EDITORIAL: New Education Minister has a chance to ensure ‘a fair go’ for Australia’s youngest children

Northside Community Service congratulates Dan Tehan MP on his appointment as Minister for Education in the new Scott Morrison Government. He now has a lot of work ahead of him to convince children, Australian families and the early childhood education sector that he will place children at the centre of policy, planning and implementation.

We also congratulate Senator Simon Birmingham on his appointment as Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment.

Minister Tehan’s previous role was at the Department of Social Services, a Department which was heavily involved in the practical implementation of the New Child Care Package, previously known and legislated as the Jobs for Families Package.

Given Minister Tehan’s experience in that role, he should be very aware of the tens of thousands of children and families who have been negatively affected by those legislative changes.

He should be aware that the children who would most stand to benefit from access to early education are the children who are most likely to be disadvantaged by those changes.

He should be aware that the IT systems and new administrative requirements make Australia the most complex place in the world for a child to undertake early education.

The current turbulent situation within the Government means that Minister Tehan may not have long to become familiar with his new Department and get to work.

To support Minister Tehan with that challenge, we are pleased to provide him with the following priorities:

  1. The removal of the Work Activity Test.

No child has any control over their parents’ roster or payslip. Early education is about children, and the proven benefits of access to high quality early education.

In his very first address to the nation as Prime Minister-elect, Scott Morrison stated that: “We believe… That in order for you to do better, we don’t think someone else has to do worse.”

The previous Minister for Education and his Department confirmed that while 75% of families would likely be better off under the new Package, this was at the cost of 25% of families who would be worse off.

We urge Minister Tehan to take the lead of the new Prime Minister in ensuring all children get “a fair go”, by removing the Work Activity Test from the new Child Care Package.

  1. Commit to long-term Universal Access funding for preschool access

In the most recent Federal Budget, the previous Minister announced the ending of federal funding for National Partnership Agreement on Universal Access to Early Childhood Education. No certainty has been provided for this funding beyond 2019, only a plan to “review funding arrangements” with States and Territories.

The previous Minister’s concerns regarding enrolment and attendance rates are worth exploring, but they can be investigated without threatening certainty to a guaranteed enrolment for every 4-year-old in Australia.

We urge Minister Tehan to provide details of the Government’s plan to address participation issues with States and Territories, alongside guaranteed long-term funding from 2020 to at least 2025.

  1. Reinstate funding for the National Quality Agenda

In the most recent Federal Budget, the previous Education Minister also announced the end of federal funding for the National Partnership Agreement on the National Quality Agenda. This funding ensured State and Territory regulatory bodies could conduct more assessment and rating visits, compliance checks and other support services.

This national partnership was critical to ensure the highest standards are being upheld in early education services around Australia. A recent Senate report has called on a significant rolling back of National Quality Framework (NQF) requirements, which uphold children’s health, safety and wellbeing and ensure children are learning.

We urge Minister Tehan to immediately reinstate this funding, and commit to long-term funding from 2020 to at least 2025. We also ask the Minister to publicly state his commitment to the NQF and guarantee that there will be no rollback of its requirements.

  1. Reinstate Priority of Access guidelines

Prior to the implementation of the new Child Care Package, all services operating under National Law were required to prioritise the enrolment of children at risk of, or experiencing, vulnerability and disadvantage. This was a significant safety net for children who face a number of barriers to accessing early education.

The new Child Care Package removed this requirement, adding yet more barriers to children who need all barriers to access removed.

We urge Minister Tehan to immediately reinstate the Priority of Access guidelines.

  1. Commit to funding professional wages for early childhood educators

Quality early childhood education can only be delivered by qualified, professional and respected early childhood educators. Yet educators are paid at levels barely above minimum wage, and at rates almost half that of male-dominated sectors. This remains a stark inequity at the heart of Australia’s education system, and must be addressed to ensure our system is actually providing the best outcomes for children.

The new Prime Minister has spoken of “a fair go for those who have a go”. It’s hard to imagine any other workforce in this country that works harder, or has more of “a go”, than early childhood educators.

The job is physically, mentally and emotionally challenging. It supports over 1.2 million children in Australia. It supports the workforce participation of Australian adults in a way no other sector does. It’s time for your Government to give educators a fair go.

We urge Minister Tehan to commit to funding professional wages for early childhood educators.

We look forward to Minister Tehan engaging with these urgent priorities, and are more than happy to meet with him at one of our Early Childhood Centres, where he can see the incredible work that happens in centres all around Australia every single day.

Minister Tehan has the opportunity as the new Minister to move away from viewing early education as only about workforce participation of parents. He can get us back on track with a sector that places children at its centre, and makes policy decisions on that basis that improve the entire community.

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