It’s hard to tell which part of Simon Birmingham’s announcement that Federal Government funding for Australia-wide preschool causes the biggest eye-roll.
The two clear frontrunners are: 1) That the Education Minister is seriously using the word “commitment” to describe the fifth short-term shot of funding his Government has announced since they took office; and 2) That the Education Minister seriously expects us to believe the Government values the research and evidence on the importance of early education.
Since taking power in 2013, the Abbott and then Turnbull-led Coalition Governments have been masters at publicly stating their deep and abiding commitment to children having access to quality early education, while systematically undermining that commitment with every single major policy position they have suggested, advocated for and legislated.
Sussan Ley was our first Minister during this time, and as well as starting off this merry-go-round of short-term funding, spent most of her time trying to undermine and get rid of the National Quality Framework.
Up next was Scott Morrison, fresh off a Ministerial career ensuring that children were illegally detained in the most abject conditions possible for daring to seek asylum in Australia, who promptly moved our sector into the Department of Social Services. This turned-out to be short-lived, but it was very telling. It’s clearly where the Government believes we should be – not in Education.
And now we have Senator Simon Birmingham. He just sounded so much more reasonable. He really seemed to get early education. He had young children after all! He then proceeded to propose the Jobs for Families package which will undermine the entire sector in one legislated Bill.
But even though his cards are now on the table about Australia’s early education system being divided into preschool and “base child care”, at least we always thought that he was in favour of ensuring funding for the year before school, right? He even floated the idea of looking at 3-year-old preschool in the lead-up to the last election.
But today’s announcement merely underlines what anyone who’s actually watched what they do – not just what they copy and paste into a press release – already knew.
The Government don’t understand or value early childhood education, and they certainly don’t want to fund it.
Ensuring access to early education in the year before school is such a no-brainer, it’s barely a discussion point overseas. There the debate has largely shifted to 3-year-olds, and a majority of OECD countries are already past that debate.
Here, we can’t see past a horizon of more than 12 months to ensure children can even access in the year before school.
The announcement of another short-term extension highlights some reasonable points. The gap between enrolment and participation is too high, and also not enough is known about it. We do need better data on a whole range of indicators.
But the important thing to note is that the announcement says absolutely nothing about any possible solutions to these issues. The entire release is about asking the States and Territories to sort it out. This is the excuse being used to justify not giving any certainty to what should be a locked-in right to every one of Australia’s children.
We’ve heard all the excuses before. Back in Ley’s time it was waiting for the Productivity Commission to report. Then it was waiting for a response to that Report.
We know everything we need to know about the importance of early education. There’s nothing else that is going to convince this Government, and today just highlights it.