Speech - Community Child Care Association and Community Early Learning Australia post-Budget breakfast

15 May 2024


Well good morning, everyone. I'll start by acknowledging the Ngunnawal people, the traditional custodians of the lands on which we gather today. I pay my respects to the elders past and present, and celebrate the diversity of our First Nations people, their ongoing cultures and traditions, their educational practices and their connection to land, water and the skies. I'd like to extend that respect to any Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people joining us here this morning. 

Can I also acknowledge Julie Price, the Executive Director of CCCA. Michelle, Community Early Learning Australia, representatives from SNAICC and my many, many friends in this room who I've had the pleasure of getting to know over the period of the last two years as Minister. Thank you so much for your tireless advocacy, but also for your willingness to share your time, your experiences, your wisdom, your knowledge, your professionalism with me over those last two years. 

I would also like to just do a shout out to all my parliamentary colleagues in the room here today. We've got Senator Jana Stewart, we've got Senator Jess Walsh, Senator Fatima Payman and we've got the wonderful Sally Sitou at the back there. 

I know that there are many others who wanted to join us here this morning, but also that throughout the entire Labor caucus, the value of the work that you do is felt acutely and understood by everyone in the Federal Labor Government from the top, from the Prime Minister, right through to every member of the caucus, every senator and every Member of Parliament. And I'm sure that you'll recognise the result of that in last night's announcements, which I'll talk about in a little while. 

So, thank you for the opportunity for all of us to be here with you this morning to join you on this quite auspicious day. 

The morning after the Budget of course is always interesting because you'll turn on the television and everybody has something to say about dissecting the Budget and what's in it for who and who got what and what am I getting? 

For the education portfolio you'll have noticed that education featured very strongly in last night's Budget, and that is about the next steps that we will take to build a better and fairer education system for Australians of all ages. 

Now that includes investments across tertiary education, school education, but importantly early childhood education.

And I think you'll have seen this real commitment to understanding that every part of education, each one of those is a vital part, of a wider inter‑related and holistic education reform agenda that this Government is driving. 

We can have a fantastic tertiary education system, we can have wonderful schools, great universities, but we all in this room know that it begins with early childhood education and care. 

We've got the evidence for that, the data shows us that, and for those of you who have worked tirelessly in this sector for many years, you know that you've seen it, you've lived it. None of us here need reminding of just how critical those early years are. Just how important they are for setting the foundation for children's future life outcomes, for their learning outcomes, their health and their well‑being. 

Those earliest years are the building blocks for life‑long mental, physical, social and cognitive health. And if we get them right, if we get them right, we can positively shape the trajectory of a child's life for the better. 

Now my focus as Minister is ensuring that all Australian children have access to the transformational benefits of early learning, no matter where they live, no matter what their background. And we're making progress. 

We've already made early learning more affordable. What we know from the ACCC is that has reduced out‑of‑pocket costs by around 11 per cent on average. 

I was also really proud to launch the Early Years Strategy with Minister Rishworth last week, re‑emphasising our commitment to charting a course to universal access for early childhood education. 

Now that strategy and its action plans will impact the lives of Australian children and their families over the next decade. It will be used to guide our work going forward and set a path for us on how we look at child wellbeing in a more holistic way, child development in a more holistic way, and how we connect early childhood education, which is intrinsically tied to health, mental health, physical health and wellbeing more generally as well. 

We're now looking forward to the final report of the Productivity Commission. It's getting close. It's super‑duper exciting. That will be in the coming months. And that's been looking at how we can make the whole of early childhood education and care reform with that vision of having an early childhood education and care system that is world's best in quality, but accessible, affordable, and importantly, inclusive. And I know everybody in this room recognises how important it is and how central it is to ensure that our early childhood education and care system is inclusive. 

The Commission's final report, along with the ACCC report, is going to help us chart that path to universal childhood education and care, and as the Prime Minister has said on several occasions, in the great Labor traditions of Medicare and superannuation. So huge reform on its way. 

So as these next steps line up and fall into place and we dovetail all of this together, the changes in this budget build on what we've delivered to date and pave the way for what will follow in response to the PC's report. 

We've committed an additional $98.6 million to reinforce and safeguard the Child Care Subsidy system and protect against fraud and noncompliance. Another $98.4 million invested in the Inclusion Support Program to help services increase their capacity to support inclusion of children with additional needs. $16.6 million provided to SNAICC over four years to partner with government on matters relating to First Nations children critical to improving and closing the gap. 

And importantly, because we know that a quality early childhood sector is necessary to support children's learning and development, as well as the workforce participation, funding has been provisioned to contribute towards a wage increase for the early learning sector. 

We've had the reports and the ACCC report, Productivity Commission draft, as well as other reports that have told us we cannot achieve the vision that we want for the early childhood education and care sector, the vision that we want for Australia's children and Australia's families, without a sustainable workforce. That has been made very clear in the reports. But let me say we didn't need the reports to know that, right. 

Going out and visiting early childhood education and care centres, and many of my parliamentary colleagues here, I've had the absolute pleasure of visiting centres in their electorates and with them.

And talking to early childhood educators and centre directors and teachers, it is absolutely clear that this is a professional workforce that loves and values what they do. But as one educator told me, “love doesn't pay the bills”. And it is a workforce that is under increasing financial stress because the remuneration doesn't reflect the professionalism, doesn't reflect the work that they do. 

For too long, this sector has been ignored and neglected, in terms of a holistic approach to reform, in terms of its contribution to child development and in terms of a recognition of the professionals who work in early childhood education and care. 

You will not hear anyone in the Labor Government tell you that all you do is wipe noses and bums. That is not part of our thinking, it is not part of our language, it is not part of how we approach or engage with the early childhood education and care sector. 

The announcement last night on our provision and commitment to an increase in the wages of the early learning workforce, is an important step. It's an important step to properly valuing and recognise the profession. It's an important step, and critical, to the attraction and retention of workers, who I know many workers who have held on year after year after year because they love the children that they educate, because they love the families that they work with, because they love the work that they do. And many have also left in desperation. Not because they wanted to but in desperation. 

Importantly though, this is the vital step that we needed to move on with the reforms that we need to have to achieve that vision that the Prime Minister has articulated for universal early childhood education and care. 

Now we'll have more to say on this investment after the Fair Work Commission's decision in the annual wage review, including an impact of their work on gender‑based under valuation, and that's expected in June this year. 

But in every single one of our budgets thus far, the three budgets that the Albanese Labor Government has delivered, we've taken steps towards that universal early childhood education and care system. And last night's budget placed early childhood education and care firmly, firmly, within that broader context of reform for education from birth right through to higher education and beyond. 

I just want to thank you all again for the vital work that you do in the sector, and for your generosity of time in the engagements that I've been able to have with you over the last two years, and to thank you in advance for the continuing engagements that we'll have. It is absolutely vital to achieving what we want to achieve here that we work together. 

And I am eternally grateful to each and every one of you for the spirit with which you have offered your time, your knowledge, your experience, your skills in enabling this Government, every single person in this Government, to contribute to a better future for all our children. Thank you.