SPEECH: REMARKS TO THE AUSTRALIAN EDUCATION UNION EARLY CHILDHOOD BREAKFAST - CANBERRA - WEDNESDAY, 15 AUGUST 2018

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THE HON TANYA PLIBERSEK MP
DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION
SHADOW MINISTER FOR EDUCATION AND TRAINING
SHADOW MINISTER FOR WOMEN

REMARKS TO THE AUSTRALIAN EDUCATION UNION EARLY CHILDHOOD BREAKFAST

WEDNESDAY, 15 AUGUST 2018
PARLIAMENT HOUSE
CANBERRA

*** CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY ***
 

I think when we’re talking about early learning, there are two quite fundamentally different approaches we see from government.
 
Some people think that early learning, child care, is about babysitting while parents work, and some people think it’s an investment in the future of our young people, giving them the very best start in life; and that it’s the entitlement of every child to get quality early learning in the early years to set them up for a lifetime of success.
 
We are obviously in the second camp and we have been, Labor has been, distressed by the changes that we’ve seen from this Federal Government when it comes to investment in preschool, investment in long day-care and other forms of childcare – dollars, sure,  but also the fact that they’ve actually cut back on the quality agenda for the early years, as well.
 
So they’re sending a message both that some children don’t deserve the best start in life and that quality, that’s just red tape, that doesn’t really matter. That’s just red tape. That has been the attitude of this Government from the beginning, and it’s a great concern to think that just last week, we found again that 350,000 children will miss out on pre-school if this Government gets its way from 2020 onwards when they cut the universal entitlement to preschool for four year olds.
 
That’s in the Budget papers, that’s not our speculation or our fear that we’re articulating, that’s in the Government’s budget papers.
 
Since being elected, the Government’s rolled pre-school funding on from year to year instead of doing what it ought to do, which is put funding on a firm basis and look at how we can actually include three year olds down the track, as well. What we know for sure is that that early learning gives kids the very best foundation for life and that’s why, in 2008, we started the universal entitlement to pre-school for four year olds.
 
In 2008, the proportion of four year olds getting a pre-school education was 77%, we are now at more than 93% and it’s a fantastic achievement. I can tell you, it was complicated to do – Kate Ellis had this portfolio and we were saying to Kate; “how are you going to get pre-school teachers to go to tiny, remote communities where there’s currently no pre-school? How are you going to do that?” It’s not easy to get those last few percent of children having access to a pre-school education.
 
Nevertheless we set ourselves that target and it would be devastating to think that we would retreat as a nation from offering children that start in life but it’s not just the entitlement for four year olds, the Liberals have cut $20 million from the National Quality Agenda program again in the May Budget they’ve introduced a new system of subsidies that leaves one in four families worse off. Now, of course the headlines at the time were the Government saying “oh we’re means-testing tighter and disadvantaged families will be protected.” More than half of these families that are hurt by these changes are in the bottom two cohorts of socio-economic advantage.
 
I can’t understand a government that would actually take this opportunity away from disadvantaged children.
 
I cannot understand what they think they are achieving, it is all the proof you need that they see early learning as babysitting while parents work that they would do this.
 
And now, of course, they want to cut that extra $440 million a year from pre-schools. I want to leave some time for my colleague, Amanda Rishworth, to speak because Amanda’s doing fantastic work in policy development in early learning; and she has been terrifically supportive of the wages cases – first of all, for the United Voice and AEU one which, unfortunately, went down and still now with the IEU case – we absolutely see this as an area of work that is undervalued because it’s predominantly done by women.
 
No-one on God’s Earth can tell me that the reason that someone with say a Certificate IV in Early Childhood earns twenty-something bucks an hour and someone with a Certificate IV in Metal Work earns forty-something bucks an hour is anything other than gender-related.
 
There is no way on God’s Earth that this is anything other than gender-related.
 
So we do have to look at how we support these individual cases but more fundamentally, we need to address the anomalies in our industrial relations system that led to that earlier case, the UV and AEU case, not being successful because any system that throws up that result is not a system that is working effectively.