Blog Policy

‘Can’t you just keep politics out of centres?’: Why the answer must always be ‘no’.

The mission of this blog, and by extension a lot of my career in the early education sector, has been to hang out at the crossroads of politics, policy, advocacy and children, and see what zooms by.

Throughout the time that I’ve been speaking and writing on those issues, there’s always been a small amount of the same response: “why do you have to bring politics into it?”

Over the last few weeks I’ve had some even blunter and more direct versions of that sentiment. People cranky that I invited politicians to speak about their policies at a PD event. People claiming I’m just a paid Labor supporter. People claiming even worse.

The idea that politics should be left at the door of an early education centre has fascinated me throughout my career. I understand where it comes from. Disengagement with politics is everywhere in the world. This is not unique to educators working in the sector.

The trouble is, politics isn’t just the obvious things that annoy us. Politics isn’t just Scott Morrison vs. Bill Shorten. It’s the ideas that shape our country. Politics affects every part of our lives, and while anyone is more than entitled to pretend it doesn’t, you cut yourself off from the ability to be part of the changes (good and bad) that are coming.

The early education sector is more political than most, even if that idea repels you. We’re in a market-based model with Government subsidies. Politics determines how much money families receive, the minimum wage for educators, how long services can open for, and so much more. (Check out my pal Lisa Bryant’s great article in The Framework out on Friday that talks about this a lot more.)

But even if you are an educator, or a Director, or a professional, who has convinced yourself that you and your team have nothing to do with politics, there’s a couple of very quick checks you can make to see if that’s true.

It’s as simple as looking at your walls.

Have a look at them now. Do you have any of the following posters or flyers on them?

UNCRC in child-friendly language.

The United Nation Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC)

Professionals working in the sector love to talk about how much they use the UNCRC, how much they focus on children’s rights, and how much we engage in ‘child-centred’ practice.

The UNCRC is a political document.

Every article listed in it is political. It calls on Governments to legislate for and uphold rights. It is signed by Governments. It was developed by a political process. It is one of the most political documents ever developed, as it has the most signatories of any international treaty.

Displaying a political document is a political act. And (bonus!), it’s a great political act. Be proud of it.

The Early Childhood Australia Code of Ethics.

The Early Childhood Australia (ECA) Code of Ethics

Do you have the ECA Code of Ethics up on your wall? Do you have the brochures in your staff room?

The ECA Code of Ethics is a political document.

One of the principles of the Code is “Children are citizens from birth with civil, cultural, linguistic, social and economic rights.” All of those rights are political, and need to be upheld.

In speaking about how we work in the sector, it says: “Advocate for my profession and the provision of quality education and care.” Advocacy is a political act. Asking for the community, including politicians, to respect the work you do and how important it is is a political act.

In speaking about how we work in the broader society we are all a part of, it says: “advocate for the development and implementation of laws and policies that promote the rights and best interests of children and families.” There is no more political act than asking for good laws and policies.

Displaying a political document is a political act. And (bonus!), it’s a great political act. Be proud of it.

ACECQA’s guide to the National Quality Standard.

The National Quality Framework (NQF)

Do you have any of the posters or flyers advertising the Quality Areas of the National Quality Standard?

The NQF is a group of political documents.

The NQF was developed through a political process. Federal, State and Territory Governments came together to develop it. The Law and Regulations are legislation, they were passed by politicians. A government agency, ACECQA, oversees it. Compliance and assessment is conducted by State and Territory Governments.

Working in a regulated sector is a political act. Be proud of it, and get involved in the bits you don’t like.


Sink or swim

That’s just a few examples. I could do this all day.

Are you or your service taking part in the NQF Review? Congratulations, you’re taking part in a political process. Regular reviews of the NQF are built into legislation, passed by politicians. The outcomes of the Review will be implemented by politicians.

I think sometimes when educators tell me to “just keep politics away from me and my centre”, they think they’re taking a stand for children. I get it, but that’s not how it works.

Politics is how big decisions are made. By refusing to engage, you’re not just cutting yourself off from influencing those decisions, but you’re not using your voice to speak for children. That’s the opposite of taking a stand.

If you’re truly invested in upholding children’s rights, it affects everything you do – including your engagement with politics, and your vote.

I’ve lost track of the amount of times people have assumed I’m a paid-up Labor member and voter. Since joining the sector, I’ve focused a lot on children’s rights. That means beyond the early education sector as well. Labor has a great track record with early education policies, including at this election, and I will always say so.

But I have never voted for a political party that has policies that undermine children’s human rights. That includes the mandatory detention of child refugees, or welfare policies that keep children and their families in poverty. For anyone with even a minor interest in politics and children, that should let you know that I am neither a member of, or a voter for, either of the major parties since 2007.

As it stands, whoever wins Government in two weeks, the mandatory detention of child refugees – in breach of international law and the UNCRC – will be the law of the land. Those children don’t have the option of saying ‘I’m not interested in politics’.

Politics can either be something that happens to you, or it can be something you are a part of. Those are the only choices.

Saying “my centre and I have nothing to do with politics” is like swimming in the middle of the ocean and saying “I have nothing to do with water”.

Saying “stop talking to me about politics” is like swimming in the middle of the water and say “stop throwing me those life rafts”.

You can be swept along by the currents, or you can grab an oar and start charting your own course. An election is the perfect time to start.

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.

One reply on “‘Can’t you just keep politics out of centres?’: Why the answer must always be ‘no’.”

My head is going to explode if I have to keep looking at some of the ignorant posts on certain Facebook pages and the huge amount of just plain dumb misinformation and opinion in the comments. It takes all of my self control to hold back in reply – the number of replies I have written and deleted just to make myself feel better. This column nails it Liam. I have just one question… and how will it all be funded? (only kidding – kill me now!).

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