Tuesday, 19 February 2019
Matters of Public Importance
Early Childhood Education: Preschool Funding
I have received letters from the honourable members for Kingston, Kennedy and Petrie, proposing that definite matters of public importance be submitted to the House for discussion today. As required by standing order 46(d), I have selected the matter which, in my opinion, is the most urgent and important; that is, that proposed by the honourable member for Kingston, namely:
The government's failure to fund preschools.
I call upon those members who approve of the proposed discussion to rise in their places.
More than the number of members required by the standing orders having risen in their places—
I think this House is very well aware of the government's failures in so many different areas. In so many portfolios, we can see that the government cares more about playing politics than delivering good outcomes for our community. But when it comes to early childhood and preschool, all we get now from the Morrison government is silence. We don't even get politics when it comes to early education; we just get deathly silence. They used to dabble in a bit of politics in this area, a bit of bashing the states and territories—talking down our early educators and criticising them for getting paid on public holidays. But now they can't even be bothered to do that. It is now just pure neglect.
We are in a shocking situation where we have less than 12 months of funding left for our national preschool program—for the year before school. Earlier this month, thousands of 4-year-olds and their families began their preschool and kindy program in government, community preschools, kindies and early learning centres right across the country. This is a really exciting time for children and their families. I met some of them at Nakara Preschool in Darwin with the member for Solomon, at Goodstart at West Ryde with our candidate for Bennelong, Dr Brian Owler, and at the Cardinia Lakes Early Learning Centre, with our candidate for La Trobe, Simon Curtis. Today, it was great to visit the Campbell Street Children's Centre in Queanbeyan with the member for Eden-Monaro.
There are 350,000 children who are enjoying the benefits of a quality early preschool program, and that is thanks to Labor. Labor introduced the national preschool program in 2009. But this is the last cohort of children who have been funded by this government. And, even then, the Liberal-National government could barely summon the energy to lock this funding in. They were dragged, kicking and screaming, to the table, only sending out the funding agreement to lock in this year's funding in late September last year. That only gave the states and territories a couple of weeks to lock it in and make their plans for the year. But this had been the same old pathetic story under this government: stopgap funding for 12 months after public outcry, with no consideration to giving certainty to families, certainty to staff and certainty to providers.
But at least in the past the funding was in the budget, even if only for a year. This time, there is no money in the budget. The 2018-19 budget contains no funding for preschool after the $440 million in 2019. There should have been $440 million for next year, and the year after, and the year after that, but, instead, what appeared in the budget was zeros. The government had a chance to rectify this in MYEFO. We called on them to rectify this in MYEFO. It was a chance to show the community, the sector and families that they were committed to funding preschool ahead of the end of year. But, no, all we got was more zeros from this government—no money. The simple fact is that there is no money for preschools. It seems the government can find $440 million for their big business buddies at the Great Barrier Reef Foundation, and they can do it in a flash. They can quickly find $423 million for a company registered to a beach shack at Kangaroo Island. And, of course, they easily found $85 billion for their big tax cuts to banks and multinationals. They can easily find all this money—they just lift up a cushion and find it under the couch—but they can't find the money for our nation's preschools, and it is a disgrace. It is a shameful display of their priorities. How can preschools, kindies and early learning centres plan for next year when there's no funding allocated?
When I visited Kardinia Lakes a few weeks ago, the centre director, Tamika Hicks, explained how hard it was for her to plan with this uncertainty. She said he couldn't offer her staff ongoing contracts; they had to be limited-time contracts. And she said, 'Unless this cut is reversed, every child under the age of four will miss out on preschool funding before school.' Tamika will have to lay off four early childhood teachers without this funding. $440 million equates to $1,263 for each of the 4-year-old programs.
Mr Laming interjecting—
I hear the member for Bowman interjecting. We'll get to his great support of our program very soon. This cut will not only hurt centres; it will hurt families. Without this funding, early learning centres and preschools will have to cut places to fit their reduced budget, cut hours available to children or increase fees to cover the hole in their budgets. Families will have to choose between higher fees or missing out. Children will miss out on better education, social and health outcomes that flow from quality early education.
