Silence on funding is a sign of “pure neglect” for the early years, Rishworth says
“We are now in the shocking situation where we have less than 12 months left of funding for the national preschools program for the year before school. All we get now from the Morrison Government is silence – we don’t even get politics when it comes to early education, we just get deathly silence,” Shadow Minister for Early Childhood Education Amanda Rishworth said while addressing the House of Representatives yesterday.
Ms Rishworth denounced the Federal Government in her speech, saying that the Government “used to dabble in a bit of politics in this area, a bit of talking down our early educators and criticising them for getting paid on public holidays. Now it is just pure neglect.”
Critical of delays in securing funding for 2019, with the funding for the program being “locked in in late September last year, only giving the states and territories a couple of weeks to lock in and make their plans for the year,” Ms Rishworth described the “stop-gap 12-month funding model” as “pathetic”.
“No consideration is given to trying to provide more certainty for families, certainty for staff and certainty for providers. At least in the past the funding was in the Budget – even if only for a year. Not this time. The 2018-19 Budget contained no funding for preschools after the $440 million for 2019. There should have been $440 million for next year and the year after and the year after, but instead what appears in the Budget was zeros,” Ms Rishworth said.
She questioned the Government’s priorities, citing the Mid Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook (MYEFO) as a “missed opportunity to show the community, the sector, and families that they were committed to funding preschool ahead of the end of the year”.
Referencing her recent visit to Cardinia Lakes Early Learning Centre, and comments from Centre Manager Tamika Hicks, who outlined the challenges posed by insecure funding, such as being unable to offer staff secure contracts of employment, Ms Rishworth said “Without secure Universal Access funding, early learning centres and preschools will have to cut places to fit their reduced budgets, cut hours available to children or increase fees to cover the hole in their budgets. Families will have to choose between higher fees or missing out. Children will miss out on better education, social and health outcomes that flow from quality early education.”
Outlining the Australian Labor Party’s commitment to early learning, should they secure Government following the 2019 federal election, Ms Rishworth outlined that the ALP would introduce a new National Preschool and Kindy program, commiting to providing ongoing, permanent funding for the four year olds program and extending the program to three year olds – giving Australian children access to 15 hours of subsidised early learning in the two years before school.
Further, Ms Rishworth said, the ALP, if elected, would reinstate “the $20 million of funding the Liberals cut from the national quality agenda”.
It is estimated that the changes outlined by Ms Rishworth on behalf of the ALP would mean around 700,000 Australian children a year would benefit from “the biggest ever investment in early childhood education in Australia”.
“Time is ticking, April is coming, the Budget is coming, [Federal Minister for Education Dan Tehan] failed to do it in MYEFO but he has one last chance [to secure funding],” Ms Rishworth said.
“What we want to see and what we have committed to is permanent funding across the forward estimates,” Ms Rishworth concluded, saying that anything less than full funding, and the opening up of Universal Access to three year olds, represents “a betrayal of Australia’s children”.