Thursday, 04 October 2018
SUBJECTS: Labor’s policy to extend preschool access to 3 year olds
GARETH PARKER: The Shadow Minister is Amanda Rishworth. Amanda, good morning.
SHADOW MINISTER FOR EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION AND DEVELOPMENT, AMANDA RISHWORTH MP: Good morning.
PARKER: Let’s get the details first, what does Labor want to do?
RISHWORTH: What Labor wants to do is extend what is currently available for 4 year olds which is 15 hours of preschool for 40 weeks of the year and make that available for 3 year olds. At the moment 4 year olds have access- although that funding is under threat from the Commonwealth government. So, Labor has said we want to make that permanent but we also want to extend the program, working with the states and governments to deliver that for 3 year olds.
PARKER: Okay, why is this a Commonwealth issue? The states run the education systems, why is this a Commonwealth issue?
RISHWORTH: In 2009 the Labor Government- at that time- in Canberra decided that this is just too important and so that is why we negotiated with the states and territories to lift attendance rates right across the country. We now see attendance have moved in the last nine to ten years from about 77 per cent to 97 per cent, that is a great outcome-
PARKER: So that is for 4 year olds?
RISHWORTH: That is for 4 year olds. But, we need to do more if we are going to stay internationally competitive. Countries right around the world are moving to recognise the importance of early education in the two years before school. We have got the U.K., Ireland, we have got New Zealand, all offering preschool programs for the two years before school and even China is now implementing preschool for 3 and 4 year olds. So, if we don’t want to get left behind other countries in the world there is a role for the Commonwealth to step up and become a partner in this because our national competitively is actually at stake. Of course, also we obviously subsidise the child care system and so we need to make sure that our early years system is working, is high quality and is delivering the outcomes that Australia needs.
PARKER: So on that, how is it going to work? Cause at the moment and we have had plenty of discussions on the program throughout the course of this year alone, but this whole question of what do parents actually want; child care versus early childhood education. Is this going to be delivered through schools? Is it going to be delivered for profit child care centres? Is it going to be delivered at not-for-profit child care centres? How would it work?
RISHWORTH: We want to respect parent choice and as it now stands the 4 year olds program is certainly a bit of variety of settings. In a lot of states and territories it is delivered both through the education system and the child care system, but what we want to do is try and make sure- and our target is 90 per cent of 3 year olds get access to a high quality early education program. That can be – as I said – in a multiple number of settings but it needs to be at a cost that parents can afford and part of our aim is making sure that cost is not a barrier to this and that is why we are putting extra dollars on the table for this-
PARKER: Hang on, so is it, is it- do kids go to school or do they go to-
RISHWORTH: We will be negotiating- it will be negotiated through the states and territories. Every state and territory is different. For example, in New South Wales and Queensland there are various state run kindergartens. In Western Australia, South Australia it is different. So we will be fleshing that out with the states and territories to make sure that it is accessible. States will have to put money on the table as well to actually deliver this but we believe that we can work with states and territories to deliver high quality early years learning- two years of preschool before school across the country.
PARKER: Alright, so how much is this new policy going to cost?
RISHWORTH: It’s expensive- it’s $1.75 billion. It is a big spend across the forward estimates-
PARKER: Where are you going to find the money?
RISHWORTH: We have outlined a number of saving initiatives, including our policies when it comes to negative gearing-
PARKER: That is what you say every time you announce a new policy; they can’t all be funding every new piece of big expenditure- they’re billions and billions and billions of dollars, we want more detail than just renouncing what you have already announced.
RISHWORTH: Chris Bowen has made it very clear around our fiscal books and we have said our books stack up and this is how we are going to fund it but I would like to draw your attention to the-
PARKER: Sorry, hang on- you haven’t explained how you are going to fund it. This is an important issue with a policy of this size.
RISHWORTH: There are a range of initiatives that we have already said that are different to the government- we have said we will restrict the dividend imputation for those that are not paying tax and are not pensioners- so we have been very clear that that has significant savings, that was a difficult decision but that is able to fund a range of-
PARKER: Apparently it funds everything.
RISHWORTH: It is a significant amount of money. But I would like to come back to the benefits-
PARKER: No, we will come back to the benefits in a minute. You said also the states need to put money on the table as well on what, a 50/50 basis?
RISHWORTH: We will be negotiating with the states and territories about their contribution, we will work towards that. As I said, every state and territory does have a different system but we want to see this delivered-
PARKER: But, but, but in principle is it a 50/50 share, is it 80 per cent Commonwealth, 20 per cent the states?
RISHWORTH: It is based on the 4 year old agreement that we have also committed we will continue and we will negotiate the 4 and the 3 year old agreement together. This government hasn’t promised any money for 4 year olds after the calendar year 2019, so a lot of parents are very very worried about what the future holds for 4 year old kindy- let alone 3 year olds. What Labor is saying is we are going to put permanent funding in for the two years before school and the benefits- the economic benefits are huge. I mean, the most conservative estimates are for every dollar you put in taxpayers get a $2 return- that is a good return on investment.
PARKER: From a parents point of view- for 3 year olds- does it sort of amount to 15 hours free child care slash early childhood education a year? Is that the bottom line for parents?
RISHWORTH: It will be negotiated with the states and territories of what it will mean in terms of funding but basically it means access and subsidised access to preschool for both 3 year olds and 4 year olds.
PARKER: So subsidised but not necessarily free?
RISHWORTH: That will be worked out with the states and territories.
PARKER: Okay. 9221 8802 is the talkback number. We are getting more detail here from Amanda Rishworth, Labor’s Early Childhood Education Spokeswoman. Amanda, do you think parents are demanding this? Do you think Australian people want their kids in educational settings at 3 years old?
RISHWORTH: There are many children already going to early learning settings. In fact, there is about 57 per cent of children already in an early learning setting. What we are really wanting to do is to make sure that we give children the best start to life and when I talk to parents that is exactly what they want to do. When we look at the international research, when we look at what is happening around the world we can see that those that have two years of preschool get better NAPLAN results, they get better outcomes in terms of year 12 completion and better lifelong prospects and parents absolutely want that for their children- the research is in-
PARKER: Sorry, just on that point; 57 per cent of 3 year olds currently in early childhood education settings, I wonder- I don’t know- I wonder how many parents put kids in that setting because they want them to get an education versus how many put them in, effectively, what they see as child care as a necessity so they can get back to work?
RISHWORTH: I think a lot of parents use child care but they want it to be high quality and have educational outcomes- I don’t think it’s an either or. When I talk with parents they take a huge interest in what happens at their child care centres-
PARKER: Of course.
RISHWORTH: I have to dispel the myth that this is going to be 3 year olds at a desk in front of a blackboard- it’s not. Our education research is much more sophisticated than that but it is about ensuring that our children get a structure and a curriculum that does teach them. And of course 90 per cent of the brain develops before the age of five and children don’t start learning at school they start learning much before. We want to ensure that it is developmentally appropriate education but it is education none the less and I think parents want the best opportunities for their children and I think this is something that parents have spoken to me a lot constantly. I think the 4 year olds preschool/kindy has been a real success- we need to lock that funding and access in and then go forward and look at 3 year olds.
PARKER: Okay, Amanda Rishworth- thanks for your time.
RISHWORTH: Thank you.