This article is the third in a weekly series by Lisa Bryant exploring the 2019 Federal Election and how it will affect services operating under the National Quality Framework.
What should we write about this week? What change do we want to see happen in the world of early education and care? Clearly The Framework is omnipotent – my last election article outlined why early education and care wasn’t a big issue and why it should be – and look what happened within 48 hours of publication!
With this much power at my fingertips I need to be very careful what I wish for.
So how about this for this week’s request? I wish that as much, if not more, energy goes into devising the implementation of the Labor Party’s policies as went into the announcement of them.
An announcement is never just an announcement. Lots of energy is expended beforehand persuading the party that there is a problem. (Good work United Voice and all of those who advocate about the cost and accessibility of early education and care!) Then more energy explaining the nuances of current practice to politicians. Then the briefing of journalists. It all takes time, planning and energy.
Whether that announcement eventually translates to great public policy relies on two things. Whether the party announcing the policy get elected, and how it is actually implemented.
I confess to being horrified by some of the comments coming from some educators this week on social media, asking how Shorten is going to pay for his promises to increase their pay, or saying that it will never happen.
This bloke has promised to put more money in your pockets people! He has recognised the value of what you do. He has stood up to other politicians calling his actions socialism and communism, and radio shock jocks telling the public that this is the first step to Australia’s ruin. If you reject his promise then my theory that internalised misogyny and internalised sexism run rife in this sector is even truer than I thought.
Educators, you deserve this pay rise. You’ve earnt this pay rise. Your jobs are hard and important. If it wasn’t a female-dominated sector your work would be paid in line with its value. So please, take the bloke at face value. He has promised you more money and will work to get it for you. No matter what your politics are, why don’t you vote in your own interest for once? It won’t happen unless the bloke promising it gets elected.
The second barrier to the implementation of great promises is their implementation. And this is where so much good intent goes astray.
Giving free early education and care to those earning under $65K? Brilliant idea. Doing it while still retaining the Activity Test? Bad idea.
Allowing corporates to raise their fees willy-nilly because families will get higher subsidies? Bad, Bad, Bad. Shaming services who need to increase fees because of legitimate increases in cost? Also bad. Fee caps? Could be good or bad but can we see some modelling?
Giving educators pay rises? Beyond brilliant. Done without comprehensive workforce planning? Problematic. Done like how it was last time with caveats around enterprise agreements and based on a submission? Argghhh. Done without long term planning for wage increase mechanisms? Un-good. Setting a precedent for aged care and other gendered workforces? Why not?
This stuff takes time. It takes a strong bureaucracy not hamstrung with the rigid thinking adopted over the conservative years. Some of the worst policy implementation in our sector recently has not come from the party in power but from a bureaucracy all too willing to believe that those running education and care centres don’t know what they’re doing.
Bad policy also comes when bureaucrats are given too much power to fit things into rigid structures. My bet is that some of the children who have disappeared from the education and care system after the Child Care Subsidy started didn’t go because of ineligibility, but because the structures became too complex for families to deal with.
(Believe it or not we weren’t all born knowing how to accept a Complying Written Agreement in a myGov account with a complex access process, even if we do have credit and internet access and a life ordered enough for this to be possible.)
Bad and complex policy implementation can make even good policy promises failures. Consultation is key – not sham consultation but really listening to services and educators as they talk about their realities, and the realities of the children and families they work with.
There are a million people out there at the moment asking why they should pay for the care of other people’s children and for wage rises for those doing it. Let’s double down on telling the story of why it matters. (Has your service written to families about the promises yet?)
And then if the parties that are promising the good stuff get elected, let’s work like hell to make sure that their promises are implemented well.
Because that’s a wish really worth coming true.