Greens senator speaks out in favour of fee-free ECEC
Greens Senator Dr Mehreen Faruqi has spoken out in favour of making access to early childhood education and care (ECEC) universal and free of charge.
Her comments were made in Parliament in response to Senator Pratt’s motion to refer to the Senate Education and Employment References Committee a reference about early childhood education.
“I want to say at the start that early childhood education and care is an essential service,” Dr Faruqi said.
“It should be universal and it should be free. I say this not just from a rights perspective. There is a compelling case for free and universally available early childhood education and care because it has enormous benefits for children and enormous benefits for families. Of course, it has enormous benefits and is good for women. It also has enormous social and economic benefits for our whole community. It leads to a more equitable society.”
She continued, speaking about the role that affordable early childhood education and care had played in her life, having received high quality care as a child, as well as in the lives of her children.
“I would not have been able to study or have a career if I hadn’t had that benefit,” she said.
“But I can tell you it didn’t come easily. The early childhood education opportunities and child care that were around where I lived when I was studying were completely unaffordable. I was lucky that a few students at the University of New South Wales got together and lobbied the university to open the first cooperative childcare centre at the University.
“I cannot thank the early childhood education and care workers at that centre and across the board who educate and care for our children, our little ones, enough. I agreed with Senator Walsh when she said that they are some of the lowest-paid workers in our country. That is completely unacceptable. If we do value education and if we value care for our children then we must, as a priority, value those people who provide that education and care.”
The Senator speculated that caring work, such as the work undertaken in ECEC, has been historically undervalued because it is the work of women.
“This is not an accident, to be really frank. The entire system, and practically our entire economy, really relies on the unpaid and underpaid work of women in caring roles and on the skills and difficult work done in early childhood and childcare centres. That is simply an extension of this underpaid work.”
Dr Faruqi said the upcoming inquiry is important because it will examine how to fund early childhood education and care well.
“Every day I meet people in the community — especially women — who tell me that most of the salary they’re earning goes to pay for early childhood education for their children. That’s not a country that we should be aspiring to,” she added.
“It’s important to inquire into how we can fund early childhood education and care to be fee free. We did it in the pandemic with the stroke of a pen. I commend this motion to the Senate and I hope that we can agree to start off an inquiry so that we can move towards a system which is universal and fee free for every family and every child in this country.”
To read the Hansard Link, covering the remarks in full, please see here.