We on this side of the House know that investment in early education literally lays down the foundations for life. Labor gets it. We always have and we always will. That is why we have announced that a Shorten Labor government will introduce a new national preschool and kindy program. We will commit to ongoing permanent funding for the four-year-olds' program. There'll be no more going cap in hand to Canberra every year for our centres. Our teachers can get on with the job and our parents can plan with certainty. For the first time, we will extend the problem to three-year-olds, giving Australian children access to 15 hours of subsidised early learning in the two years before school so that they can get the best start to life.
We will also reinstate the $20 million of funding each year cut by the Liberals from our national quality agenda. The Liberal Party and the National Party might not care about quality. We know that they see early education as merely babysitting. But Labor believes that early learning centres should be safe and should deliver high-quality service, and we have a role in delivering that. Around 700,000 Australian children will benefit each and every year from our preschool and kindy program. This is the biggest investment in early childhood education.
Now, we have seen some support come from unusual quarters. In fact, it was pleasing to see the member for Bowman calling for three-year-old preschool funding, and tweeting our policy, tweeting the article that endorsed our policy. That was really wonderful to see. What he should do to go to his caucus room, put up his hand and say: 'Could you please put four-year-old funding in the budget? Please put the money in the budget!' If he doesn't, then he is being disingenuous to the people he's meeting in his local area; he's not telling them the truth about his advocacy here. He might want to go into his community and tell them one thing, but here in parliament he should stick his hand up and say, 'Come on, Prime Minister, at least fund four-year-old kindy.' But he hasn't done that, and we will soon see if he does that.
We have the Minister for Education, who's been a little silent on these issues. We know he's been very busy intruding on academic freedom in our universities and engaging in climate change culture wars in our school. But I would like to remind the minister he does have a day job, and that is to secure the future of our preschool program. I know that the minister may not find it easy. He may pretend to care, but if he really cared, he would make sure that his Treasurer put this money in the budget. Time is ticking. April's coming. The budget's coming. He failed to do it in MYEFO. He failed to get the funding commitment in MYEFO, but he has one last chance. I don't want to see—and I know those on this side of the House do not want to see—one year of funding in the budget, because that would be a cop-out. What we want to see and what we've committed to is permanent funding across the forward estimates. Anything less would show that this minister and government is no longer committed to the preschool program.
On this side of the House we see education as an investment. They see it as a cost. It is time that the minister and the government look at the evidence. The evidence is in. The community believes in this. It is time that the government finally stands up, puts our children in the centre, and funds four-year-old and three-year-old kindy. Anything less is a betrayal of Australia's children.
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.
There are interjections about money. Well, as I've said, we've invested in early childhood education every single year—in 2015 it was 405, in 2016 it was 415, in 2017 it was 425, in 2018 it was 428 and in 2019 it was 440. But there is an important difference. Our investment comes from being able to provide a strong economy. How are the Labor Party going to pay for their investment? With $200 billion of new taxes. And what will that involve? I think it will involve taxing people like Adrian Sumner. He says: 'My wife and I are both retired teachers from the Victorian state government school system. We live in a regional Victorian city in a modest home. We are self-funded retirees and receive a combined Emergency Services and State Superannuation pension of approximately $1,100 per week and believe we would be classed as middle-class in terms of income. Because of our superannuation income we are not entitled to the age pension, despite having contributed through the taxation system towards this throughout our working lives. I am a holder of a Commonwealth Seniors Health Card. During our working lives we were both members of the Australian Education Union. Since 1980 we have had in place a long-term plan to supplement our income during our working lives and in retirement through investing in the Australian share market. The effect of not allowing us a cash refund of franking credits would result in an approximately one-third reduction in income from our Australian shares, effectively, a combined $8,000 per annum loss of personal income. The Australian Labor Party's proposal to remove a cash refund from franking credits for self-funded retirees is unfair. A probable outcome would be the divestment of all our shares in Australian companies that provide franking credits. This will most likely trigger a capital gains tax event. We would then probably examine investing in global investments with a high capital growth and gradually sell down as the need for capital is required for expenses, such as aged care et cetera'
Dr Leigh interjecting—
So there are two points that I would like to make in this MPI. One is: not only are we investing in early childhood education but we're investing to make sure that all Australian children will benefit from that investment and, in particular, those from Indigenous backgrounds, those from low-socioeconomic backgrounds and those from rural and remote backgrounds.
