Address to the National Election Forum on Early Education

Thursday, 02 May 2019

The Wheeler Centre, Melbourne

***CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY***

I’d like to start by acknowledging the traditional owners of this land and pay my respects to elders past, present and emerging.

I also acknowledge Senator Patterson and Senator Rice.

It’s great to be here tonight with so many providers, educators and representatives from the sector for this important debate.

It has been a pleasure to work with many of you in this room over the last 18 months. I don’t need to convince you that there is no better portfolio to make meaningful difference in than early education.

I’ve only got eight minutes to cover Labor’s agenda for early childhood education and care which may not do our comprehensive policies justice but there will be an opportunity to flesh some of the details out in the questions and answers section.

Labor wants to ensure that every child gets the best possible start to life and will do this by providing support to families, centres and educators.

Labor has the most comprehensive plan for early childhood education and care ever taken to an election by one of the major parties.

We have a plan to improve affordability, access and quality.

We will deliver massive cost of living relief for families struggling with the costs of early education and child care. We will invest an additional $4 billion to increase the child care subsidy for all working families under $174,000 from July next year. This will help 887,000 families across Australia with the costs of early education and care.

Families with kids under five years old on incomes of up to $174,000 will, on average, be $26 a week – $1,200 a year – better off per child.

The vast majority of families earning up to $69,000 will get their child care absolutely free – saving them up to $2,100 per child per year.

Labor’s increase in the subsidy will be based on paying against the existing benchmark hourly fee. While I know many providers do their best to keep fees low for families, we want to make sure that our additional spending delivers lower out of pocket costs for families and does not act as an incentive for centres to merely jack up fees.

Therefore Labor will task the ACCC with a new role of investigating child care fee increases and unscrupulous providers, and we will make the findings public. The ACCC will also investigate a new system for price controls on child care fee increases and report back to us in government.

This is critical because we need to see the benefit of our investment flow to families and increase access to early education for children.

In addition to our investment in increasing affordability, Labor has a plan for a $1.75 billion National Preschool and Kindy Program that will deliver two years of subsidised, quality early learning for three and four year olds across Australia – benefitting 700,000 children.

The program will provide permanent funding for the universal access program for four year olds for the first time since we were last in government.

We will lock in permanent funding into the Budget – I know how difficult planning has been with the current arrangements where this government rolls over funding for 12 months at a time and expects applause from the sector.

We will also extend funding under the same funding arrangements for all three year olds. This will provide subsides to all three year olds starting from 2021.

The arrangements for the delivery of three and four year old preschool and kindy will be negotiated through a national partnership agreement with the states and territories.

It is envisaged that our three and four year old preschool and kindy program will be delivered in a variety of early education settings including long day care.
An important element of this policy is that it abolishes the activity test for 18 hours a week for three year olds so that all three year olds can access a preschool program through long day care.

The national quality framework has been a big success story but the Commonwealth must be a partner to deliver it that is why we will also restore the $20 million of funding for the national quality framework that this government cut from last year’s Budget.

Now, this government has cut so much over the years that it can be hard to keep track, but while this cut isn’t a lot of money in the context of the federal budget, it gives you an insight into their priorities. We will restore the Federal Government’s commitment to be a partner with the states and territories when it comes to safety and quality.

With 96 per cent of the workforce being women, and average pay of $38,000, it is clear that our early educators are not receiving sufficient renumeration.

We will deliver professional pay for early childhood educators because they deserve it and they have missed out for too long. 37 per cent of educators leave the sector every year because of pay and conditions – which directly impacts on the quality of care and learning.

Labor will fully fund a 20 per cent pay increase above the normal annual increases over the next eight years to ensure that educators get the pay they deserve but importantly parents are not out of pocket.

Labor will sit down with early educators, their representatives, the employers, providers and peak bodies to determine the mechanism and schedule for delivery of professional pay which will ensure educators get the professional pay they deserve and fees are not increased as a result of this policy.

We will also deliver a new workforce strategy – because there currently isn’t one under this Government. And we know that there are significant future challenges for the early education workforce.

Labor has already announced it will provide 10,000 fee-free TAFE places for early education to help develop the next generation of educators.

The Government’s own modelling has shown their new system has left one in four families worse off with many of these families being low income and vulnerable families.

We will review the impact of the Liberals new system on low income and vulnerable families including the impact the activity test has had on access and equity. As well as the addition requirements and excessive paperwork and red tape associated with the additional child care subsidy.

Playgroups and Toy Libraries are important part of the early education journey, assisting with imaginative play and social connection. That’s why Labor has committed to support and expand the important role played by Toy Libraries and Playgroups with a $6 million investment for additional resources.

Finally, we will tie this massive program together in government by developing an Early Years Strategy. We want to ensure all the arms of the Commonwealth are working together with the States and Territories to deliver better outcomes for our youngest citizens.

I am proud of the commitments Labor has made in the lead up to this election. If elected, Labor will partner with you, the sector, to build a truly world class early childhood education and care system.

Our plan is fully costed, because we have taken the tough decisions to close tax loopholes and we aren’t giving bigger handouts to the top end of town.

It is a question of priorities. I think we have our priorities right – we want to invest in our children and give them a better future.

Now our plan has been criticised by the Liberal Party as costing too much, as socialism, as communism, as Labor being the nanny state. But the truth is, unlike the Liberal Party and National Party who see early education as just baby sitting and a cost, we see early education as a down payment in this country’s future. We know that this investment makes a difference.

Thank you.

ENDS

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