Monday, 5 February 2018
Questions without Notice
My question is Senator Birmingham. Will the minister update the Senate on the Commonwealth funding for preschools in 2019 and their achievements under the national partnership agreement for universal access to early childhood education?
I thank Senator Gichuhi for her question and her strong interest in education and training, and particularly in early education and development of our littlest learners in their preschool years. Indeed, the Turnbull government was pleased over the weekend to announce a further and ongoing commitment to preschool funding across Australia through part of an ongoing extension of the national partnership agreement in relation to universal access. This will see a further $440 million provided to the states and territories to support preschool services around the country. This will bring to some $3.7 billion the total scale of investment that federal governments have made to support access to preschool around the country. This is designed to underpin access to some 15 hours per week of preschool for children in the year before they start school, predominantly four-year-olds, and will support around 350,000 of our littlest learners to access high-quality preschool services.
Preschool is important for a range of reasons. It's important because it helps those children to develop the skills necessary to succeed at school, whether that's skills in terms of their behaviour, their socialisation or basic skills, such as holding a pencil. All of these attributes are critical. We've seen strong progress in terms of preschool enrolment over that time. However, concerningly, that progress has not always been met by the states and territories ensuring that children enrolled in preschool are fully participating. The Commonwealth funding that has flowed over this time has not resulted in states and territories getting high proportions of the children who have the greatest to gain from preschool participation to participate, which is the reason why the Turnbull government has put on the table for the states and territories the need to lift their game before longer term solutions in this area are addressed.
Indeed, Senator Gichuhi, it is important to recognise that the Turnbull government's support for early childhood education and care is not just limited to preschool support but of course is underpinned by our substantial overhaul that will occur in July of this year to the childcare subsidy arrangements—an overhaul that will ensure greater support and access for hardworking Australian families, particularly low- and middle-income Australian families, who in many instances will be some thousands of dollars per annum better off as a result of our reforms to help them meet the cost of childcare services. Of course, the support in the childcare sector importantly provides additional support for preschool access for those children who access preschool via long day care settings. That means especially high levels of extra support in states like Queensland and New South Wales, but, in doing so, it does distort aspects of the way the partnership agreement works, which is another reason why we have flagged to the states and territories the need to work on a longer term basis that deals with some of these discrepancies.
It's critical that we have better data around the actual attendance of four-year-olds at preschool, particularly better data around the attendance of four-year-olds from disadvantaged backgrounds, Indigenous four-year-olds, children from low socioeconomic backgrounds and the like, to make sure that those children are accessing the entitlement that's available for them.
Senator Cameron interjecting—
I hear yabbering coming from the other side of the chamber. Those opposite fail to acknowledge the fact that, before the last election, they budgeted zero dollars for preschool services during this term of parliament. That's the policy that the Labor Party took to the last election. By the decision the Turnbull government has taken this weekend, or this year, we will have guaranteed ongoing Commonwealth support for preschool from well before the last election until after the next election. But, in the interim, we have clearly identified the issues that need to be addressed by the states and territories in their delivery of preschool services, and, importantly, we are making sure that those who stand to gain the most from preschool services are attending those services.