The second point is that we are funding this through growing a strong economy. We are not funding this by trying to rip the life savings out of Australians who have worked tirelessly all their lives.
Wasn't that amazing? We had an education minister who exhausted his knowledge of education in 7½ minutes and then abandoned the subject! That was incredible. And, of course, what did we switch to? We switched to profits and his share portfolio. He is more interested in his share portfolio than he is in the education of the three- and four-year-olds of this country.
I'm proud and pleased to be able to speak in support of the member for Kingston, our excellent shadow minister, who knows this subject right at the coalface. She is a mother. She has built on a tradition of great Labor policy. In fact, she's one of the too few women in this parliament. Those women reside on this side of the House and are not much reflected on the other side of the House. That's why the Labor Party understands these issues; it's because of the proportion of women we have in our caucus room. If those opposite had more women over there, maybe they would understand these things. If they visited preschools, maybe they would understand these things.
It was really a pleasure to be at a preschool this morning with the shadow minister and the shadow Treasurer. This is all about the funding. This is all about a national response to the urgent issue of boosting education. That proud tradition that I mentioned goes back to, as the shadow minister mentioned, the universal access to early childhood education program, which kicked off in 2009. We've had, from 2009 to 2019, a great track record of how well this program is working. There are no ifs, buts or maybes about whether it should continue to get funding. We should know that now. Those parents and those people working in the sector need that certainty now. We were out there this morning. They were saying, 'What's going to go on? What's going to go on for the 350,000 of these four-year-old kids nationwide, the 102,000 in New South Wales and the 2,047 in Eden-Monaro?' They want to know. They have already faced big challenges in getting places and getting into places. They said they are 200 places short in Queanbeyan at the moment. When we were in government, we were putting resources into getting those places—such as 50 new places in Queanbeyan—but it wasn't the only thing that we were doing there.
I was very pleased to be, in April 2011, at the KU Queanbeyan South Early Learning Centre in Karabar with the then Minister Peter Garrett. We were opening a wonderful new early childhood education facility, providing kids with a natural learning environment that is based on sustainable principles and to facilitate really excellent learning outcomes. That facility was one of the ones that was chosen by our Commonwealth government at the time and funded to design, construct and operate that new centre under our early learning and care initiative. We were putting real skin in the game to improve that early learning issue.
Why is that important? We know so much more now about the importance of early childhood learning. This is a critical issue. It's how we build the country of the future. If you want good innovators, good start-ups and the new economies of the future, it all starts at right at this pointy end of the education system, where we are building synapses, where we are building cognitive development and where we are building creativity and imagination. It starts from here. Studies and expertise have shown that learning outcomes are improved by investing in this. Via the shadow minister's great policy initiative today, which will extend this program to three-year-olds, we will make sure that they get the best start in life.
Tanya Latter and the crew at the Campbell Street Children's Centre understand that. We understand too that there are more than 3,700 three- and four-year-olds kids in Eden-Monaro who will benefit from this. I know that those parents are screaming out for this because they don't know whether or not they are going to have to pay higher fees for keeping their kids at these facilities or just keep them at home next year. This is really important for Eden-Monaro and important for the country.
