ACA NSW puts politics in the ECEC spotlight ahead of 2019 elections
The New South Wales branch of the Australian Childcare Alliance has put politics firmly on the early childhood education and care (ECEC) agenda for 2019, predicting the key election concerns that will face the sector ahead of the 2019 Federal election.
The timing comes as a Federal election must be called prior to the House of Representatives expiring in 2019. Using the maximum period allowed for a campaign, the latest possible date for a House of Representatives election is 2 November 2019.
Despite no announcements of dates for a State or Federal election, or the commencement of election campaigns for NSW or Federal elections, ACA NSW has outlined ECEC issues facing both the NSW Government, and the Federal Government, ahead of the likely 2019 vote.
Taking the position that oversupply pushes up operational costs for providers, ACA NSW said oversupply and subsequent lower occupancy levels mean a rise in fees for families to accomodate for a decline in the number of children. Oversupply also creates the problem of reducing supply of the more expensive childcare places for children aged birth to two years old in order for services to achieve operational sustainability, ACA NSW said.
ACA NSW and its national body, the Australian Childcare Alliance, have long advocated for practical (government-related) solutions that can help address childcare oversupply. As yet, ACA NSW said, no Australian government (federal or state) has accepted responsibility for this phenomenon nor offered solutions that they could implement that can assist.
Highlighting sector wide challenges, ACA NSW said that a significant election issue would centre around the ongoing issue of service providers finding qualified and competent staff and the increasing cost of labour due to “more and more regulations”. Both the Federal Department of Employment and the NSW Department of Education published reports in 2018 confirming a significant labour supply problem, however no plausible solutions had been provided based on the reports, ACA NSW said.
Child Care Subsidy
Acknowledging that it was unlikely for the current Federal Coalition Government to make any substantial changes to the child care subsidy (CCS) so soon after its introduction in July 2018, ACA NSW focused attention here on the proposal by a Labor Government, if elected at Federal level, to ban the use of incentives for enrolment, and to ease some of the eligibility criteria for accessing subsidised care, especially for those on low-income and certain others currently unable to satisfy the existing activity tests.
Universal Access funding
ACA NSW pointed out that although the NSW Liberal/National Government was technically the first government to announce they would introduce preschool funding for three year olds, they limited it only to those attending community preschools, resulting in an estimated maximum of 28 per cent of three year old children in NSW being able to access funding.
This, they said, leaves up to 72 per cent of three year old children who do not attend community preschools without any comparable subsidies from the NSW Government, and poses challenges to workplace participation, with many community preschools operating from 9am to 3pm.
ACA NSW noted that the Australian Labor Party has announced new funding worth $1.75 billion which will similarly replicate Universal Access Funding but this time for three year olds in an effort to deliver two years of 600 hours each of early childhood education over the two years before school regardless of setting.
The “unspoken” problem, ACA NSW said, was that corresponding state governments would be expected to commit to corresponding contributions in order for the full benefits of Federal Labor’s promises to be realised.
In anticipation of both a NSW state election, and a Federal election being called in 2019, ACA NSW highlighted further areas of concern for children, parents and service providers, namely:
- applications through the Fair Work Commission to increase wages for educators by up to 72 per cent and teachers by up to 59 per cent;
- NSW having the lowest participation rate for preschool programmes for four year olds in the country;
- the Commonwealth and NSW Governments providing approximately $456 per (four year old) child per year (2016-2017) for those enrolled in long day care services compared to $3,695 per comparable Victorian child per year, $2,121 per South Australian child per year, and $2,011 per Queensland child per year;
- 2,758 out of 5,453 NSW-based services who have not been re-assessed and re-rated for between two and six years;
- amendments to the Education and Care National Regulations (NSW) since its introduction have never had cost-benefit analyses conducted; and,
- the review of the National Quality Framework in 2019 led by the NSW Department of Education potentially introducing further regulatory requirements that may decrease childcare affordability for parents.
ACA NSW concluded their statement by affirming their commitment to the provision of high-quality ECEC, whilst balancing against the cost of service provision, and the financial capacity of parents as well as taxpayers.
The full statement from ACA NSW can be viewed here.