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What’s your rank? We look at how ECE fares in Australia’s cabinets

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With a significant cabinet announcement for ECE in NSW, we take a spin around the nation to see how each state and territory treats early childhood education in Cabinet Minister rankings. How does your jurisdiction stack up?

New South Wales

Sarah Mitchell MLC
Sarah Mitchell

The NSW Premier has elevated her Early Childhood Education Minister, Sarah Mitchell, to the state’s massive Education portfolio, worth more than $17 billion in the current financial year and accounting for 2200 schools, nearly 800,000 school students, and 90,000 school teachers.

Minister Mitchell is not only moving up to lead one of the biggest portfolios in Australia, she’s taking early childhood education with her and keeping the title at the forefront of her new role, as Minister for Education and Early Childhood Learning.

With a positive view, this means one of the upper ranks of politicians in Australia, someone who will represent the most populous state at the COAG Education Council meetings, comes to the role after many opportunities to understand and appreciate the vital importance of early learning.  Minister Mitchell may well be the most informed National Quality Framework observer at the Education Council table when the NQF Review is considered this year, and she will certainly have strong views on continued Commonwealth funding for universal access to preschool.

From a more concerned view, ECE in NSW has lost its ‘own’ minister. Although the ECE portfolio was previously held by junior Ministers, the fact that it was treated as a separate portfolio and is now once more part of a single Minister’s responsibilities could be seen as a loss.

As CELA CEO Michele Carnegie said last week: “From the sector’s point of view, continuity really matters.”

Reviewing the announcement today, Michele said CELA welcomes the retention of a well-informed Minister in the portfolio, and looks forward to continuing the consultation that Sarah Mitchell supported in the past,

“This appointment gives us optimism that we will see the changes so urgently required in NSW,” Michele said.

“The fact that Minister Mitchell also brings her experience as Minister for Aboriginal Affairs is positive. She has a stronger foundation than many new Education Ministers regarding what is needed to create real change for Indigenous children and their families, beginning with early education and throughout their school years.

“She’s been a grounded Early Education Minister. Throughout her previous appointment, she was highly active in visiting and listening to educators and children in early learning services, creating a direct connection and knowledge of issues.”


Sonya Kilkenny

For a time, Victoria and NSW both supported separate Early Childhood Education Ministers in their cabinets.  With the election landslide to the Andrews Government last year, however, came another tumble.

As Early Childhood Intervention Australia (Vic/Tas Ltd) reported:

“Disappointingly the Early Childhood, Families and Children Ministerial portfolios so valued within our sector have now been completely discontinued within the Andrew’s Government.”

Jenny Mikakos, the former ECE Minister for Victoria, was promoted to Health and other ministries, and her portfolio was not replaced in the reshuffle.

However, the sector was not completely abandoned and MP Sonya Kilkenny was named Parliamentary Secretary for Early Childhood Education – a role outside Cabinet but designed to retain political oversight of an important part of a much larger portfolio (in this case, Education and Training where the regulatory authority resides).


Grace Grace

One of the most delightfully named Australian politicians of all time must be Queensland Education Minister Grace Grace. She holds the Cabinet posts for both Education and Industrial Relations, in a classic combination often appreciated by those in the vocational education sector whose work moves often between these portfolios.

Minister Grace’s responsibilities include state schooling, early childhood education and care, higher education, non-state school funding, industrial relations, employment policies and programs, worker’s compensation and workplace health and safety.

Northern Territory

Selena Uibo

A Territory reshuffle in 2018 brought Selena Uibo forward to hold three portfolios including Education, with responsibility for early learning. Announcing her appointment, the Chief Minister Michael Gunner highlighted his commitment to ‘investing in children’.

“The addition of Arnhem MLA Selena Uibo strengthens our cabinet team,” he told the Katherine Times.

“It has also allowed us to spread the ministerial workload in a way that will maintain our focus on improving the lives of all Territorians.

“We promised to put children at the centre of Government because we understand that investing in the earliest years of life is key to generational change and a safer and more prosperous community… I have taken on this responsibility as Minister for Children to ensure that we drive this generational change right across Government.

Western Australia

Simone McGurk

For many years now, the early childhood education regulatory authority has belonged to the Community Services portfolio in Western Australia. While the Department of Education in WA is an increasingly significant provider of early learning through preschool programs attached to primary schools, Community Services has responsibility for the policy, regulation and application of laws in that state.

Simone McGurk, as Minister for Community Services, has primary responsibility for ECE policy but WA Cabinet Ministers are unusually prone to sharing their public statements, which lends a comforting sense of collegiality to their media releases.  This statement on the progress towards No Jab No Play in WA is an example of typical joint statements on many stories relating to ECE.

WA Moves Closer to No Jab No Play.

South Australia

John Gardner

One of the minority of male Ministers with early childhood education responsibilities in Australia, John Gardner is the South Australian Minister for Education. Minister Gardner is responsible for the SA Department of Education, which is a major provider of early learning services and has traditionally had a strong focus on early childhood education compared to most other jurisdictions.

South Australia is also unusual in having an Education Standards Board, something like a cross between NESA in NSW and ACECQA nationally.


Jeremy Rockcliff

Jeremy Rockcliff, is the Minister for Education and Training in Tasmania and has responsibility for early years as part of his portfolio.  Tasmania has weathered several rocky years around its attempts to lower the school starting age to be consistent with mainland Australia. This torrid experience may be partly behind the strongly featured early learning videos currently on his Ministerial landing page (sample below).

Australian Capital Territory

Yvette Berry

Last, and only least in size and never effort, the ACT’s early childhood education portfolio is also featured in a Ministerial title. Yvette Berry is the Minister for Education and Early Childhood Development, which is one of no less than six portfolios she currently holds, including her Deputy Chief Minister duties. ACT has a history of strong sector representation and formal consultation with the Minister’s office.



Bec Lloyd is the founder and managing director of Bec & Call Communication, providing professional writing, editing and strategy services to the school and early childhood education sector since 2014. In 2018 she launched UnYucky mindset and menus for happier family mealtimes. Formerly the communications lead at ACECQA and BOS (now NESA), Bec is a journo and mother of three who produces Amplify for us at Community Early Learning Australia.

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