I will say as well that what we are seeing is part of a Labor strategy across the education sphere. We have seen cuts to education by this government. They have done the strategy of taking four wheels off the car and then putting one back on and pretending that they have raised education funding. We know that the funding that is being applied now is less than the funding that would have flown under Labor's education program and with the full Gonski scheme. Those opposite have cut the funding that would have flowed to our schools and the funding that was delivering great outcomes, like the national schools partnership to my schools in Bega and Eden. The bottom line is that Australians know, with a moral certainty, that it's only a Labor government that will commit to and deliver a future for our kids. (Time expired)
Here we go again: another day, another fake news moment from those opposite. The fact is that, when it comes to funding, those opposite speak with forked tongues. It doesn't matter whether we're talking about school funding, hospital funding, bulk-billing rates or, indeed, preschool funding—those opposite simply don't have a leg to stand on.
The truth is: preschool funding is higher than ever and only going one way. The current deal is delivering more money to my electorate of Capricornia and continues to allow our hardworking early childhood teachers to deliver the start in life our children need. Our preschools do a wonderful job, especially those in our rural communities, where they act not just as an education shop but as a community hub for parents, grandparents, children and teachers alike. Whether it is kindergarten, preschool, child care or primary school, the education our children get in these foundational years is vital to unlocking opportunities later in life. The funding of these services is vitally important.
The scaremongering of those opposite really knows no bounds. They will scare the elderly by lying about the government potentially selling Medicare. The truth is: we haven't and we won't. They will scare families and teachers by lying about imaginary cuts to school funding. The truth is: funding is higher than ever and continues to increase. They will scare young parents by lying about funding for early childhood education. The government simply has not cut preschool funding. The coalition government will provide more than $440 million to states and territories for preschool in 2019 under the National Partnership on Universal Access to Early Childhood Education. The extension of the national partnership will ensure almost 350,000 Australian children will have access to 15 hours of quality education each week or 600 hours in the year before school. Every state and territory is now signed up to the extension of the national partnership, which will continue to deliver universal access to preschool throughout 2019. We can only deliver this funding because the Australian economy is strong, and Australians know who to trust when it comes to that.
Those opposite may not understand what I've said so I will repeat it: we are increasing funding for services, and we can do so because the economy is strong and getting stronger. I know there'll be a conflicting idea from those opposite, because their version of events is to slap taxes on the back of business and families, crippling the economy and costing jobs. We are building a strong economy, and part of that is because we are not afraid to stand in this place and say a certain four-letter word, and that four-letter word is 'coal'. We know those opposite are conflicted on coal. While their union masters might be tapping on the shoulders of Queensland MPs and candidates to support the biggest employer in Central Queensland, they are being squeezed from the top, with ALP hierarchy telling them not to tell the world what they actually think. Who do we believe? What does Labor really think about coal? Do we believe the opposition leader—who must have nearly worn himself out hopping from one leg to another, saying one thing in Central Queensland and another in his home town, the almond-latte capital of Australia, Melbourne—or do we believe the working-class union that pulls the strings and pays the bills? For the record, I, for one, support the CFMMEU's demands on Labor MPs, and I am only too happy to say: 'Yes, I support coal; yes, I support the Galilee Basin; and, yes, I support the Adani Carmichael mine.' I support these things because they mean good jobs for Central Queenslanders and they mean more royalties and taxes for Queensland and Australia.
When the economy is strong, we as a government can deliver more for Australians, so I encourage every member opposite who wants the government to spend more money on preschools, hospitals and the unemployment queues to join me in supporting and standing up for the coalmining industry—to be brave and proudly utter the words: 'I support coal.'
It is about time for a fair go for Australian kids. That's what it's time for. They've been ignored and neglected by this government for far too long. This is a government that sides with the top end of town far too often. Clearly, there just aren't enough CEO toddlers in this country for them.
