SHADOW MINISTER FOR EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION DEVELOPMENT, AMANDA RISHWORTH MP: Today we have heard the government talk a lot about education but their actions in early education do not back up their rhetoric. What we know when it comes to early education is that the government’s new child care package coming in on the 2nd of July will leave one in five families in the Illawarra worse off.
That means they will get less access to early education services and less access to high quality early learning. We know that a majority of these families will be in the two lowest income brackets. We will actually have lower income families being worse off as a result of the government’s changes.
In addition, last week I called on the government- if they were serious about preschool, if they were serious about early learning they would give a long term commitment to early learning in this country by locking in universal funding for four year old preschool. Unfortunately, the government has been trickling out money, year-on-year not giving centres the long term certainty that they need. When it comes to the early years we know that giving children the best start in life is critical. That zero to five year old age group we can make the biggest amount of difference, that is what David Gonski said today but when it comes to the Turnbull Government’s actions they are not backing that up with the investment, they are not supporting all families when it comes to accessing early education and they are not locking in preschool funding for four year olds to ensure that that’s available to all children. Today, I say that children deserve the best early education possible and certainly I have been working as the Shadow Minister with both Stephen Jones and Sharon Bird to ensure that can happen right here in the Illawarra.
JOURNALIST: You talk about some of these changes that the federal government are going to be implementing in a few months’ time, what are those changes?
RISHWORTH: The changes bring in a new activity test which means that both parents have to show that they are working in order to get the maximum amount of subsidy. Of course, we know that child care and early education is about supporting parents back to work but it is also about children as well, it is also about giving access to early education. If parents don’t meet this activity test, they might have one parent working and the other doing unpaid caring work for example, or they might have a casual or insecure work they may not meet this activity test which means the level of support, their level of subsidy will actually be cut and we know that in the Illawarra that will mean one in five families will be worse off as a result of the government’s changes.
JOURNALIST: What is Labor proposing?
RISHWORTH: At the moment we would like the government to fix this. We have been calling on the government to fix this. We will obviously have more to say closer to the election but we would like in this Budget which is coming up next week for them to both fix where parents are going to fall through the crack but also of course we would like to see them lock in universal access funding for four year old preschool. At the moment the guarantee of that is very precarious and we think there is a great opportunity in this Budget coming up to lock in this support. If the government does both of those things we will know that they are serious about early education, if they don’t we know that from Malcolm Turnbull and Simon Birmingham it is all talk and no action.
MEMBER FOR CUNNINGHAM, SHARON BIRD MP: Thank you Amanda for coming here today. In the middle of last year I surveyed the electorate around issues which are really important to them and education was in the top three. They are really concerned about early education for their kids and particularly access to affordable high quality child care is a really top priority for many many families in that survey. I am really pleased that Amanda has come here to talk to some of our local providers. It is an issue which I know families across the area are concerned about. I am most concerned about the fact that the reality of these cuts is that the most vulnerable are families who are least in the position to advocate for themselves are the ones who will pay the price. More educated, more well off families often have the skills and knowledge to go out and advocate on behalf of their kids, they’re likely to write to me and Stephen and campaign on these issues and that is great. But, I worry that the families who are least resourced to be doing that sort of lobbying and campaigning are the ones who are going to be most impacted and that is just over 1,700 in my electorate alone.
More broadly, on education I think that it is really important that a federal government takes education seriously, we know it drives participation, we know it drives productivity; we know it really significantly contributes to employment opportunities to people. If you are about jobs jobs jobs you have got to be about education education education and that is at every single level. We obviously had the Gonski reforms and it is no surprise to locals who have been very critical of the $17 billion that has been cut out of that money that was put back after Tony Abbott was rolled but nowhere near as much as what was originally on the table and that money drove the opportunity for our local schools to put in place individual programs, to look at what their community needed and provided at their schools. We have every school across the electorate which will be worse off. For me, it is one thing for a government to say that this is important but it is a whole different thing to actually resource it and support the parents in this.
JOURNALIST: With the Gonski, what are your thoughts on the findings?
