Parliament – Budget 2019 and preschool funding

Thursday, 21 February 2019

I am pleased that the minister was able to get to the full 10 minutes talking about education this time. Last time, earlier in the week, he could only get to seven minutes. I am pleased to be speaking on this, because the minister obvious needs a history lesson. In 2014, it was clearly stated in the budget that there were $30 billion worth of savings from schools. We know that what ‘savings’ means there is a fancy word for cuts. There were $30 billion worth of cuts out of the budget, and these cuts have not been restored in full to our schools. The minister can use the argument that funding has gone up, but the truth is that when you look at the budget papers from 2014 you can see that there is a cut to our schools. There is no other way to argue it; there was a cut.

In addition, we have seen the minister talk about attendance at preschool. Attendance at preschool is very important. I’m very pleased that Labor’s universal access, which was introduced in 2009, improved both enrolment and attendance at preschool. The minister has failed to recognise this important element, but there’s one bit the minister has missed: he has no funding in the budget for preschool—I’m not talk being a cut; I’m talking about zero money in the budget for preschool—so I’m really not sure how he plans to increase those enrolment and attendance figures. In fact, what we’re hearing around the country from state and territories is that access will be cut. If this minister does not put ongoing, permanent funding into the budget for four-year-olds then the access and enrolments will be cut for families right around the country.

It is appalling that the minister uses the excuse of low attendance in low socioeconomic and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander areas as an excuse not to put any money in the budget. That is a cop-out. The minister talked about how important it was to look at the data. When it comes to Senate estimates just today, with their new childcare system that he was bragging about, the department has confirmed that they have no idea which families have dropped out of the system, how many have dropped out of the system and whether that means those families are no longer accessing early childhood education. If the minister is so interested in data-driven evidence in the early childhood sector, he should get his department to collect a bit of evidence when it comes to early childhood education and to collect the data of who is missing out on that. They previously estimated that one-in-four families would be worse off and that the majority of those would be from low-income families in the lowest two income bracket. But, of course, he is ignoring this. I don’t know whether he has told the department not to collect it or not to report it. I’m not sure, but he’s certainly not paying attention to any data—because there is none—when it comes to the new childcare system.

What we do know when it comes to preschools is that if there’s no money in the budget then that’s going to do nothing to help attendance at preschools. I’m very keen to see better enrolments for four-year-olds and better attendance for four-year-olds, but we also need to fund three-year-olds. Our plan to fund three-year-olds and four-year-olds is endorsed by so many. It is not endorsed by the Minister for Education and Training. We hear the excuses that come from other members on their side, who say: ‘Well, we can’t do three-year-olds, because we can’t do four-year-olds. We’re not funding either of them.’ They then somehow bringing franking credits into it.

Our plan has broad endorsement: the Parenthood, the Australian Education Union, the Australian Childcare Alliance, the state Victorian government, the Queensland Minister for Education, the Mitchell Institute, Early Learning Association Australia, Early Childhood Australia, Goodstart Early Learning, the Early Learning and Care Council of Australia and the director of Save the Children. That’s just to name a few of those who are backing in our plan. If the minister thought our plan was so irresponsible, why do we have the sector united—here, when we announced it and down at the National Press Club today—in calling on both sides to not play politics when it comes to early learning and, in fact, calling on the Liberal Party and the National Party to back Labor’s plan when it comes to funding for three-year-olds and four-year-olds. There is only one group who have got it wrong when it comes to preschool and early learning: it’s the Liberal Party, and it’s shameful for them.

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