Transcript - Doorstop, Senate Courtyard - Cakes, Candles and Infection Control - 6 February 2013
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6 February 2013
Tanya Plibersek: Look, thanks very much for coming out this morning. There's been a bit of discussion this morning about some suggestions that came out of the NH and MRC yesterday for childcare centres about reducing infections. Now, we know anyone who's had kids in childcare knows how terrible it is when the kids get sick. It's awful seeing your kids sick.
And as a parent, it means working out, well, who's going to take the day off work to look after the kids? So being able to reduce the spread of infections in childcare centres is really important. When it's cold and flu season, kids are constantly coming home with a cold or a flu and some parents have had pretty nasty experiences in the last year with different viruses going around; vomiting, diarrhoea.
Quite often the whole family gets sick when one of the kids gets sick at childcare. So, whatever we can do to keep kids healthy at childcare is a good idea. The NH and MRC is a scientific organisation and what it does is it looks at all of the available evidence and says what are the best ways of reducing the transmission of illnesses in childcare centres.
So there's some really important tips in there, like make sure that kids are washing their hands regularly, make sure that you're preparing food in a way that keeps it clean and safe. If people are sick, if kids are sick, or if childcare workers are sick, of course they should stay home so that they're not spreading illnesses at the childcare centre.
There's been a lot of focus on one particular suggestion in this guide, which is about providing little cupcakes instead of one big cake when kids blow out the birthday candles on one big cake if the child's sick. It's possible that other kids in the childcare centre will pick up that virus, that cold, that flu.
And one of the things that's been really interesting about this this morning has been the kind of over the top comments that we've had from the Opposition spokesperson who has suggested that this is about banning birthday cakes and so on.
I just wanted to read you what Peter Dutton said on the radio this morning. He says, good morning Alan. I think it has gone completely mad, this government. It's nanny state and I'm as angry as any parent. As a dad I feel angry that the government feels the need to intrude into everything.
Then there's a comment from the journalist. Peter Dutton says well, I just don't know what's next. I just think that the Prime Minister needs to ask the Minister to have another look at this because it's really beyond the pile and I think mum and dad know how to bring up kids. They don't need the government staring over their children.
Now, what the journalist says is if you get into government basically, will this be unravelled? Consider it done, says Peter Dutton. The reason that I thought this commentary from Peter Dutton was so interesting was that I have here with me two versions of this Staying Healthy in Child Care guide.
One of them here is the 2013 version, which we launched yesterday, that suggests that you might want to take cupcakes if your child is having a birthday party rather than one big cake. This is a version from 2005. The 2005 version says virtually the same thing. The wording is almost identical.
Who was health minister in 2005? Peter Dutton's basically gone out and said that Tony Abbott is a nanny state enforcer and that parents don't know what they're doing and that Tony Abbott as health minister was [sic] gone mad.
So I just really wanted to point out what happens when you've got an opposition that are more interested in a cheap grab and an instant response and their first response is always saying no. Now they're even contradicting their own policies.
Question: Do you think this is going a bit far? Whether it's a Labor Government that has these guidelines or Liberal. Is it just going too far?
Tanya Plibersek: These aren't guidelines. They're suggestion that childcare centres can follow if they wish to reduce the likelihood of infections going around childcare centres. And I can tell you, as someone who's had kids in childcare, you really do dread it when the kids come home sick.
You know that it's going to be sleepless nights for the child, sleepless nights for the parents, it means quite often other children in the family get sick. Childcare centres, when you've got lots of kids who are just starting childcare in particular and their immunity is very low, there are always sick kids at childcare.
And if you can keep your kids healthy it means that kids are much better off and obviously parents who aren't having to take time off work to cope with sick children, they're much better off, too.
Question: So if these are just suggestions, if a childcare centre decides to ignore this suggestion and allow the child to blow out candles on a cake, will they still get an excellent rating under the government's rating system?
Tanya Plibersek: Well, they're not being marked on birthday cakes. Of course there is a strong quality framework that has been instituted by this government to make sure that when we send our kids to childcare, that they're being taught well, that they're being cared for well. And that's important. The hardest thing in the world as a mother or a father is to drop a child off at childcare centre and wonder whether they are being properly cared for.
Of course we want high standards and I tell you something else, childcare centres are routinely doing most of these things. This is a good reminder to them about different things that they might do just to improve their habits a little bit more.
But I can tell you when we're asked to send cakes to school, it's usually as cupcakes because not only does it save you blowing all over someone else's cake, it's also much easier than having to cut up and supervise 20 kids running around with crumbling pieces of cake.
There's a degree of common sense that has to be applied when interpreting any of these things. We're not going to have the cupcake police out but childcare centres know that whatever they can do to reduce infections in childcare centres is going to be good for the kids, it's going to be good for the families that they support, and it's going to be good for childcare workers themselves.
Question: But the government does have the cupcake police out. It regularly names and shames childcare centres that don't abide by these sorts of rules. Are you saying that they will not be marked down in your standards if they allow children to blow out candles on birthday cakes?
Tanya Plibersek: If childcare centres don't abide by proper food hygiene rules, if they're not caring for children properly, if they don't have the proper staff to child ratios, if they have centres that are unsafe, gates that don't lock, dangerous things that the children could swallow or hurt themselves on, we make no apologies for pulling up childcare centres in those circumstances.
Question: But is this just a suggestion or are you going to punished if you don't abide by these suggestions?
Tanya Plibersek: There is no danger that the cupcake police will shut you down for birthday cakes.
Question: So you can bring a birthday cake with no problem. The whole birthday cake.
Tanya Plibersek: Yes.
Question: What is the policy in your office in regards to birthday cakes? Are you a cupcake person or communal birthday cake person?
Tanya Plibersek: I'm a communal birthday cake person but we hardly ever get around to putting the candles on the birthday cake.
Question: Is that probably the safest option? Not to have kids blowing on cakes at all?
Tanya Plibersek: Well look, I think we can leave this safely to the judgement of adults but what I would say is that these are suggestions that are based on the science that tells us how kids get sick in childcare. We know that if they wash their hands, if the food is handled appropriately, if sick kids stay home, if they're not sharing their spit too often, then kids are likely to stay healthier.
Unnamed Speaker: Last question.
Question: Some of the guidelines, and I believe there's one to do with kids washing their hands after being in the sand pit?
Tanya Plibersek: Yes.
Question: How can that be enforced? Are there enough staff to deal with that?
Tanya Plibersek: Yeah. It's about teaching kids good habits, you know? We all do this with our own children as well. Before you come to the table, wash your hands. After you go to the toilet, wash your hands. If we instill good habits of hand hygiene in children early on, they will stay healthier.
We've had some really nasty viruses going around. I think there probably a few people in parliament house at the end of last year who know what I'm talking about. The best that you can do to protect from picking up some of these nasty viruses is good hand hygiene and teaching kids from as young as you can about washing your hands several times a day.
Before and after meals, after you go to the toilet, all of these things will help keep them healthier. Not just when they're in childcare but all the way through school and into adulthood.
Unnamed Speaker: Okay everyone, thanks very much.
Tanya Plibersek: Thanks everyone.
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