This morning, Australia has sworn in its 31st Prime Minister, Anthony Albanese. Other key positions include new Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles, new Foreign Minister Penny Wong, Treasurer Jim Charmers, and Finance Minister Katy Gallagher. In the first week, the Government will operate under an interim ministry before swearing in the full cabinet after Albanese and Wong return from tomorrow's important QUAD Leaders meeting in Japan.
While a savage swing against the Coalition led to a Labor victory, independents and The Greens will have a much greater say in government policy as the overall primary vote Labor won with is at a historical low.
What the Labor party promised in the lead-up to the election
Child care was pegged as Labor’s most significant policy spend – as part of its pre-election campaign, Labor was promising an extra $5.4 billion on what was previously being invested by the Coalition-led Government.
Labor promised that 96% of Australian families will be better off under its proposed reforms to:
- Lift the maximum childcare subsidy rate to 90% for families for the first child in care
- Increase childcare subsidy rates for every family with one child in care, earning less than $530,000 in household income
- Keep higher childcare subsidy rates for the second and additional children in care
- Extend the increased subsidy to outside school hours care
Labor also promised to:
- Engage the ACCC to design a price regulation mechanism to ensure affordability
- Engage the Productivity Commission to review the sector with the aim of introducing a universal 90% subsidy for all families
- Improve transparency in the childcare sector by forcing large providers to report revenue and profit publicly, provide real-time fee data and quality ratings to families, and ban non-educational enrolment inducements like free iPads
- Develop a national early years strategy to better coordinate funding and programs for families and young children
These policy changes will have a positive impact on improving access and affordability of education and care. They will also boost value for money by more effectively regulating the market and implementing more efficient policies for children and families through the early years strategy.
Ensuring all children can access high quality education and care will require much more than promises, and CELA will be actively advocating to ensure these promises are acted upon.
Where CELA will focus our post-election advocacy
CELA will build on its existing and productive relationship with the soon-to-be-sworn-in Minister for Early Childhood, Hon Amanda Rishworth MP. We will also develop stronger relationships with other key politicians in the Lower House and Senate to advocate for the changes needed in education and care.
Prior to the election, CELA developed a 6 Point Plan for Education and Care with like-minded peaks Early Learning Association Australia (ELAA) and Community Child Care (CCC). Moving forward, we aim to progress these points through advocacy, particularly those relating to workforce.
Workforce shortages in education and care have sky-rocketed, with figures from the National Skills Commission showing over 6,000 vacancies in March.
Source: Mark Dean, (May 2022) “Meeting skills shortages in an expanding industry” Carmichael Centre, Centre for Future Work at the Australia Institute, page 22
The steep incline from 2021 could be explained as a result of increased demand for education and care services as we have opened up the economy and relaxed COVID-19 restrictions. However, the graph above shows that vacancies have been rising over a number of years. CELA, ELAA and CCC’s report “Investing in our future” highlighted how even during the pandemic, shortages were acute and impacting service delivery, as well as driving educator burn-out for those who stayed.
Our sector deserves better pay and conditions
As part of our 6 Point Plan for Education and Care, we continue to advocate for a mechanism to ensure education and care professionals are fairly paid. Flat-lining wages have been one of the key issues leading up to the election. Raising wages for our sector (without passing the cost on to families in the form of higher fees) is a sensible policy intervention for the economy, especially in light of inflation sitting at 5%. This would also recognise that educating and caring for children in a highly regulated environment requires high levels of training and skill, which deserve to be fairly compensated.
We are also advocating that the actions identified in ACECQA’s National Ten-Year Workforce Strategy, “Shaping our Future” be implemented as soon as possible. A ten-year time horizon is far too slow.
We are heartened by Labor's pre-election pledge to strengthen the Fair Work Commission’s capacity to order pay increases in low-paid, female-dominated industries, as well as promised free TAFE in priority industries and expansion of the number of government-funded university places.
Families must be able to rely on quality ratings
Assessment and Ratings visits have blown out to seven or eight years for many services, which is too infrequent to ensure children are accessing services which are at least Meeting the National Quality Standards. That’s why our 6 Point Plan for Education and Care calls for appropriate visits from the regulator, with a minimum of three years between visits and more frequent visits for services Working Towards the NQS.
Australia’s children deserve access to high-quality education and care, no matter where they live
Research from the Mitchell Institute showed that many families are living in ‘childcare deserts’. This is a result of the mixed-market model for delivering early education and care. It has led to a rapid rise in the proportion of private, for-profit education and care in areas of high population and social advantage. This has left families living in rural or disadvantaged areas with limited to zero options for education and care. Former Acting Minister for Education and Youth, Stuart Robert, acknowledged that ensuring provision in ‘thin markets’ is challenging at our joint Pre-Election Forum.
As part of our 6 Point Plan for Education and Care, we are advocating for increased Government investment and planning to ensure provision is available to all children, particularly those in rural or disadvantaged communities. In the months ahead, we will be urging the Minister to identify gaps in provision and to supply funding to address them.
Finally, the childcare subsidy's cost and complexity are barriers that reduce participation, particularly among disadvantaged children, who have the most to gain from accessing high-quality education and care.
Along with ELAA and CCC, we are advocating for all children (from birth) to have access to two days of fully funded, high-quality education and care whenever a family needs it. “Choice”, a phrase often utilised by the Coalition, is not available to many families because the cost and complexity of the current model is prohibitive. Similarly, a lack of access to high-quality provision limits parental choice about whether to work or stay home. It means many parents (mostly the mother) will opt to stay home, foregoing paid work and limiting future career options and lifetime earnings.
We are not alone in advocating for this, with numerous academics, peaks and policy think tanks supporting universal access.
Labor is offering an increase in childcare subsidy. This is the party’s most significant investment, lifting the maximum childcare subsidy rate to 90% for the first child and increasing childcare subsidy rates for all families with one child in care earning less than $530,000 in household income. Labor claims that 96% of families will be better off under the plan. In addition, Labor has promised to engage the Productivity Commission to conduct a comprehensive review of the sector with the aim of implementing a universal 90% subsidy for all families.
How you can get involved
Please take a moment to write to your local federal member to congratulate them on their win and ask them to use their time in office to:
Deliver two days per week of funded early education and care every week for all children, from birth to school
Strengthen Australia’s commitment to the inclusion of all children
Mandate National Quality Standard assessments & ratings at least every three years
Build and implement a national industrial instrument for the education and care sector
Implement the National Children’s Education & Care Workforce Strategy now
Properly fund infrastructure and governance support
DOWNLOAD OUR 6 POINT PLAN