I know just how important the first few years of a child's life are for their development. I've seen it firsthand. I'm a mum of four boys. I've watched them grow and develop from birth into curious and inquisitive toddlers. They devoured knowledge and information at a truly incredible rate. In fact, you could probably compare it to their appetite for food. Any parent of young boys knows their appetite for food. Well, they consume knowledge and information at exactly the same rate. But, of course, their learning continued through their schooling right through to where they are today: bright young men—four men I'm very proud of. But it was really during their toddler years that I saw this huge burst in personal development. That's the reason they're called the formative years after all, isn't it?
This is why the Liberals' devastating cuts to early childhood education defy any reasoning at all. Around 350,000 four-year-olds across Australia took their first big step into early learning this year, but, because the Liberals have refused to extend preschool funding for four-year-olds beyond this school year, it may be their last year that they get the opportunity to access preschool or kindergarten. This cut equates to regular Aussie families losing out on over $1,200 of funding per child per year. I know that, for many battlers and working families in my community, this will just be devastating. This will mean that their children will miss out on an early childhood education; I ask you: where do you find an extra $1,200 a year in your family's budget? Where do you find that so your child gets an early childhood education?
I've worked in the early childhood education sector before. I know how kids and families benefit from this funding. But you really have to ask: what sort of government invests in banks instead of brains? What sort of government invests there instead of investing in the brains of our children? What sort of government develops partnerships with travel agencies instead of teachers? What sort of government does that? But you also have got to ask: what sort of government values the egotistical, arrogant, argumentative behaviour that we have seen demonstrated in this House instead of investing in and valuing early childhood education of our children, the social and economic future of our country? What sort of government makes those decisions about where they invest, where they value, where they develop partnerships? They have just got this all wrong.
Early childhood education is important. It's vital. It's so we ensure our kids—kids like mine, kids like yours, kids all over this country—have access to a great education from an early age. Labor is determined to provide this not only for every four-year-old in Australia but for every three-year-old. The sooner we get an early childhood education to these kids, the better off their start will be in life and the better off they will be. We've announced a national preschool and kindy program which will deliver the biggest ever investment in early education, expanding access to 15 hours a week of quality early learning for every three-year-old. And we'll also work with the states and territories and the sector itself to deliver 90 per cent enrolment of three-year-olds by 2023. This is a huge announcement.
While the Liberals are neglecting early learning in Australia, we are investing in it. While they neglect, we invest. This is really long-term forward thinking that we haven't seen displayed by this Liberal government, but it's something that Australians will get if a Shorten Labor government wins the next election. We know the educational, social, health and economic benefits of early learning. We now how powerful a weapon it is in the fight against inequality when you get a great start in life, when you get a great education from your early years.
It's an important debate that we are having today. The nation should be listening because it's such an important topic. The member for Longman and I chair the bipartisan friends of early education, and obviously you'd expect that strong bipartisan approach to education to fray slightly just months away from an election, so today is an important opportunity for us to cast the looking glass over the two party policies.
You can anticipate also that there's been a little bit of a struggle for Labor in the last few months as both health policy under Minister Greg Hunt and school policy under Minister Tehan slowly evaporated as far as the scare campaign goes. When you're scrounging around for that scare campaign, as Labor always does and always will before every federal election from opposition—the Labor party must come up with a scare campaign. They have to identify one because that is their only path to victory, so we suspect that it may well be early education. Already we are seeing them scurrying around, looking for that scare campaign, wandering into ununionised early education centres and trying to sign people up to United Voice. The best way to do that is a scare campaign.
Let's go through the details, knowing that, for a long time, in fact for a generation, we have had a national partnership for universal access to early childhood education that has been signed off. I know truth is painful but slowly but surely what federal governments from both sides of the political fence have done is drag state governments into a focus on coverage of the population. This is fundamentally an area funded by state governments. When you hear people on the other side of this chamber lamenting that the Liberals don't do this and that, this is a state government responsibility for which, historically, the federal government has increased its contribution over time but it was always a top-up. If you go to childcare centres, you won't hear the Labor Party MPs admitting that the federal contribution to the universal access national partnership agreement was a top-up and it topped up the hours from the traditional 10 a week to 12 and then to 15.
