Plibersek and Rishworth hit back against ‘cruel hoax’ Budget announcement
Both Tanya Plibersek, Shadow Minister for Education, and Amanda Rishworth, Shadow Minister for Early Childhood Education and Development, have hit back against last week’s Budget announcement, outlining the lack of long-term secured funding for four year old kindergarten, the lack of inclusion for funded learning for three year olds, and the impact of the cost of childcare as “a cruel hoax for Australian families”.
Speaking with Sky News, Ms Plibersek said “I think there’s something wrong with a system that drives skilled women out of the workforce because they can’t afford childcare”, saying it was imperative to get childcare subsidies in place which “work for both ends” of families – those on both “very high” and “very low” incomes.
Ms Plibersek outlined the challenges faced by services when funding is only pledged from year-to-year, saying “preschools can’t plan, kindies can’t build or extend, they can’t get loans because they don’t know whether they’re going to get Government funding the following year,” before outlining an Australian Labor Party (ALP) commitment to make funding permanent, and extending preschool funding to include three year olds.
“When you look at highly performing education systems around the world, they have three and four year old kindy. And it is making a huge difference to our kids’ learning outcomes,” Ms Plibersek said.
Speaking in a doorstop meeting last week, Ms Rishworth was vocal about her response to the Budget announcement, terming the lack of secured funding “a cruel hoax” and saying the sitting Liberal Government is “not committed to Australian children and their families”.
“If they were,” Ms Rishworth said, “they would listen to the experts, they would listen to the pleas of families, of providers, of representatives from the sector and fund four year old kindy and extend it to three year old kindy.”
When asked by a journalist how much the ALP policy (of extending preschool to three year olds) would cost, Ms Rishworth outlined that the policy has been costed at $1.75 billion for both four year olds and three year olds, over the forward estimates, adding “we have locked this money in permanently”
Speaking with Sky News later in the day, Ms Rishworth again expressed her disappointment in the lack of secured funding saying “they (the sitting Government) have had this on (their) agenda, not to continue funding. Usually around September, October, November – before the money is set to run out in December they are faced with an overwhelming campaign and they grudgingly rollover for one year.”
She was quick to dismiss participation rates, cited by the Federal Government as one reason for not funding three year old preschool, saying “They have said the excuse this time is participation rates. Well, they have been talking about that for three years and my understanding is that they have never really addressed this with states and territories so it is just an excuse.”
When asked how the ALP would improve participation rates for three year olds, Ms Rishworth said the process would begin with solid collaboration with state and territory governments to identify the present barriers and issues, adding “some of the barriers are in rural and regional areas but not putting money on the table is not the answer”.
“What we need to do is negotiate with the states and territories about how to deliver, and giving one year funding which has no reform in it whatsoever is not how you do that.” Ms Rishworth said, adding that, in her conversations with operators, common issues due to the current year-to-year funding model were: the impact on being able to attract high-quality staff, and being able to sign leases.
When pressed on the ALP’s commitments, Ms Rishworth said the current Government has “stuffed up”, adding “every day a new story comes out – there are families dropping out of the system, there are vulnerable children not getting access and indeed parents are just overwhelmed by the complexity”.
“I have to say the Liberals have stuffed this up, there have been terrible, terrible outcomes when it comes to early education. We have a big mess to fix up,” Ms Rishworth said in closing.