A game-changing idea for Australia’s children’s education and care sector: partnering with the business community

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The Productivity Commission’s call for public submissions has seen a wide variety of stakeholders put forward their opinions of the children’s education and care sector.

Somewhat surprisingly, the Business Council of Australia strongly and unequivocally “supports the National Quality Framework as a way of raising the quality of education services.”

The submission highlights the potential to redress structural inequality, and for a significant saving as opposed to later remedial measures.

The Business Council obviously supports the strong impact that more accessible and affordable childcare would have on workforce productivity.

It is clear that as well as being primarily an issue of equity and rights, challenges to women’s workforce participation has a significant impact on the national economy.

It also serves to reinforce and embed poor representation of female leadership in Australia’s top businesses.

Paul Howes was recently mocked for attempting to in effect “call a truce” between the business community and unions (and between the ALP and the LNP), but it raises an interesting – and potentially game-changing – idea for Australia’s children’s education and care (CEC) sector.

A partnership between the CEC sector and the Australian business community.

For advocates for universal access, not-for-profit education services to young children, this would seem to be an absolute non-starter. The market model has created the structural divisions currently threatening to halt progress on hard-fought-for quality reforms.

But a partnership (or “grand compact” to borrow from Howes) in this area could have incredible outcomes.

The focus may be different for both sides, but the process and the outcomes serve both sides extremely well. A high-quality and highly-accessible CEC sector could have an enormous contribution to make to Australian society.

This would benefit children and families.

In the current context of budget savings and reduction of Government support to the community sector, imagine a situation where some of Australia’s largest and most profitable organisations agree to pay a voluntary levy to Government to increase federal funding of the CEC sector.

Businesses will already be paying a levy to introduce the Government’s paid parental leave (PPL) scheme. There is an incredibly strong argument to be made that investing that money in quality CEC would deliver far greater outcomes, and therefore be more supportive of business, than a generous PPL.

Research from Early Childhood Australia has indicated that 70% of Australians would prioritise investment in CEC services rather than the PPL.

It would take an exceptional plan, and strong advocacy on the side of community organisations and leaders in the business community, to even approach this vision.

But a partnership of this kind could circumvent the restrictions already placed on the sector by the Government.

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