I don't mind having one foot on the sticking paper. Like history teaches us, the federal government will take more and more of a role in this area over time. There is no disagreement about that due to vertical fiscal inequity. But in reality we just need a modicum of honesty in this debate—that is, that the feds, both Liberal and Labor, have always tried to pull the state governments into a broader approach, where the disadvantaged cohorts in our towns and cities go to childcare in first place.
There is no point increasing childcare access to the age of one month if the people who need to be in childcare don't go. And the great challenge in Australia is that the most disadvantaged populations aren't showing up and that's been a federal focus, not just for this side, not just for this colour—and I know you have got short memories—but it was for their government when those opposite were in power as well.
We know that 40 per cent of disadvantaged kids simply never show up to early education. We know that 45 per cent of Indigenous children don't get to child care at all. There's no point releasing the beast of three-year-old childcare on to the nation without a plan for decent coverage. You have got to have coverage. And let's look for the evidence because there are plenty of commentators out there. The Mitchell Institute said that preschool education adds to childhood education—there is no doubt about that—but, if the most disadvantaged children aren't attending, it simply can't happen.
I would like to table the OECD data which no-one over there has read. It shows that in nations like Germany, France and Belgium, there are significant benefits to a second year of child care and to adding in education at preschool level. The problem is it's not in Australia. Early education for three-year-olds doesn't appear in the PISA data. Have a look at the OECD data: it's a seven point benefit on PISA, based on the recollection of 15-year-olds, and adjusted for social economics. The benefit of a second year of early education—and you can see they are all stunned over there—is a humble one PISA point benefit. An Australian early education sits proudly with Ireland, Latvia, Brazil, Montenegro, Portugal, Switzerland and Turkey in demonstrating no benefit whatsoever to a second year of preschool. There reason is because those who have the greatest need don't attend. They don't show up because the states haven't found a way to get them there. It's easy in universal childcare, social welfare economies like northern Europe. Everyone routinely does it. But Australia has the highest rate of households that are intergenerationally welfare dependent that do not access child care. Until they do, you will not see the educational benefits that the Mitchell Institute trumpets.
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.
For those who are listening to this debate, and for those in the gallery, it behoves me to actually enter into the debate of what was said by the member for Longman and especially the member for Eden-Monaro. The member for Eden-Monaro stood up in this room and said that the Liberal and National parties have cut education funding. Since we were elected, and since the former Labor government, funding to all of your schools has increased by 41 per cent. That's the truth—a 41 per cent increase.
I noticed a lot of hilarity on the Labor benches today. The member for Longman talked about 'battling working families' in her electorate. I want to say something to those of you who have been around a while, especially those of you who talk in this place about women's issues. It was the Labor Party that took families with single parents—mostly women—from parenting payment onto—
I'm telling you who proposed it. You know who proposed it. You plunged those families into poverty, and we're still struggling with the issues today. They had three- or four-year-old kids who would go to early childhood education centres. And you know you regret doing that. We are now dealing with the consequences of that all this time later, down the years. Why wasn't the Labor Party protecting the women of Australia who were single parents then? Why is that? You didn't think about the women across this nation who were single parents and deserved a better go than you gave them when you were in government. Why did you take money off those single-parent families? They're the ones that are affected right now—in their education, in what they can spend. If those women were in a regional area, they were impacted even further than women living in an urban area.
Opposition members interjecting—
I don't want a lecture from any of you. I know what you did. In the report on intergenerational welfare we're doing now, I'm working through the consequences of that, which your colleagues were very much a part of. It is a huge disappointment to me that I have been part of a parliament that actually treated a cohort of our community—those being single-parent families, the parent mostly being a woman—like that. Where were you in standing up for those women at that time? But I didn't get up to talk about that. I got up to talk about the early learning training centres—
I won't have a lecture from you, Member for Kingston. You're out of order, and you know you're out of order.