BIRD: I think a lot of what this Gonski Report released today indicates is the things we were doing in the original Gonski proposals and were exactly what we should have been doing. People might remember when the Abbott Government was elected not only did they cut the funding but they got rid of all the reforms, we had a whole reform agenda which was around individual targets, this report has come out and said many of those things in reform are really significant and important. It is pleasing that the government has this report and I am hopeful that they take it seriously and don’t just say this is another exercise and criticise education establishments. They need to actually realise that the funding cuts they have put in place at all levels; at early childhood, at school, at TAFE, at university- at all levels will have exactly the opposite impact to what that report is meant to do.
JOURNALIST: There was some great recommendations in there but do you think the government needs to cough up that money to put all of those recommendations into focus?
BIRD: Absolutely, I mean that was part of what our reform agenda in government was about, saying this is not just about money, you also need to be reforming your system all the time, strengthening it. I think for us as a country to be competitive and what is close to my heart, unemployment- particularly amongst young people- being address, is that we know that there are not going to be jobs that don’t require you to have; a solid school education, quality delivery, individual opportunity to address any short falls or challenges you might have and then a post school education, whether that is TAFE or university- that is what you are going to need. This is another report telling the government that but it is time that they understood you can’t do that without resources.
MEMBER FOR WHITLAM, STEPHEN JONES MP: The problem is this; Malcolm Turnbull looks at a place like this and thinks its babysitting. We know it is not babysitting, we know it is early childhood education, if you think of it as babysitting you say; we are just punishing the parents. If you think of it as early childhood education you know you are punishing the kids when you make the changes that are impacting on families like those and kids like those at this centre here today. We want to be investing in our kids not punishing them.
Today, we have seen a report from Gonski, the second report, absolutely critical. We welcome a lot of the findings in that report. It is all about individual tailored education, you can get a lot of individual tailored education if you put back the $17 billion worth of cuts that Malcolm Turnbull and his government took out of the original Gonski report.
JOURNALIST: Sarah, as a child care worker how will these changes by the federal government affect you?
EDUCATOR, SARAH LARKIN: To be honest, I have been doing a lot of training in all the changes that are going to be implemented and I am very confused myself, I can only imagine that families themselves are getting confused. I myself am a parent as well as an educator and already reading into it I just don’t feel that there is enough information provided to families and educators and directors. It has been very confusing for me with the changes I had to make in our system.
JOURNALIST: Stephen mentioned that this isn’t a babysitting service, kids actually learn here. What does a day at child care look like for these kids? Is there a lot of education involved?
LARKIN: Definitely. Throughout the whole morning we have a routine that we follow, children thrive on a routine, we provide all of the meals for them here, educational experiences, activities that are age appropriate for them, we really focus on each individual and their interests and their strengths.
JOURNALIST: You have them for one or two years, how much change do you see in them in that time?
LARKIN: We can have them from six weeks to six years and over that time we see so many changes in them, they become a lot more confident a lot more resilient, very social, all their skills of an overall package everything progresses in that amount of time.
JOURNALIST: As you said, you are a mother yourself, is it sometimes hard for both parents to work fulltime to qualify for what the government is proposing? What is that like, that juggling act?
LARKIN: It is definitely very hard. My husband and I both work fulltime, he actually travels as well for work, so my daughter is in care three days a week. We are just luck we have family close by that can look after her the other two days a week, I can’t imagine what it is like for families who have to have them in care five days a week for them to both work for it to work out.
JOURNALIST: How does this impact families who are on lower incomes and these changes come into effect and they can’t afford to put their kids in child care?
LARKIN: I feel for the children because they are going to miss out. We have actually got a few families here who said that if they don’t qualify for it they are going to have to drop their children’s days at care and the children just won’t benefit from it, they will have to drop down to as little as one day and especially those children going to primary school, if they are in care for only one day a week they just don’t progress as well, it just doesn’t prepare them well enough for primary school.
JOURNALIST: Will it affect you guys as well, as a business?
LARKIN: Definitely, our numbers will have to decrease therefore changing our staff ratios and dropping girls’ hours.