House debates

Tuesday, 19 February 2019

Matters of Public Importance

Early Childhood Education: Preschool Funding

3:58 pm

Photo of Cathy O'TooleCathy O'Toole (Herbert, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

I'm currently a registered teacher in Queensland. My grandmother was a teacher. I have two siblings who are principals of high schools. I have two nieces and a sister-in-law who are teachers. I can assure you, I know the value of early childhood education, including preschool. A quality education starts with early childhood education and preschool for all children because the most formative years are from birth to five years of age. A quality education is a basic human right for Australia's future and it's absolutely essential that the preschoolers of today get a quality education because they are the leaders of our not-too-distant future.

I was studying education at the time my two eldest children commenced preschool and I was very impressed by their excellent teacher's ability to stimulate their curiosity in learning, especially through play and discovery. My experience with my children led me to believe that the best year of education is in fact preschool. As little minds are developed, curiosity and critical thinking are encouraged in the context of age-appropriate learning activities.

As a grandmother, I have watched my grandchildren in recent years flourish in their preschool education. In fact, my granddaughter could sign some words before she could even speak them, because she went to a kindy where they were immersed in sign language. The quality of the curriculum was so very impressive, and their interest in reading was developed. All of my grandchildren are very imaginative and have very curious minds.

In Australia, there are approximately 350,000 four-year-olds who have begun their first steps of early learning this year either in kindergarten or at preschool. However, under this LNP government, this may very well be the last year that four-year-old kids get an opportunity to access to preschool or kindy, because this government is refusing to fund the program next year. This is just one step too far, especially after its childcare changes and the cuts to early education for some of Australia's most vulnerable people—our young children. This government has had every opportunity to provide ongoing funding but, in the usual form, it has refused to do so. There is no funding in the 2018-19 MYEFO to fund four-year-old preschool kindergarten after this year.

Labor introduced universal access to early education in 2009, but this LNP government has failed to commit to extending the funding beyond this school year. This LNP government has been true to form and, since being elected in 2013, it has begrudgingly only ever rolled over funding from one year to the next. Our children, our parents, and providers all rely on this critical funding. If the funding cut goes ahead, they will be unable to plan for the future, sign long-term leases, lock in employment contracts or prepare their budgets for 2020. For those families with three-year-olds who are planning to send their children to kindy or preschool next year, under the Liberals, they will lose more than $1,200 per child. Under the Liberals, parents will have to choose between paying higher fees or keeping their kids at home from the next year.

It's interesting to note that this government sees education as a cost. I find that absolutely extraordinary. Education is an investment. It is an investment in the very future of this nation. Not only is this funding uncertainty terrible for families; it's also destructive for providers and their staff, who have no guarantee that they'll even have a job next year. In Queensland, this will affect nearly 70,000 children. In my electorate of Herbert, this will affect 2,484 children. It is outrageous that this LNP government views education as a cost, as I have said.

In contrast, Labor's national preschool and kindy program will see the biggest ever investment for children across Australia. It will deliver ongoing funding for four-year-olds and, for the very first time, extend this to three-year-olds. Only Labor will give every child the early education opportunities that they need for the best start in life. Labor's national preschool and kindy program will provide ongoing funding for four-year-old preschool and kindy, and this will be extended to include three-year-olds. Labor's commitment will help expand access to quality early learning for children. Labor's policy will provide subsidised access to 15 hours of preschool and kindy for three- and four-year-olds from 2020-21—again ensuring that every child has the opportunity to access those vital two years of learning before formal schooling starts.


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