Tuesday, 19 February 2019
Matters of Public Importance
Early Childhood Education: Preschool Funding
Can I assure the shadow minister that the government does care and the government does understand how important it is that we invest in our children and that we invest in the education of our children. But where there is a big difference between this side and those opposite is in making sure that you get an educational return on that investment. We don't just throw money at things for money's sake. We want to make sure that when we invest we get the outcomes that we want to see.
It is absolutely vital, when it comes to investing in early childhood education, that you get those outcomes. That is why in our national partnership agreement which we negotiated with every state and territory for this year, we focused not just on enrolment. We didn't hear any mention of this from the shadow minister. I think, and I hope, that she will listen and learn from this. There was not one mention of it. But it is not just about the investment; it's about making sure you get the educational outcomes on that investment.
Let's have a look at what this government has delivered: in 2015, $405 million; in 2016, $415 million; in 2017, $425 million; in 2018, $428 million; and in 2019, $440 million. But what are we seeing? What we're seeing is that we're getting enrolment figures of around 90 per cent or a little above. But what the most current national data shows is that 30 per cent of children are not attending for the 15 hours on offer. We're saying to the states and territories: we want to work with you to lift this, because it is incredibly important that, if we're investing in early childhood education, we're getting the attendance flowing from that.
What happens when we look at vulnerable and disadvantaged children? Attendance declines even further. It's 35 per cent for vulnerable and disadvantaged children, and up to 41 per cent for Indigenous children. And we see a similar figure when it comes to those from rural and remote areas. So when we invest, we've got to make sure that we're investing so that all children right across this nation will see the benefit of this Commonwealth investment in early childhood education. That is what we want to see.
As I've demonstrated, the money has been there, but what we want to make sure is that not only is the money there but also our children are getting the benefits from it. Otherwise, what you see is that a gap starts to grow between those who are not only able to enrol but also able to attend for the full 600 hours versus those who are enrolling and not attending. When that gap is greatest—when it's dealing with those who are coming from vulnerable and disadvantaged backgrounds, those from Indigenous backgrounds and those from rural and remote backgrounds—we have to make sure that we are fixing it, and that is what the Morrison government is intent on doing. We want to make sure that the benefits from this investment flow right across the nation.
I just want to delve into this—I've got the 2017 ABS figures for preschool attendance for 600 hours in dedicated preschools. This is the proportion of children enrolled in dedicated preschools for 600 hours per year and who attend for the full 600 hours. Let's start with New South Wales: all children, 76 per cent; Indigenous children, 69 per cent; vulnerable and disadvantaged children, 71 per cent. Victoria: all children, 73 per cent; Indigenous children, 63 per cent; vulnerable and disadvantaged children, 67 per cent. Queensland: all children, 75 per cent; Indigenous children, 72 per cent; vulnerable and disadvantaged children, 74 per cent. South Australia: all children, 57 per cent; Indigenous children, 38 per cent; vulnerable and disadvantaged children, 50 per cent. Western Australia: all children, 60 per cent; Indigenous children, 47 per cent; vulnerable and disadvantaged children, 55 per cent. Tasmania: 75 per cent for all children, Indigenous, 69 per cent and vulnerable and disadvantaged children, 71 per cent. Northern Territory: all children 59 per cent, Indigenous, 36 per cent and vulnerable and disadvantaged children is 33 per cent. ACT: 59 per cent, Indigenous 59 per cent and vulnerable and disadvantaged, 68 per cent.
The truth is that, while we're investing in this very important sector of our education sector, we have to ensure that we are getting the outcomes right across the board. I would ask the shadow minister to think long and hard about this, because it surprises me that in the 10 minutes that she had for this MPI she did not make reference to the need for us to make sure that this investment flows right across our nation.