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Early Childhood Education Funding

May 23, 2018

I am surprised that we have not heard more from this Government about the Turnbull Government's recent decision to cut $7 million from our State's coffers without warning.The national partnership was created to ensure that there was consistency of quality in the provision of early childhood education and care services across the country. 

 

In a sneaky move, the Federal education Minister Simon Birmingham announced on the morning of the budget that his Government would not be renewing funding for this program for 2018-19.

 

Currently, New South Wales receives almost $7 million each year from the Federal Government under the national partnership to conduct the important work undertaken by inspectors and regulators who ensure that long day care centres, preschools, family day care providers and before- and after-school care operators are adhering to the National Quality Framework and keeping our children safe. 

 

This funding cut puts at risk the nationally consistent regulatory agenda, which has been rolled out since the Gillard Government introduced these important reforms many years ago. Put simply, the cuts to the funding to the States create a long-term risk to the quality of services and, ultimately, the safety of children.

 

So, whilst the Turnbull Government is delivering huge corporate tax handouts to big business, it could not find $7 million to ensure our children are kept safe. With this decision, the priorities of Liberal-Nationals governments are laid bare: They can find $17 billion in tax cuts for the banks, but they have cut $7 million for the oversight of early childhood education services in New South Wales. One only needs to look at recent news headlines to see the importance of this funding. When early childhood education and care providers are not up to scratch we see dangerous situations unfold.

 

We have seen certain providers blacklisted after children with disability wandered away from before- and after-school care centres. We have seen dangerous situations where children have been forgotten or left behind without adequate supervision. The lack of compliance with the quality framework combined with a lack of oversight can only increase risks to children. The Federal Department of Education website lists 50 early childhood service providers from New South Wales who had action taken against them in 2016-17. Sadly, many of those centres are family day care providers.

 

I have spoken in this House before about the risk of fraud in these centres generated by the Federal Government's inadequate approach to childcare regulation and a less than responsive approach from the New South Wales Government.

 

The Federal Minister can talk about tough action on dodgy family day care providers, but his words are hollow if he is cutting frontline regulatory staff who assess these services and other early childhood education and care services. Of course, fraud in the family day care sector has the potential to tar all family day care operators, which is incredibly unfortunate and, quite frankly, terrible for the majority of providers, who are of high quality and who continue to play a veryimportant role in the broader early childhood system.

 

Now, Minister Birmingham made the ridiculous claim that the funding cut was fine because the transition to the National Quality Framework was "well and truly over". Well, everyone in the sector knows that is not the case, and surely the Minister knows that too. There is a need for ongoing implementation of the quality framework. If we fail to do so, we will only lose the gains we have made. In truth, this was nothing less than a shameless cost-cutting exercise.

 

We know that providers are waiting years longer than they should for assessments. In this environment, parents are not being given accurate, up-to-date information aboutthe quality of providers; and providers are not being dealt with fairly. The situation as it stands is unsustainable, and the gains that have been made in relation to quality and compliance are now at risk.

 

So "business as usual", as Minister Birmingham frames it, is not acceptable. Far from being complete, the transition process must be reinstated—and indeed improved upon. We need more assessment staff, not fewer. We need more resources to detect quality and compliance issues, and ensure that providers are meeting and exceeding standards.

 

We need a cultural shift in the department from adversarial to supportive. Families and children in New South Wales deserve much better, and providers do too. I note that the New South Wales Minister for Early Childhood Education, the Hon. Sarah Mitchell, MLC, agrees with me on this issue. She even shared my Facebook status when I posted an article about the unfair cuts. I also note the Minister responded to a question without notice last week in Parliament and said that she had written to Minister Birmingham to communicate her concern.

 

Early education and care is an important element of the education continuum—indeed, many would say, and studies have shown, that it is the most important. It lays the foundation for children for their schooling over their lifetime. Hidden in the Federal budget, the Turnbull Government has threatened to undo a critical element of the sector, which is quality. The sector cares about outcomes and has no appetite to go backwards.

 

Everyone wants to build on the momentum and see more children accessing the lifeline, which is quality early childhood education and care. For the sake of our kids and the future wealth of our State, the New South Wales Minister must step up to ensure that hard-fought gains are not lost.

 

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