Is that the sound of politicians campaigning for our vote?

This article is the first in a weekly series by Lisa Bryant exploring the 2019 Federal Election and how it will affect services operating under the National Quality Framework.

Education and care services and elections. Both can be noisy and certainly both can get messy, but apart from this it’s hard to see any real connection between the two.

Why then, would the majority of educators and early childhood teachers give more than a passing thought to the upcoming election? The last workforce census showed us that a quarter of the workforce in our sector are under 24 years old.  If I remember those years correctly, there are much more important things to do when one is young than thinking about elections.

But the census also tells us that a big whack of the education and care workforce spends between 35 and 40 hours at their service every week. That’s a fair proportion of one’s waking hours. What happens in these hours is mostly determined by politicians. (Disproportionately, compared to other occupations given that we exist largely on public funding.)

So, elections matter. The result of this election will determine a lot about how you will be spending the next 3 years of your working life.

Don’t believe me? Surely you will still be managing conflicts, supporting learning and asking for inside voices regardless which party gets in?  Of course. But nearly everything else to do with your work has been decided at some stage by a politician.

Let’s look at some examples:

  • The fact that funded early education and care exists at all.  Childcare and preschool were substantially funded initially by the Whitlam Government back in the 1970s.
  • Which children are in your centre. The Activity Test part of the Child Care Subsidy, agreed to by Parliament in 2017, determines which families do and don’t receive the Subsidy.
  • What curriculum you  follow. The Early Years Learning Framework and Framework for School Aged Care were adopted by the Education Council (State, Territory and Commonwealth Education Ministers) in 2009.
  • Your wages and conditions. The Work Choices Act passed by Parliament in 2006 led to the Modern Day Awards most educators and teachers are currently employed under.
  • The National Quality Framework. Agreed upon by the Council of Australian Governments in 2009 the NQF gives us our current regulations and rating systems as well as our qualifications and ratio requirements.
  • Preschool Funding. The original National Partnership on Universal Access was signed in 2009.

Each of these things aren’t just policies implemented by politicians. Each of them started off as an election promise. Made during a previous election period. By politicians campaigning for people’s votes, just like Scott Morrison and Bill Shorten are today.

Gough Whitlam promised in the 1972 election campaign that every child would get one year of preschool education and that he would fund the construction and operating costs of childcare centres. In the 2004 election, John Howard promised to reform industrial relations and this led to the Modern Day Awards. In the Kevin ‘07 campaign, Kevin Rudd promised a national early years curriculum, Federal funding for preschools, national regulations and a new rating system. Tony Abbott promised a review of childcare in the 2013 election. The process was slow but this promise eventually led to the new Child Care Package in 2018.  

All of these huge changes to how education and care works in Australia were once just election promises.

So this is why elections matter for those working in education and care services. Election promises determine what happens in our services.

Of course not all election promises get implemented.  Obviously the party that loses never gets to implement their policies. And sometimes it takes years for others to become laws. Abbot’s 2013 promise to deliver “an affordable, flexible and accessible childcare system” didn’t come to fruition (even by his party’s definition of affordable and accessible) till July 2018. It was held up in the end by the fact that the by then Turnbull government didn’t have a Senate majority.

It’s easy to see how many people can see politics as boring, irrelevant to their lives or even just plain annoying. Research also tells us that many people, especially young people, are not confident that they understand our political system. Results from the NAPLAN like test on political understanding – the  National Assessment Program for Civics and Citizenship shows us that only 38% of Australian Year 10 students are rated as proficient. Even understanding the actual process for voting, for marking a ballot paper, can be complex.

But we need to remember one key fact. Our politicians are our representatives. We choose them to represent us. If we want politicians to do a good job of making decisions about education and care we have to make sure we choose good representatives. We have to also make sure those representatives are informed by and about our sector because when we elect them, we give them the power to make laws about us, but also on behalf of us.

No party has yet to promise to fund a self-cleaning, acoustically sound centre, so noise and mess is a given. But every other part of your work will ultimately be impacted by politicians’ promises over the next 5 weeks. So let’s give some thought to who is promising what.

I, for one, don’t want to spend the next 3 years dealing with politicians yelling at each other and making a mess of a sector I care for deeply.

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