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ECE in the election

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In person or online, you can join the 2019 National Early Childhood Election Forum

presented by the Early Learning Everyone Benefits Campaign

Thursday 2 May, from 6.30-8pm

Confirmed speakers so far: Amanda Rishworth (ALP) and Janet Rice (Greens)

Wheeler Centre, Melbourne OR livestream from the Early Childhood Australia Facebook page on any device

Tickets are free.

Find out more and book your place now on Eventbrite here

(livestream bookings receive a reminder email and link)

Amplify editor Bec Lloyd and CELA CEO Michele Carnegie round up the latest policy announcements from the major political parties this week ahead of the National Early Childhood Election Forum on Thursday night (see above). On the surface, the promises are a treasure for the sector but on closer reading we have to ask, are they solid gold or just sparkling from the fairydust our politicians have sprinkled over the top?

The big three policy platforms

When it comes to the ECE policies that might sway your vote on 18 May, there are now three clear statements from the Australian Labor Party, the Greens, and the Liberal/National government:

“Every single family in Australia earning up to $174,000 will get cheaper child care…”

“…pay increases of 20 per cent to early childhood educators over 8 years…”

Make child care fee free for most families and abolish the activity test.”

“Support the United Voice “Big Steps” campaign for fair pay for early childhood educators.”

“ … ”

“ … ”
(you may wish to mentally insert the sound a cricket makes)

Behind the LNP silence

According to CELA CEO Michele Carnegie, the government’s silence speaks louder than words.

“The Australian government is pointedly avoiding the massive political issues of equity in early education and professional pay for educators,” Michele says.

“Their language in recent times suggests they feel they’ve ‘solved childcare’ as a public issue by introducing the Child Care Subsidy (CCS) which reduced fees for many families. As we know, however, the CCS has had a terrible outcome for many children – reducing their funded hours of care under an ill-considered and poorly delivered activity test.

“Since the CCS introduction, fewer vulnerable and low income families have accessed ECE for their children, and many homes where parents have fluctuating incomes are also hard hit by the activity test’s conditions.

“It’s impossible to believe the current government is unaware of the negative changes the new subsidy has also created. Labor’s research is suggesting the number of vulnerable children covered by the Childcare Safety Net has now fallen by nearly half: from 35,000 to 21,000.

“Perhaps Minister Dan Tehan or Prime Minister Morrison will surprise us with a major ECE announcement closer to the polling date – or perhaps they simply have nothing to say.”

Behind the words

Labor and the Greens are aiming at 80% of younger Australian families earning a combined annual income of less than $174,000 with the former promising Child Care Subsidy increases of up to $2100 per child on a sliding scale, and the latter guaranteeing fee-free access for everyone in the same pool of families.

It’s a bold play for the hip pockets of those families, as well as the large number of grandparents who are frequently called on to make care more affordable by offering their own time.

The policy statements contain additional promises too. For example, Labor is proposing the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) examine ‘excessive fee increases’ and name-and-shame the providers who can’t justify their costs. The Greens are offering to abolish all study fees for TAFE and university students of early childhood education, and instigate a national workforce strategy to deal with pay, shortages, and professional development.

Michele Carnegie, however, cautions readers from taking the promises of any party at face value.


As far back as the Victorian election in 2018, Michele says, Bill Shorten has been proposing welcome investment into the ECE sector for the benefit of children, educators and families – but with a catch.

“We’re very concerned that Labor has based all its ECE spending on funds that don’t yet exist,” Michele says.

“Mr Shorten has repeatedly said the funding for his ECE promises will come from three main areas: abolishing high income earners’ tax cuts; reforming negative gearing tax cuts, and removing franking credits.

“All three areas are highly contentious politically and unless Labor wins with a strong majority in both houses of parliament, the reforms needed to fund any of these ECE promises are unlikely to pass.

“So we can welcome and applaud the promises currently being made by the ALP – but if they win government without a clear majority, they may never happen.

“Right now, without independent funding for the promises, it’s just a sprinkle of fairydust.”

Greens in same boat

Unfortunately, Michele says, the Greens promises are in the same category of depending on the cancellation or reform of legislation that will not occur unless Labor commands government in its own right, or with a reliable collaboration with the Greens.

“The Greens policy statement is a strong statement, but it probably has to be read as an intention to influence the government of the day rather than as a practical guide to seeing the Greens control policy,” Michele says.

“The funding for their preferred approach of ‘fee-free childcare’ would also be drawn from removing tax cuts to high income earners. It’s not clear from their statements how much would be required.

“The numbers provided in the ALP policy indicate the same source of funding would only stretch to ‘free’ services for 372,000 families on combined annual incomes up to $69,000.

“We have to assume the Greens offer of 100% subsidies for an extra 500,000-plus families would be substantially more expensive – that makes the promise look vulnerable to obvious criticisms of inadequate costing.”

For both the ALP and the Greens, Michele says, there is only one way the promises can be taken at face value: remove the requirement for other savings and instead add funding to the relevant sections of the national budget to independently ensure the policies can be delivered.

Professional pay promise

Michele says the pay rise promise by the ALP is another case of wondering where they will find the funding and, if committed, why the obvious statement of commitment has not yet been made.

“The announcement puts a spotlight on professional pay in recognition of the importance of the work of early educators and to address the sector’s unacceptably high 37% staff turnover,” she says.

“If elected the ALP promise to work with early education sector in the first 100 days of government, aiming to increase wages by 20% over 8 years, an estimated increase of $11,300. The plan to ensure that every dollar goes into the pockets of educators and not the bottom line of services is also encouraging.

“But why hasn’t the ALP committed to the most obvious and binding promise they could make about educator salaries? Why aren’t they saying they will legislate it? There’s room in the award, there’s an industrial process to be followed, yet these practical steps remain unspoken.”

The sector is watching

You’ve got an opportunity to connect directly to the influence your sector is exerting on this election by joining the forum here in person or online.

Early Childhood Australia CEO and spokesperson for the CELA-supported Early Learning Everyone Benefits (ELEB) campaign, Sam Page, also welcomed the policies issued by Labor and the Greens for this election.

In response, Ms Page shared the broader views of ELEB campaigners, that at least these two parties have listened and learned from the sector’s experience and research.

“The promise to urgently review the Childcare Safety Net, to make sure that vulnerable and low-income families and children aren’t falling through the cracks, is also very welcome,” said Ms Page.
“However we would like to see this include a review of the activity test – which is too complex and confusing. It needs to be simplified to deliver access to at least two days per week of quality early learning for all children.”

Read the full ELEB statements here

At United Voice, there was particular focus on the ALP promise of a 20% pay rise for early childhood educators over the next eight years. Calling it an ‘historic win’, the union’s Assistant National General Secretary, Helen Gibbons, said:
“Funding for professional wages will address the outrageous situation we face now – that Australia’s early childhood educators earn as little as $22.00 for the responsibility of educating Australia’s youngest children in the crucial early years.”

Read more from ELAA, the IEU, and ACOSS in this update from The Sector

In person or online, you can join the 2019 National Early Childhood Election Forum

presented by the Early Learning Everyone Benefits Campaign

Thursday 2 May, from 6.30-8pm

Confirmed speakers so far: Amanda Rishworth (ALP) and Janet Rice (Greens)

Wheeler Centre, Melbourne OR livestream from the Early Childhood Australia Facebook page on any device

Tickets are free.

Find out more and book your place now on Eventbrite here

(livestream bookings receive a reminder email and link)



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