An open letter to the federal government.

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It’s time for a high-quality early learning system

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.



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Professor Fiona Stanley AC FAA

Nicola Forrest AO

The Hon Julie Bishop

Sir Gustav Nossal AC CBE FRS FAA

The Hon Jay Weatherill

Michele O’Neil

Professor Adrian Piccoli

Kate Carnell AO

Dr John Hewson AM

Debby Blakey

Rosie Batty AO

Maggie Dent

The Hon Alastair Nicholson AO RFD QC

Diane Smith-Gander AO

Professor Marcia Langton AO

Professor Frank Oberklaid AM

Emeritus Professor Sue Richardson AM

Cassandra Goldie

Professor Jonathan Carapetis AM

Dr Sue Packer AM

Professor Sandra Eades

Professor Sharon Goldfeld

Julia Davison

Tony Stuart

Richard Weston

Dr Richard Denniss

Professor Gervase Chaney

Ben Oquist

Fiona May

Dr Jen Jackson

Elaine Henry OAM

Paul Ronalds

Joanne Toohey

Michele Carnegie

Dr Brian Babington

Professor Sarah Robertson FAA

Professor Peter Sly AO

Malcolm Elliott

Deirdre Cheers

Professor Glenn Withers AO

Professor Ross Homel AO

Leith Sterling

Professor Kristy Muir

Emeritus Professor Richard Harding

Samantha Page

Simon Schrapel AM

Stephanie Alexander AO

Sue Kingwill