Opposition members interjecting—
I am angry. I am angry. There are women in your electorate in South Australia that are struggling today because they're single parents. You may have a program going into the future that's visionary for kids and early education—and I think that's great because I too know that's good. I know it works. My grandchildren come home with all sorts of things from early childhood education that they don't get from home. You may accuse me of being angry, but we're dealing with the consequences today—a cohort of people who are poor—of decisions we made in this House.
Mouths like that won't do you any good either. Today, those that have gone from parenting payment to Newstart are struggling in a way that they shouldn't be struggling in a nation like this, and the women of this parliament should understand that better than anybody else. We have a job to do for those families and we haven't done the right thing by them. If you want to talk about early childhood intervention, we've spent $5,000 at the children's centre at Korumburra and we've just turned the first sod for the Warragul centre, and they're going to be visionary places for kids to learn, into the future. And you know all the reasons why we're doing it—because the infrastructure in country areas has been a disgrace, and we're now spending money on that.
But I reiterate that we have a job to do for single-parent families. Whoever the government is after the next election, it needs to put some real effort—this whole parliament needs to put some real effort—into those families, who are doing it harder than any other families.
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.
You can see how important this MPI is by seeing all the people who have come to hear this final speech on this very important matter, and I thank the Labor Party for turning up. We want to put on the record the fact that the other side has been operating with a big lie about cuts to education funding. School funding during this government, since we've been given the responsibility, has gone up by 41 per cent per capita since 2013. Our childcare package has just added another $2½ billion to it. In childcare, the people that need the most help get the most help and the people that are working harder also get, pro rata, more help. You don't have millionaires getting childcare subsidies. It's focused on the families who are doing it toughest and are working the most and on the children that need the most help. We are delivering for 15 hours a week of universal childcare. The budget records demonstrate over the last three years we've increased, and the government and the department are still negotiating with the states for further increases.
Now, the best way to get more children to benefit is not to throw more money at it; it's to improve attendance rates. These figures don't lie. In some states, up to 40 per cent of the children don't even get to preschool. We are a top-up funder of preschool. The states run preschools; the federal government doesn't run preschools. We have got to get the states to stump up to their responsibility. We are not an ATM for lazy states that don't administer the areas that they're responsible for.
We all know that childcare and early learning are critical to the development of children's brains. This side has many people that have been parents, too, and many people that have been in education. I spent two years of my whole life in early childhood development and child health. I know probably better than half the pontificators about how important it is. But the figures they are using to justify doing preschool for three-year-olds are based on countries in northern Europe, where kids don't start school until they're six or seven. So when some countries are talking about preschool, they mean what we mean by the first year at school or in childcare. That's why there is this confusion about where the benefit is.
We have delivered $2½ billion extra into childcare, as well as extra funding into universal access to preschool. We understand that. We do care, we do deliver and we have not cut funding. What the other side is arguing, for those up there that don't appreciate it, is that their hypothetical increases—which they had no way of funding and which were pie-in-the-sky figures—were bigger than the actual 41 per cent increase. So what they're arguing is quite a semantic argument. A 'cut', to me, means less next year than there is this year. But there is 41 per cent more going into government schools around the states and territories of this nation than there was in 2013. That is a massive increase. It's the same in childcare and the same in the universal access to a year of preschool.
The other side always tries to claim the moral high ground, but we know how to actually deliver the money. We have brought our budget into no longer being in deficit. We're going to be in a balanced budget situation. We've grown the economy. We've got more people in employment and fewer people depending on government support and welfare. That is one of the other big wins for parents—that they have their pride, they have employment, and they have the ability to work hard and get ahead because we're giving them tax cuts as well.
So we're delivering for families. We're delivering for children. I won't take it from the other side that we have cut anything. We have actually increased far more than any other government, whether it's in education, whether it's in health or whether it's in defence, and we've cut taxes. We have grown the economy, we've delivered in spades for the families of Australia and for Australia's future citizens, our children, our most precious asset.