House debates

Wednesday, 19 September 2007

Matters of Public Importance


4:07 pm

Photo of Jenny MacklinJenny Macklin (Jagajaga, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Families and Community Services) Share this | Hansard source

As the member for Cunningham rightly asks: what happened to this wonderful plan that she put out there? As she said in the article:

The problem is there is no overarching policy to ensure that long daycare offers a preschool program that is carried out by a qualified early childhood teacher.

She was so right back in March 2006. Nothing happened then, just like nothing happened when the Prime Minister went to cabinet back in 2003. We have a copy of a leaked cabinet submission from 2003 which noted the inconsistent preschool education provision across the states and territories. What was the Prime Minister’s proposal back in 2003? We know that the minister for education has achieved nothing for preschool education. The Prime Minister’s proposal back in 2003 was to set up a committee. He decided that he would set up a committee, and the committee would include the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, the Treasurer, the Minister for Education, Science and Training and the Minister for Family and Community Services. They were going to get advice from another high-level committee—an interdepartmental committee—and report to the cabinet in mid-2004 with possible models for the future direction of the childcare and early childhood education sectors. What happened? Absolutely nothing. Apparently the committee was formed, but there was no plan whatsoever developed for early childhood education. There was no plan to fix the inconsistent provision of early childhood education in this country.

We know from the Australian Bureau of Statistics that 100,000 four-year-olds in Australia miss out on preschool education. The cabinet has known this for years. The Prime Minister set up two committees to examine this issue; in fact, the Prime Minister told the media back in July last year, more than a year ago, that he was resurrecting this plan and taking it to the Council of Australian Governments. Once again, what happened? Nothing. There was a cabinet committee back in 2003; the minister said in March last year that she had a preschool plan for the country; the Prime Minister took it to the Council of Australian Governments—so he said—back in July last year. Nothing has happened. Absolutely nothing has happened. This government has been in office for 11 years. A lot of four-year-olds have gone through preschool, and a heck of a lot of other four-year-olds have missed out on preschool because this government has done nothing except set up committees and make empty promises that it has had no intention of meeting.

Interestingly enough, I went to a conference with the Minister for Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs earlier this year. It was a conference held by the Creche and Kindergarten Association in Brisbane. A few home truths were told at the conference. The Chief Executive of the Creche and Kindergarten Association told the conference that he had been told by the minister for education that the Howard government would take a similar approach to Labor and deliver comprehensive preschool education to all four-year-olds. But the minister for families and community services decided that at this conference, in front of 500 preschool and kindergarten teachers, he would blow the whistle on the minister for education:

For a starter, that has not been enunciated policy, as you would know—

Mr Brough told the whole conference. He went on to say to the conference:

You’ve had meetings which you’ve referred to. So as far as Julie Bishop being concerned, mate, she’s not standing before you, and when she’s ready to do that, she can do so.

In other words, the minister for families and community services made it plain, for everybody to see, that the minister for education had no plan; and, if she thought she might have a plan, he was not going to agree with it. Once again, it is quite clear that four-year-olds are going to continue to miss out on early childhood education.

Finally, in July this year, we had them all coming clean. The Howard government has now ruled out matching Labor’s promise to place early childhood teachers in all childcare centres and to make sure that all four-year-olds get an early childhood education. Finally they have ruled it out. Finally they have all come clean and made it clear that it does not really matter what the minister for education might have said last year. It does not matter what they might have decided in cabinet three or four years ago and with all their committees. All that has been put aside because they have given up on early childhood education—which is pretty extraordinary when you consider the level of advice that they have received, that we have all received, from people right around the world demonstrating the importance of investing in early childhood education. Nobel laureates have made plain the importance of investing in children’s education when they are young, the ages nought to five being so critical for a child’s development.

All that advice has been coming to this government year after year. And what do we find out in this Education at a glance report that was received in Australia last night? It shows that for eight years Australia has had the wooden spoon when it comes to preschool education. We invest 0.1 per cent in preschool education while the rest of the OECD countries are investing 0.5 per cent. What an extraordinary demonstration of failure from this Howard government.

Compare that to the policy that Labor has proposed. This was the first part of the Leader of the Opposition’s education revolution. The Leader of the Opposition has committed a future Labor government to something that no other national government—and certainly not the Howard government—has ever committed itself to. Kevin Rudd has committed us to every single Australian four-year-old having a right to a preschool education enshrined in Commonwealth legislation—to 15 hours of education for 40 weeks delivered by a qualified teacher, whether at a childcare centre, at family day care, a preschool or a kindergarten. We want to make sure that all of those children get the early childhood and preschool education that we know they not only deserve but will benefit enormously from. And we will make sure that the staff are there to teach them. We are going to deliver additional, fully funded early childhood education places at university. We are going to pay the TAFE fees for our childcare workers to get their diplomas. We are going to make sure that the staff are there for our four-year-olds so that they get the education that will mean, when they get to school, they are ready to start learning.

We recognise just how important this is. We are not going to shove it off onto a committee like John Howard, the Prime Minister, did back in 2003. We are not announcing it on the front page of the paper and then doing away with it, as this minister for education has done. (Time expired)


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