Labor's Preschool Commitment

October 17, 2018

Labor's Preschool Commitment 

Listening to those on the other side, it's very clear: this government is like an old house with a termite problem; it's being destroyed from the inside out, eaten away every second of every day, and there is only so long you can keep pretending that everything is okay before you just have to knock it down and start over. Sure, you can rebuild the verandah out the front; you can paint the mailbox so it gets the Shaynna Blaze street-appeal tick. But, as soon as you look a bit closer, you can see it's a wreck. In a desperate attempt to stop it all from crumbling down, it seems they do two things: first, float a change in major foreign policy, hoping it will prop something up—anything! And then you accidentally support a white supremacist slogan, with your fingers crossed that it'll prop something up somewhere, too. But—alas!—no luck. An infestation is an infestation.

On this side of the House, we have a strong, united team, with a plan to deliver a fair go for all Australians, and I stand here proudly as a member of a team that has committed to the biggest ever investment in early childhood education in Australia. This program will offer every child, every family, two years of high quality, play based learning, to support the single most important years of a child's development. It's universal access for every child, no matter where they live. It will help parents balance the challenges of work and family life and help ease the pressures of their childcare bill.

I was in Bligh Park recently, talking to a mum of two children under four, who was providing a really rich home environment but wanted to give them the benefits of a quality preschool program, but she was struggling to afford it. This will mean that she and many other parents will have access if we win government and have the opportunity to implement it.

I just want to point out: this is not simply taking one policy announcement and saying, 'Here it is. Here's the plan.' This is a part of a holistic plan to look at how we can guarantee around 700,000 Australian children access to subsidised preschool for two years.

In Macquarie alone, in my electorate, this is greater access to early education for more than 1,700 three-year-olds. Not only have we committed permanent, ongoing funding to the national preschool and kindy program for all four-year-olds and extended that cover to all three-year-olds; we will set aside $100 million in a fund to expand capacity where it's required to help with the new enrolments and to help people adjust. We will also make sure that preschools and early learning centres are high quality and safe, by restoring the $20 million for safety and quality funding that was cut by those opposite. We will scrap the up-front fees for 10,000 early education students studying at TAFE, because that's how we'll build our early education workforce.

It's a well-thought-through package for the whole sector. I commend our shadow minister on her wok. It will reduce inequality in this country in generations to come. The change is so important and so integral to our children's futures, but those opposite just don't get it. The Liberal funding for the four-year-olds' program expires next year, and we know that there is absolutely zero in the budget to cover it. That's been confirmed time and time again.

Can I be clear: this is not just about mums and dads. Of course it's about mums and dads on one level—mums and dads who want to give their kids a high-quality start in life. But let's be really pragmatic and use the evidence base. A recent European Union study showed that for every dollar spent on early education for three-year-olds,$4 was returned to the economy. This is a damn good investment. You often hear people comment that they are sick of short-termism in government and in politics. Well, here you are. This is a long-term investment in the people who will pay taxes when we're too old to do it, who will look after us when we're in hospital, who will look after us in aged care and who will help us stay in our own homes. When the current crop of two-year-olds are 25, I will be 78. This investment is in the workforce of the future. It will help them thrive at school and it will help them thrive in tertiary education. Ultimately, it's going to grow our economy. It just makes sense. It is good economic sense, and if the Liberals were really any good at managing the economy, other than through sheer luck, they would have done this first and they would be supporting us now.