On Tuesday 11 May the Federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg will deliver the Commonwealth Budget. The Budget is the annual policy statement of the government. It provides details to parliament on how Australia is faring economically, outlines new policy priorities and their resourcing, and details resourcing for departments, agencies and programs. This year’s budget will be a delicate balancing act to support economic growth within the context of high government debt.
CELA has been actively advocating for changes to support children to thrive through the provision of quality early childhood education and care. We have advocated directly to the current and former Minsters for Education.
Recently we worked in collaboration with other community based peak bodies to ensure Minister Tudge understands the vital role played by the community sector, and the imperative to support workforce development and address vulnerability and children’s engagement in early childhood education and care.
Budget announcement a start, but quality must underpin workforce participation
Over the weekend the Treasurer Josh Frydenberg announced that the budget will include additional funding to support affordability of early childhood education and care.
These measures, commencing on 1 July 2022, are:
…an increase in child care subsidies for second and subsequent children under 5 in child care – families will receive up to 30% more child care subsidy, up to a maximum of 95% for second and subsequent children in care, and
…a removal of the $10,560 cap on the Child Care Subsidy for families who earn above $189,390 per annum.
The government estimates around 250,000 families will benefit from this change. The measure is pegged as a workforce participate measure, that will support 40,000 people to work an extra day per week.
More still needs to be done
If a family isn’t working, or undertaking less than 8 hours of approved activity per fortnight, then the family falls under the activity test meaning they are only eligible for 24 hours of subsidised care per fortnight. The maximum rebate for first children is 85%, so if a family isn’t working or is on a low income they will still need to pay the difference of around $20 per day. For many families on a low income, this is too expensive.
We saw thousands of vulnerable children attend services when fees were removed, then leave the system when fees returned. Given the impact of COVID on exacerbating children’s vulnerability, more must be done to support vulnerable children to attend. One in five children start school behind – this will increase unless we act now.
One option is to increase the maximum rebate available to 95% (as the new measure does for 2nd children in a family), and to waive the activity test.
The new measures announced have significant workforce implications – scaling up demand by supporting more parents to work means we need more places in early childhood education and care.
The workforce is in shortage at present and this is likely to increase – less ECEC students are in teacher training and staff turnover increased during COVID. Our members have reported difficulty recruiting at all levels, with one in three vacancies unfilled.
Funding is required to build, sustain and remunerate the workforce. If not, we may expand access to ECEC at the expense of quality.
Summary of CELA’s budget position across our advocacy pillars
Changes are needed across a range of areas – quality, workforce, viability and vulnerability all interact. At the core we need a quality, supported workforce across Australia with universal access to early childhood education including a focus on engaging the most vulnerable children and families.
Here’s a summary across our five advocacy pillars:
1. Quality Early Education
We want to see an ongoing commitment to funding in the year before school. The Commonwealth Government’s commitment to 4 year old preschool is annually renewed meaning services cannot engage in long term planning. This commitment – which could be provided at no extra cost to the current annual renewals – would help support the sustainability of the sector.
2. A stable workforce that’s nurtured and valued
We need a workforce strategy that is backed by significant investment to attract, develop and retain teachers and educators. It is imperative that significant funding is put towards ensuring all early childhood and care services can attract and keep their staff. We cannot expand access to early childhood education and care and keep our current standards, let alone engage in continuous improvement, without significant workforce investment. We would welcome innovative workforce development models and funding for training targeted to our sector.
3. Viability for community and small providers
We want to see ongoing support for the not-for-profit sector in the budget, as well as support for small businesses. COVID-19 is likely to continue to affect our community for some time, so we need access to funding if our services are impacted.
4. Improved access for vulnerable children
We know COVID-19 has increased the levels of child vulnerability. Fees are a key barrier to children accessing early childhood education and care – we saw thousands of families enter and then leave ECEC when fees resumed during COVID-19. A change in the level of childcare rebate, for example ensuring families receive at least 95% of the hourly cap on a means tested basis, would assist. We want a relaxed activity test so children can attend subsidised care if their parents lose hours of work or are not working. We also want Additional Child Care Subsidy to be more readily available for families in crisis.
5. Closing the Gap for rural children
Children in rural and remote areas are likely to start school behind their peers, whilst many rural and remote early childhood education and care services struggle to find trained staff. What happens in the first five years is crucial to children’s development – if we want to close the gap we must invest in our rural early childhood education and care workforce. We need urgent investment to build and retain our rural and remote workforce – this already happens in areas such as medicine.
Where to next?
CELA will bring you an analysis of the Commonwealth budget. We will look at how any announcements support our members, who are largely small and community-based providers, to deliver quality early childhood education and contribute to shaping and building the capacity of our ECEC system.
We will continue to advocate to ensure we support quality early childhood education and care services to grow their workforce so they can nurture and educate children across the country, and that our members are supported to engage families, especially those most vulnerable, in the pivotal early years.
Have you seen our live webinar training calendar?
Many sessions to choose from, including many of our most popular training topics, redesigned for webinar format. Topics are delivered in a variety of 2- 3 hour sessions or 2 part series. Every course provides a practical, hands-on approach to professional development.
CELA has been supporting the professional needs of the early and middle childhood sector for over 40 years. We trained over 7,000 early education professionals across 2020 through the calendar and customised sessions with a focus on developing quality practice for the benefit of children.
View our sessions