Early Learning: Everyone Benefits notes stark contrast in ECEC plans ahead of election
As Australians ready themselves to vote in the Federal election, to be held on 18 May, the Early Learning: Everyone Benefits campaign has analysed the early childhood policies proposed by the three main parties – Australian Labor Party (ALP), Liberal–National Coalition, and the Australian Greens – finding “some stark differences” between their proposals.
The comparative analysis is based on each party’s responses to the Early Learning: Everyone Benefits campaign’s Candidate Survey on Early Childhood Education and Care, their speeches given during the National Early Childhood Election Forum on 2 May 2019, as well as the parties’ published policies and public statements.
The findings will be of interest to those working in the early childhood education and care (ECEC) sector, as they seek to place their votes in the best interests of children and the profession more broadly. ECEC issues have featured prominently in the lead up to this year’s election, with some commentators describing the proposal to increase educator wages by 20 per cent as “the biggest economic news of the election”.
Everyone Benefits campaign spokesperson Samantha Page, CEO of Early Childhood Australia, said “The Coalition is relying on its delivery of an $8.5 billion investment in the new Child Care Subsidy system, which it claims has reduced out-of-pocket expenses for many working families by 9 per cent. But it hasn’t promised much else for the sector. We found that both Labor and the Greens are keen to address each of the seven priority policy areas identified by the Early Learning: Everyone Benefits campaign.”
As reported by The Sector, the ALP has outlined that, in order to maintain quality in the early childhood education system, educators’ wages need to rise to reflect their level of training and professional expertise. The party has proposed both 10,000 free TAFE places, as well as a 20 per cent pay rise for educators – a move which the Early Learning: Everyone Benefits campaign describes as “long overdue, and necessary, adjustments”.
The ALP has also committed to working with the ECEC sector to develop a National Workforce Strategy to address concerns of both the 37 per cent educator turnover rate, and an undersupply of degree-qualified teachers to support the pending change in regulations with regard to how many early childhood teachers are required within education and care services.
The Early Learning: Everyone Benefits campaign reports The Greens as “fully supporting” raising educator wages, and developing a National Workforce Strategy. The Coalition, on the other hand, have “rejected any intervention on wages, campaigning against the idea”.
The ALP is standing by a previous $1.75 billion commitment to extend preschool funding to three-year-olds for 15 hours per week.
The Greens are supporting the ALP position, and expanding it to cover 24 hours per week.The Coalition, Early Learning: Everyone Benefits campaign said, is “not supportive of extending preschool/kindergarten to three-year-olds, but has implied that three-year-olds’ access to preschool could be addressed once attendance rates for four-year-olds increase”.
Child Care Subsidy and Activity Test
A point of contention amongst the three main parties is the impact of the activity test in the new Child Care Subsidy.
The ALP has announced a major overhaul of the Child Care Subsidy system to reduce costs to families earning less than $174 000 per year, with families earning less than $69,000 potentially receiving free childcare.
The Australian Greens Party has proposed to make childcare fee-free for families with a combined income of up to $171,958, and to raise the rate of subsidy for all other families with a combined income below $351,248.
The Early Learning: Everyone Benefits campaign has sought commitments from each party to “ensure children can access at least two days per week of quality early childhood education, irrespective of their parents’ workforce participation or other activity”.
In response, the Coalition has no plans to review the activity test, and claims that participation rates of vulnerable children have not decreased.
The ALP says it will support access for all children to early learning, but will retain the current activity test. The party promises to review the impact of the Child Care Subsidy system on vulnerable and disadvantaged children, including the activity test. It also pointed out that its commitment to extending preschool to three-year-olds means that all three- and four-year-olds would be exempt from the activity test for 15 hours per week. The Greens have promised they would “unequivocally abolish the activity test”.
Cross portfolio early years strategy
The Coalition has not responded to the proposal of Australia needing a cross-portfolio Early Years Strategy that recognises the importance of early childhood development, family support and play-based early learning across home, community and early childhood settings.
The ALP and the Greens, Early Learning: Everyone Benefits campaign said, are strongly supporting this initiative.
A comprehensive overview of the issues addressed above, plus others of interest to those in the sector, may be accessed here.
To read about the Early Learning: Everyone Benefits seven election priorities, visit the campaign’s website.