It’s always a positive when a politician appointed to an educational post brings with them some knowledge and, ideally, practical experience of the portfolio.
So in NSW, home to one-third of Australia’s children, it’s a welcome back to the new ALP Shadow Minister for Early Childhood Learning, Jodie Harrison, who previously held the role from April 2015 to January 2016.
She returned to this portfolio, replacing Kate Washington, who has moved to a new portfolio, when new Opposition Leader Jodi McKay announced her Shadow Cabinet this month.
Much of Jodie’s career has been in local government, traditionally the level of government closest to family and community services like early childhood education. She worked in organisational change, performance and governance from 1993 to 2007 in Newcastle City Council, one of Australia’s largest local authorities.
In 2007 Jodie moved to the United Services Union (now United Voice) as a recruitment officer, and in 2008 she won a seat as a Councillor on Lake Macquarie City Council, south of Newcastle.
In 2012 she was popularly elected the Mayor of the City of Lake Macquarie – the first woman to hold that position. While she’s since stepped back from the role, Jodie also remained Mayor for some time after her election to the NSW Legislative Assembly in 2014.
Jodie’s early childhood education connection began while working for United Voice. In 2011 and 2012, before her move to State Parliament, she was an organiser with the Big Steps campaign for improved wages and conditions for early childhood educators around Australia. It was, she says, a formative experience.
“Up until my election as Mayor, I worked as an organiser for United Voice on the Big Steps in Early Childhood Education and Care campaign which fought to have early childhood educators receive proper recognition and wages for the very important work they do,” Jodie’s recent statement says.
“This work gave me a strong background knowledge of the issues in early childhood education and I look forward to using that to improve early childhood education in NSW.”
In her maiden speech to Parliament in 2014, Jodie spoke of early childhood education and educators:
United Voice is a union of some of the lowest paid workers in New South Wales. While working for United Voice I was given the opportunity to work with early childhood educators to inspire them to work collectively not only for better working conditions and pay for themselves but also, importantly, for a better, more stable early education for the young people they cared for every day.
More recently, she described herself as “very honoured” to rejoin a Shadow cabinet, Jodie shared a general position on the value of early years learning.
“The early years of learning are the most important for learning,” she said.
“It is when the foundations for the future of our children are laid that take them through childhood, teenage years and ultimately into adulthood.”
Jodie Harrison MP. The Berejiklian Government in NSW put forward nearly half a billion dollars worth of commitments to early childhood education and outside school hours care (OSHC/OOSH) in March this year and has the keen eyes of the sector upon it.
CELA CEO Michele Carnegie says that at a recent ECEC Stakeholders gathering at Parliament House, she raised the importance of the NSW Government urgently focusing on the needs of disadvantaged children through quality early education.
“The evidence is clear through successive AEDC reports, the Lifting Our Game report, and, more recently, Their Future Matters report,” Michele said.
“All children require access to early intervention and quality teaching programs provided by teachers and educators who have been trained to guide and support them.
“What’s even clearer is that the more vulnerable a young child is, the more life-changing is their experience of quality early childhood education.”
Michele said workforce issues were raised by many of the other stakeholder groups as a priority to increase the number of qualified teachers so current and future needs for educators can be met. In particular, peaks and other groups are calling for improvements to pay and professional development to reduce ‘churn’ in the early childhood workforce.
Michele will be meeting with Jodie in coming weeks to represent CELA members’ issues.