By CELA on 6 Mar, 2019

A record-breaking investment, a cautious welcome, or ‘all tip and no iceberg’? CELA CEO Michele Carnegie talks to Amplify editor Bec Lloyd about the NSW ALP announcement this week of a half-billion dollar package for early learning in that state. 

NSW ALP package

The NSW election promise package, in brief:

  • Immediately increase three-year-old funding in community preschools by double the current government’s proposed funding for 2019-20.
  • Fund three-year-olds in long day care (LDC) for the first time.
  • Double current funding for three and four-year-olds in LDC
  • Invest $292 million into a Little Kids Big Futures fund to improve access for disadvantaged children, boost mobile preschool services in rural and remote areas, and support Playgroups NSW as a pathway to preschool.
  • Launch $18 million Specialist Early Intervention trial program to boost access to allied health professionals (eg speech pathologists) for three and four-year-olds in early education.
  • Start a $10 million Early Childhood Education Professional Development program – providing support and training for early childhood education teachers and educators.
  • Establish additional $15 million capital grants fund to increase access and participation with additional and expanded services.
  • Boost funding for assessment and rating experts by $4 million to reduce the assessment and rating backlog.
  • Establish a sector Ministerial Advisory Panel to meet at least quarterly
  • Review and improve Outside School Hours Care and mobile preschool tender processes.
  • Consult on and develop a long-term sector road-map.

What was your first reaction to the announcement, Michele?

Michele Carnegie, CEO Community Early Learning Australia

This announcement certainly hits the high notes on the areas that are important to our members and is a response to strong and collaborative advocacy.

The NSW ALP’s $500 million promised package of improvements in early childhood education aligns well with the issues and solutions that CELA put forward jointly with our colleagues earlier this year in addition to years of advocacy undertaken by CELA and previously Community Child Care Cooperative.

It is a welcomed acknowledgement that we have been heard. It’s clear that the ALP are willing to listen to sector advice to improve the quality and reach of early childhood education.

Overall, one of the biggest positives I see in the ALP announcement is the acknowledgement they are investing in education and that children are the beneficiaries. It’s a relief from the outdated and inefficient policies that prioritise workforce participation over early education and meeting the needs of our most disadvantaged children.

Around 80% of this NSW package is apparently based on federal funds, not NSW budget.

What about implementation timing? Why is that so important?

Now that it’s clear the ALP is listening to us, we need a commitment from Michael Daley and Kate Washington at state level, and Bill Shorten and Amanda Rishworth nationally, that they will keep listening and commit to immediate action.

NSW ALP leader Michael Daley announces $500million funding for early learning

Whenever we see these stories the politicians are pictured with children who may never receive the benefit of what is being announced. Every year of policy delay or incremental implementation means thousands more children starting school without the foundation skills they need to thrive.

We understand that much – if not all – of this announcement is dependent on two elections: the Federal Government also has to change hands and the new ALP government would have to get significant saving measures through the Parliament after taking office. Around 80% of this NSW package is apparently based on federal funds, not NSW budget.

I would like to see more detail on what the plan is for early education if there is a changeover in the NSW government and not the Australian government.

Implementation of this significant package must go ahead irrespective of savings measures – early education is too important.

Assuming all the political ducks line up in a row and the package is implemented in NSW, do you have any concerns about implementation?

There will always be detail to work through in a new policy and funding rollout, especially if there’s a new government. Initially, my focus is on the need for strict spending rules to make sure the funds perform as intended.

The funding must go entirely to reducing out of pocket expenses for families, improving the quality of preschool programs, and guaranteeing a qualified early childhood teacher for all three-year-olds as well as four-year-olds. Monitoring will be essential to ensure it isn’t misused to increase profits in some services.

Another area where spending rules and monitoring are essential, is in the prevention of “fee creep” in LDC. For instance, preventing providers from increasing fees for two-year-olds while promising lower fees for three and four year olds.

You mentioned the language of this announcement earlier, what message does it send that this package is framed around education rather than “childcare”?

