in these programs until something goes wrong. But for the vast majority of people, they are successful.

JOURNALIST: They will read that this boy was part of a deradicalization program. so how can the community had faith that the programs are actually working in their current form?

ANNE ALY: I've seen the program work. I've seen the program work on more than one occasion.  And I think, again, it's the nature of this that you don't see the successes. You see when they fail, you see when it doesn't work. Obviously every case where it doesn't work, there is an investigation, as is currently being undertaken by WA Police, and I'm sure that there will be some reflections on where the program could have made some adjustments to ensure that it was it was more successful in this case. But what I want to say is, every individual's trajectory to violence is different. So every program has to cater to individual circumstances and specific needs. There are only arbitrary commonalities that you can draw between individual pathways and so an individualised approach in the development and delivery of programs is necessary. Where there are significant mental health issues that can be even more challenging. Where there are other social issues that can also be challenging as well. But by and large, the programs have an approach where you have a holistic kind of intervention in a young person's trajectory to violence that involve things like psychologists, that involve mentoring, that involve community, that involve a religious leader where it's appropriate.

JOURNALIST:  Do you get the sense from people working in the space that it's getting more difficult to help? or I guess is this essentially a problem that is getting more difficult to tackle? 

ANNE ALY: I don't know that it's getting more difficult. I think it's getting different and a large part of that is the online component, which is why I think that the changes and the measures that our Government has announced in tackling online content will make such a positive impact and are very timely. We know from research by Reset Australia that young people, particularly young men, are through the algorithms of social media, coming into contact with and being exposed to, misogynistic and often violent content, more times than they're having hot dinners in a week. That is unacceptable. And so the measures that our Government announced last week around tackling online, the work that our eSafety Commissioner is doing, all these things will help to make a positive impact. Is it more challenging when it's online? Yes, in some respects it is. But the principles of diverting a young person away from violence remain the same.

JOURNALIST:  So to be more specific you are talking about social media algorithms?

ANNE ALY: Social media algorithms, the fact that social media is increasingly becoming more and more of an echo chamber through algorithms, so it gives back content and keeps people in these echo chambers that can lead individuals down a rabbit hole of radicalisation. 

JOURNALIST: On Perth specifically, would you agree that it has all the markings of a terror attack [inaudible]? 

ANNE ALY: I think we should wait for the police investigation before we make any assumptions about this case. I know that that there's some things coming out already. But again, I would caution that we need to wait for the police investigation before we make any assumptions or conclusions. 

JOURNALIST: Do you think something more could have been done in that situation?

ANNE ALY: My understanding is that everything that could have been done was done. And again, I don't want to pre-empt an investigation. I think it's wise for us to allow the investigation to take its course and allow the police to do their work in this case. 

JOURNALIST: Can you assure the community that if there are recommendations, they will be taken seriously? 

ANNE ALY: Well, that will be a matter for WA Police and the WA Government. I know the vital work that WA Police do in this space. I know their dedication to this. I send out my condolences to the families affected, including the police families that are affected. WA Government, WA Police and our Federal Government work together. I want to also just mention the work that WA Police did with the community and the relationship that they built with the community that had a really big impact on this case and allowed police to be able to intervene in this case. Incredibly vital, incredibly important work and I think the police in who are doing a great job in this space.

JOURNALIST: On the 500 frontline domestic violence workers who will be hired, only a fraction have so far. Why?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: Look our commitment to hire 500 frontline workers was funded in the October Budget in 2022. The payments have been made to states and territories who are the most appropriate to be hiring frontline workers as they already have a network of frontline workers on the ground. And we are working in partnership with states and territories. My understanding is that recruitment is actively underway by all states and territories to put these frontline workers in place and my expectation is that states and territories will work expeditiously to actually get these workers on board.