Tuesday, 7 February 2017
A couple of weeks ago, Senator Leyonhjelm insulted early childhood educators across this country when he blamed the increase in childcare fees on quality standards and the requirement for educators to have a certificate III as a minimum. This, the senator stated, had led to an increase in fees. Tonight I want to correct the record. It would seem that the senator has been rather selective in the issues he chooses to respond to. The low pay of early childhood educators has been covered in the media for the best part of the last five years, and despite there being a requirement for centres and educators to reach standards and hold qualifications that has done absolutely nothing to lift the pay of these professional yet low-paid educators.
For the record, an educator with a certificate III starts on $20.30 per hour and after three years they reach their highest rate of pay—the highest rate they will ever earn as certificate III workers. That is just $21.99 per hour, a paltry $1.69 per hour increase on their starting rate. This measly amount does not contribute to the high cost of early childhood education. Educators are leaving the sector at alarming rates—more than 30 educators leave the sector each week. They do not really leave—they are forced to leave, not because qualifications are pushing them out but because of the simple fact that they cannot afford to stay. That is the truth of the matter.
Early childhood education is not about 'wiping noses and stopping children from killing one another'—another bland statement made by Senator Leyonhjelm. Academic research informs us that 85 per cent of a child's brain development occurs between birth and five years. The reforms Labor put into place recognise this well-known fact. Early childhood centres are places of education and care. It is obvious to me and the sector that the senator has never spent any time in a quality early childhood centre, and I would suggest he walk a day in the shoes of an early childhood educator before he sounds off again.
Senator Leyonhjelm and indeed the government have got it wrong on early childhood education. Of course it costs, and yes high fees do need to be addressed—not in the way the government wants to do, by taking from one area of our community to give to another, but by recognising that working women make an enormous contribution to our economy. Yet under this government our female workforce participation rates remain in the lowest levels of the developed world. The Grattan Institute has estimated that, if we increased our female workforce participation rate to the rate of Canada, our economy would be $25 billion better off.
So it is time the government and others looked at the value of early childhood education through a different prism, through the wellbeing of our children, the boost to our economy when women are able to fully participate in our economy and educators earning the professional pay they so well deserve.