It’s encouraging to see a potential Premier using the language of our sector – early learning for instance. We have all worked so hard to change the conversation around children’s first five years and it is bedding down in the wider community – conservative commentators excepted!

So yes, I think we can read a mindset shift in this announcement, parallel to the dollar signs. It’s a pleasant change to see a political announcement about children’s early development that talks about benefits for children, rather than children being an obstruction to workforce participation.

It makes sense for all state and territory governments to embrace this language and mindset, since they co-funded the most comprehensive evidence for two years of quality preschool our state governments possess. The Brennan/Pascoe Lifting Our Game report was written for the state and territory education officials and is now embedded in Gonski 2.0 education policy.

Today’s three year olds will be in school before the next NSW Government is halfway through its elected term – they can’t afford to wait while governments seek maximum political advantage in implementing programs that could change their lives.

Federal Labor made similar commitments to co-fund three-year-old preschool and other early years’ initiatives during the recent Victorian election. Given the standoff between the current Australian government and the states over the National Partnership Agreement and Universal Access in recent years, is the promise of Federal and state ALP parties to work together if elected worth noting?

Absolutely. The sector’s uncertainty over those agreements can’t be underestimated and it all comes down to government ministers, premiers and officials being willing to work together for children.

In fact, while it’s good to have the promise of a possible Federal Labor government on the record, the question we must ask is why any state government is holding back or making compromises these days on early learning investment?

The evidence is clear and compelling that investment in quality preschool for three and four year olds changes lives, and certainly changes school education outcomes.

With prime responsibility for school education in each jurisdiction, state and territory governments can surely see the economic and educational merits of investing upstream of the problems they struggle so hard to manage downstream in their school systems.

Today’s three year olds will be in school before the next NSW Government is halfway through its elected term – they can’t afford to wait while governments seek maximum political advantage in implementing programs that could change their lives.


Federal funding rollout (ALP promise)

ABC News shared this example of funding rollout for the ALP federal funding package last year.

NSW ALP statement

Mr Daley said that under the Liberals and Nationals fewer than 20 per cent of three-year-olds receive state government funding for early childhood education.

Mr Daley said: “The experts tell us that early childhood is one of the most crucial periods for a child’s learning and development. It is the time when teachers can assess a child’s learning difficulty or other issues.   Labor will ensure that young kids in these vital years are given the best chance of success.”

Ms Washington said: “Participation in a preschool program, whether in a community preschool or long day care centre, is the strong foundation needed for success in school and in later life. We’ve consulted with the sector and with experts to develop these policies. We are focused on improving quality early learning outcomes, increasing access, driving greater participation and reducing fees for families.”

It is understood that, if elected at both state and national levels, Labor will fund 80% of the NSW package from the Commonwealth budget, with 20% coming from NSW funds.

NSW Early Childhood Education Minister reaction

See below for reaction from NSW Early Childhood Education Minister Sarah Mitchell, in the Fairfax media.

CELA requested Minister Mitchell’s office provide a response to the sector. At the time of posting we are awaiting a reply.

Early Childhood Education Minister Sarah Mitchell called Labor’s plan “all tip with no iceberg”.

“What if federal Labor don’t get elected, or can’t pass their unpopular saving measures through the Senate?” she asked.

“[Kate Washington] needs to outline what Labor will do irrespective of what happens in Canberra. Accepting money from hypothetical governments without knowing any of the details is not a policy, it’s naivety at its worst.”

She said the NSW government had invested more in the sector than ever before, with average daily fees in community preschools decreasing by 25 per cent and participation rates increasing by 40 per cent.

Source: Sydney Morning Herald, March 5, 2019.

About CELA

Community Early Learning Australia is a not for profit organisation with a focus on amplifying the value of early learning for every child across Australia - representing our members and uniting our sector as a force for quality education and care.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Guild Insurance

CELA’s insurer of choice. Protecting Australian businesses and individuals with tailored insurance products and caring personal service.