A broad cross-section of the Australian community – educators, researchers, business leaders, unions, health professionals, parents, community organisations, and economists from across the political spectrum is calling on the federal government to invest in a universally accessible, high-quality early learning system, delivered by a skilled and supported workforce.
Such an investment, supporting the important role played by families, will set Australia up for a prosperous, equitable, and sustainable future as we recover from a devastating pandemic.
It will do this in three ways: enhance brain development and capacity, enable parental engagement in employment and civil society, and, if backed up by additional services, reduce significant budgetary pressure by addressing problems in health, education, mental health, maltreatment, disability, justice, and unemployment.
Brain development: It will provide the play-based learning opportunities for children aged zero to five, which are so vital for lifelong intellectual and social development. The evidence is clear: 90 per cent of a child’s brain can be developed by the age of five. The quality of the physical and social environments during those years both at home and in the early learning system is vital to a child’s healthy development.
Every child should start school ready to learn, with the opportunity to fulfil their potential. Sadly, many children who enter the school system developmentally vulnerable never catch up with their peers. If a child starts behind, they stay behind. This situation is worsened by the fact that 18 per cent of our childcare centres do not meet the existing early learning quality standards.
Parental employment: A universally accessible, high-quality early learning system will allow an extra 380,000 parents to get back into the workforce and remove the financial barriers to women taking on full-time work. Reforming our out-dated childcare funding arrangements will create lifelong economic advantages for women.
Investing in early learning and childcare will contribute to each of the three main drivers of economic growth: participation (freeing more parents, particularly mothers, to return to the workforce), productivity (through a more competent workforce), and population (removing economic disincentives to grow families). It would constitute a serious and lasting economic return.
Everyday families with young children and early educators bear the financial brunt of the current system. The costs of childcare in Australia are some of the highest in the OECD at 27 per cent of household income. It is often the major cost of living pressure and for many the cost is too high, and they are locked out of the system completely.
Cost of poor outcomes: Every year, Australian taxpayers are footing $15.2 billion as the cost of not intervening earlier in a child’s development through higher costs later in the education, child protection, health, social welfare and justice systems. Intervening earlier not only gives children at risk better life outcomes, it saves our governments billions of dollars.
While the monetary figure for late intervention is alarming, the human cost is devastating.
The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the extent of the system’s frailties and flaws as it has had to be bailed out twice in the past three months. However, the federal government’s creation of temporary free universal childcare did demonstrate the value of affordable, accessible early learning in supporting families and expanding their working capacity while also stimulating the economy.
Let’s make children, women, families, educators, and our economy the winners by delivering a new early learning and childcare system for Australia.
Professor Fiona Stanley AC FAA
Nicola Forrest AO
The Hon Julie Bishop
Sir Gustav Nossal AC CBE FRS FAA
The Hon Jay Weatherill
Professor Adrian Piccoli
Kate Carnell AO
Dr John Hewson AM
Rosie Batty AO
The Hon Alastair Nicholson AO RFD QC
Diane Smith-Gander AO
Professor Marcia Langton AO
Professor Frank Oberklaid AM
Emeritus Professor Sue Richardson AM
Professor Jonathan Carapetis AM
Dr Sue Packer AM
Professor Sandra Eades
Professor Sharon Goldfeld
Dr Richard Denniss
Professor Gervase Chaney
Dr Jen Jackson
Elaine Henry OAM
Dr Brian Babington
Professor Sarah Robertson FAA
Professor Peter Sly AO
Professor Glenn Withers AO
Professor Ross Homel AO
Professor Kristy Muir
Emeritus Professor Richard Harding
Simon Schrapel AM