Tuesday, 19 February 2019
Matters of Public Importance
Early Childhood Education: Preschool Funding
The government has failed to invest in early childhood education. The facts are simple. As a proportion of gross national income, Australia spends less than Brazil, less than the Russian Federation and less than Mexico; and our preschool guarantee currently is less than that of China, New Zealand or the Republic of Ireland. It's because this government sees early childhood education as a cost. As many speakers have highlighted, we on this side see it as an investment. Bill Shorten and Labor's $1.75 billion plan is an investment in the future of Australia's children.
Investing in four-year-olds is so important. As you know, Deputy Speaker Hogan, I like to have a 'number fact' or two in the matter of public importance, and so here are some 'number facts' for the young people of Australia—the three- and four-year-olds. I think they'll enjoy these ones. Three is the number of people who have been to the absolute bottom of the ocean, and four is the percentage of people with an outie belly button.
But these developmental milestones that kids learn in those important years of three and four are really important life skills. Physically, they learn rhythm and movement. Socially, they learn how to enjoy playing with other children. They learn independence. They learn how to comfort someone when they're hurt. They learn how to recount a recent story. These are the sorts of things that young people learn through early childhood education in their third and fourth years.
Labor's guarantee will ensure two days of quality early education for every Australian three- and four-year-old. It will be the biggest investment in early childhood education in our nation's history. I've had the pleasure of visiting many early childhood centres in my electorate of Perth. We've seen some of the 3,191 children who will benefit from Labor's investment. With the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, I visited the Leederville Early Childhood Centre. I commend the work that the centre director, Sally Whitaker, is doing in sharing her expertise with other educators in the Perth community. With the member for Kingston, I visited the Goodstart Early Learning centre in East Perth, where we saw children engaged in music based play, another way that educators make sure young people can learn those physical and auditory skills that help them have a great start in life.
It's an investment that's worth it; it's as simple as that. It's an investment that allows many parents, including me and my wife, to go to work. What we've seen from our son Leo going to early childhood education is that he's starting to learn how to identify colours. I know that doesn't sound very impressive for any of us, when we work in a building identified by which colour of carpet you're on, but learning colours at that age is very impressive. It's very exciting for us as parents. Just last week, I started singing 'Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star' to him, and he had learned the hand signals that go along with 'Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star'. That shows you how important early childhood educators are to our future.
But we've got to admit that the people who work in early childhood education do it tough. My mum is a teacher who has taught in the early years. But, as a teacher, she was paid far more than the people educating children just three or four months younger in early childhood. As opposed to some of those opposite, I commend the work that United Voice do to advocate for a fair day's pay for a very important, physically demanding, intellectually demanding and emotionally demanding day's work. It is work that is so important for our economic future. The member for Adelaide spoke yesterday about the unfinished business of early childhood education. Labor's policy is part of that unfinished business. She outlined some of the achievements that she is so proud of in her time as a minister and as an advocate for early childhood education, and she said that we need to think of this as not a cost or just a service but as something that is like our school system: easily accessible and part of the education of young minds. I agree with her 100 per cent.
In closing, we are soon to hear from the member for Lilley. In his first budget, he proudly increased funding for early childhood education. It was a great Labor achievement. He took the childcare tax rebate from 30 to 50 per cent, easing the pressure on families and showing that his government cared about early childhood education. That was a major investment. It was a $1.6 billion investment over four years. It was done because he valued the work of early childhood educators. He valued what it does for young people. He knew it was an investment in the future of this country.