Bullying tactics highlight a crucial two weeks ahead for early childhood advocacy

After years of floundering under successive early childhood ministers (and Prime Ministers), the Jobs for Families Package – now wrapped up into a ridiculous Omnibus Bill – is likely to come before Parliament in the next two weeks.

Education Minister Simon Birmingham is piling on the pressure.

You can find my specific, long-held concerns with this package can be found elsewhere on this site. The Government’s desperation to pass these “reforms”, alongside cruel welfare savings measures in a desperate bid to maintain any semblance of being “strong economic managers”, will see the tone set by Minister Birmingham continue during this time.

This needs to be called out for what it is. The system is broken, and families are paying too much for their children to access early childhood centres that may be inaccessible. But these reforms are not the answer to those questions, and in fact slash access for huge numbers of children. But in order to force them through, the Government is actually pitting families against their own children’s right to access early education.

It’s hard to think of a lower political act. But hey, they’ve got a couple of weeks so let’s not rule anything out.

It highlights the false choice that has been given to the sector since this process started – including by peak bodies in the early childhood sector. “It’s this or nothing”.

No, it’s this or a hugely better reform package. How about that?

I’m amazed by the amount of time that has been spent by the sector trying to make these reforms slightly better, even to the point on compromising on a lower level of minimum access hours than we have currently. Even to the point of providing detailed funding options to the Government.

It seems madness that I have to actually say this in black and while, but the job of advocacy is not to do the Government’s work for them. We advocate for children. We propose a system that gives all children they access research tells us they need, and a strongly-supported sector that can deliver it. Working out how to fund it is the Government’s job.

The Government has barely mentioned children when advocating these reforms. They say funds need to go to “the right parents”. They’ve linked it to welfare cuts that will leave the most vulnerable worse off. They’ve used fee pressures on families as a bargaining chip.

This is the Government we should apparently be working with.

By Liam McNicholas

I am an experienced early childhood teacher, writer and advocate. As well as managing community not-for-profit early childhood operations in a variety of roles, I have advocated for children's human rights; the need for investment in early childhood education; and for professional recognition and wages for those working in early childhood education and care.

I am available to be commissioned for freelance writing, editing, event speaking and consulting work.

5 replies on “Bullying tactics highlight a crucial two weeks ahead for early childhood advocacy”

I agree its going to be a testing time for the sector in the next little while. And yes governments ought to be ensuring the best possible outcome for children and their families – this is as you rightly point out the job of effective government – governing for all.

I disagree that advocacy is not about coming up with well thought out plans that assist government to make right decisions. Organisations have been doing that for donkey’s years – I have been part of these process in detail on numerous occasions and have done a lot of work to present well thought out and costed ideas to governments – it felt like advocacy to me. I don’t think its doing their work for them its collaboration and its how contemporary lobbying works. I don’t want our key organizational on the side lies – I think it helps that we are right in the middle of things….

Would we have had the gain we have without this approach?

Hi Catharine, thanks for your view! Thought-provoking as always!

I think I have to respectfully disagree. Advocacy (for me) is about putting forward that point of view. I’m not against working with Governments to properly implement things, and come up with compromises, and you can advocate *within* that process, but it’s not advocacy in and of itself. It’s collaboration, or consultation, or other words I can’t think of!

I’m absolutely OK with well-thought out plans being put forward – but not when they accept basic maxims of the Government’s position (budget savings, cuts).

I also think there has to be a starting point of common ground. Nothing this Government has said or done has indicated they are interested in anything other than the workforce objectives of this package.

When the cost of being in the middle of the things is accepting a reduction in minimum subsidised hours for the most vulnerable, I am entirely happy with being on the sidelines.

and there is the complexity of advocacy…. its not simple or easy.

I agree that it is sometimes its effective to be on the side lines but sometimes not – I have been in both places and made what I think is the best decisions at the time (not well understood by some at the time) – we didn’t always get what we wanted but sometimes we did! I think its more shades of grey that so black and white!

There will always be decisions that will need to be made about how and what we do to get the best outcomes. I guess the helpful thing for our profession is to keep the conversations going in an effort to understand why we do what we do…. and that there are many right ways!

Certainly very complex, my head hurts almost all of the time! I actually wish the sector was having more of a discussion about this stuff.

I know I have the privilege of only having myself to be accountable to with my advocacy – although I am always aware that I am in a senior role in an organisation working with children and families that will be directly affected by these reforms.

You’re absolutely right – we each have to do what we think is best at the time. I really hope I’m wrong and these reforms won’t turn out to be as bad as I fear they are. I’d far rather be wrong and children have better outcomes than be right and be able to say “I told you so”!

…we certainly live in uncertain ‘head hurting’ times and I tell you this stuff feels like a distraction most of the time that takes us from what we could be doing!! oh the ideas we have!!

…fingers (and toes) crossed Liam and lets keep talking!

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