The upcoming Federal Budget must prioritise investment in Australia’s broken early learning system to ensure families and the economy emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic in better shape, according to Jay Weatherill, CEO of Minderoo Foundation’s Thrive by Five initiative.
Thrive by Five’s priorities include:
• Ensure all families receive assistance of at least 30 per cent of childcare costs, with the long-term goal of universal access to high quality early learning for all Australian children
• Increase the Child Care Subsidy for families and carers whose incomes have been reduced due to COVID-19
• Expand the JobTrainer program to provide free or low-cost TAFE and VET courses in early childhood education and care
• Call on the Prime Minister to urgently convene a national roundtable on the early childhood education and care workforce, including a discussion of the immediate ways to support educator jobs and long-term workforce planning.
Mr Weatherill said the Federal Government had a responsibility to ensure no child, their family or carer falls behind because of the COVID crisis.
“Over the years the early learning system has become complex and outdated, now is the time for bipartisan support for a key economic reform that will drive workforce participation, productivity, GDP and government revenue,” Mr Weatherill said.
“Early learning is a smart investment as every $1 of Federal Government funding returns about $2.16 in increased workplace participation benefits while giving Australian children the best start in life.
“Early childhood education is also an employment powerhouse, with the Australian Bureau of Statistics finding every $1 million spent on childcare creates about 9.2 jobs, while every $1 million spent on constructions creates around one job.
“Affordable, high quality childcare is the answer to lifting Australia out of recession and a brighter future for our children.”
Thrive by Five priorities
The early childhood education and care (ECEC) sector can play a major role in Australia’s recovery from the COVID-19 recession by:
• Supporting more parents to increase their hours of work, directly addressing the dual challenge of plunging workforce participation rates and looming labour shortages from reduced immigration.
• Providing fiscal stimulus by reducing families’ out-of-pocket costs for childcare which will flow directly into increased household spending.
• Increasing employment by generating more jobs in the ECEC sector at a more cost-effective rate than investing in infrastructure or tax cuts.
• Supporting Australia’s long-term economic productivity and growth and social equity by increasing the number of children starting school ready for school, and launched on a more successful lifelong learning journey.
Priority one: Make access for Australia’s families to affordable ECEC a key priority of post-COVID recovery
The long-term goal of all Australian governments should be universal access to high quality early learning for all children.
Thrive by Five urges the Government to implement the ECEC model recommended by KMPG. Specifically, the model calls for:
• Increasing the maximum amount of assistance from 85 per cent to 95 per cent.
• Increasing the threshold for maximum assistance from $67,000 to $80,000 (i.e. roughly two times the average minimum wage).
• Ensuring all families receive at least 30 per cent of childcare costs in assistance (currently assistance drops to 0-20 per cent for high income families) and abolishing the annual cap on assistance.
• Flattening the taper rate to reduce the effective marginal tax rate faced my parents wanting to take on additional days.
• Offer additional Child Care Subsidy for families whose incomes have been reduced due to COVID-19.
Priority two: Make access to Australia’s children to quality early learning a key priority
Thrive by Five believes that it is essential that policy settings are put in place to ensure that all children can benefit from access to quality early learning:
• Commonwealth preschool funding should move to a five-year funding agreement with the States and Territories with stronger agreed objectives to improve participation, quality and child development outcomes.
• Families should be offered up to 72 hours per fortnight of CCS to access preschool programs between now and the commencement of school in 2021.
• Commonwealth, State and Territory Governments should renew their commitment to improving quality in ECEC services, starting with a substantial increase in funding for regulatory and sector support programs to ensure service meet the minimum National Quality Standards.
Priority three: Ensure that Australia’s ECEC workforce has the support it needs to deliver quality ECEC to Australian children and families
Thrive by Five believes that urgent action is needed to ensure that educators are receiving the support that they need to deliver high quality early learning. We propose:
• The Commonwealth commit to fully fund any increase in teachers’ wages likely to flow from the Fair Work Commission’s major work value review of early childhood teachers.
• The Prime Minister should convene an urgent national roundtable on ECEC Workforce bring forward immediate mechanisms to support educators in their jobs (e.g. mental health support, funding for trauma impact children learning).
• Education Council and ACECQA should be directed to fast track the development of a national ECEC workforce strategy in close consultation with the sector.
• The Commonwealth should immediately provide funding to ECEC services nationwide to maintain the important health & safety mechanisms put in place during COVID (e.g. resourcing the people to do the work, more intense cleaning resources, regulation/funding for safe child pick/up & drop off, vaccinations).
• All States and Territories should make VET courses in ECEC free as a priority occupation;
• The Commonwealth should fund HECS repayment rebates for each year that an early childhood teacher or a student works in ECEC.