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Stakeholder consultations find overwhelming support for the NQF

Woolcott Research & Engagement has published a Summary of Findings of the National Quality Framework stakeholder consultation sessions held in all the States and Territories earlier this year.

The consultations revealed overwhelming support for the creation of the NQF, and a strong desire for it to be rolled out on its current timeframe. Participants in the sessions identified the introduction of the NQF as strongly benefiting children, as well as reducing administrative burden in many areas.

This puts the sector at odds with the Assistant Minister for Education Sussan Ley, who has consistently portrayed services and educators as “overwhelmed” by the regulatory burden of the “messy” NQF.

Woolcott’s research suggests that the Assistant Minister has been listening to vocal minority in the sector who are unhappy with the NQF: for-profit organisations and advocates. These organisations have a clear profit-based motive in winding back many of the NQF requirements, and it is now clear that they are not in any way representative of how most educators and services actually view the NQF.

The results of the consultation come at a crucial time for the sector. The NQF Review is still underway, and the Productivity Commission will shortly be handing its final report to the Federal Government. The reforms that resulted in the NQF took years to design and are barely half-implemented. For a Government that has tied itself into an economic tangle, curtailing or even removing the NQF would be a tempting way to reduce costs.

This would be a disastrous outcome for Australia’s children.

The sector has demonstrated clearly in a number of forums that it is supportive of the overall aims and goals of the NQF. It now needs to join together and ensure that the Federal Government cannot ignore this consensus, and let the aims of a few profit-seeking organisations to undo a world-class early education policy initiative.

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12-month funding extension doesn’t tell us anything about the Government’s position on early education

Sussan Ley is obviously familiar with the idea that you don’t come to a party empty-handed.

Before almost 2000 delegates at the opening day of Early Childhood Australia’s National Conference on Friday, the Assistant Minister for Education announced that the Federal Government would commit to a further 12 months of funding for the National Partnership Agreement on Preschool funding.

This Agreement provides funding to the States and Territories to top up their existing funded Preschool hours to 15 per week for every child. It was due to cease at the end of this year, and since its election in September last year the Government has steadfastly refused to confirm if the funding would be extended.

This failure to provide certainty has been regularly condemned by the sector, by early learning experts – and even the Productivity Commission has recommended in its draft report that the funding should be kept.

Minister Ley’s announcement has provoked mixed reactions. The extension of funding is undoubtedly welcome, but the caveat that it is only a 12-month extension once again places the sector in a state of uncertainty.

The decision provides further emphasis on the core problem facing the Government’s approach to childcare and early childhood education: It doesn’t have one.

Ever since their election, and in fact during most of their time in Opposition, the Abbott Government has been content to provide regular and scathing assessments of the Labor Government’s ineptitude and profligacy in this area.

“Fees rose 53% under Labor,” intones the Assistant Minister so regularly it is probably in her email signature block. “Operators are drowning in red tape” is another popular catchphrase.

Both those lines can be (and regularly have been) strongly rebutted – but one year after their election, there seems little point arguing to toss when we don’t even know what game we’re playing.

The early childhood sector and the community are no closer to understanding what the Government’s approach to such a critical policy area is now than they were one year ago. 52 weeks after they were handed the keys to Parliament House, it is surely not unreasonable that we might have an inkling of what the Government thinks needs to be done with early learning and childcare.

The go-to excuse has always been the Productivity Commission. Handballing the political hot potato to the Commission was a short-term measure to avoid scrutiny and making any actual decisions. Examining the issues and factors surrounding the sector is a worthwhile exercise, and the Commission’s draft report has already sparked debate in the community.

But the Government’s refusal to even point in the general direction of a policy position until they have had the chance to read the final report is now bordering on lunacy. Governments, and in particular this Government, are not unbiased implementers of recommendations from independent reviewers.

Governments are values-driven, and have a particular ideological bent. It is surely time, regardless of what the Commission recommends, that we have some idea of how the Government even views early learning.

This is a significant community issue, and plays into the lives of practically every Australian family. Regardless of whatever specific concerns people may have had about the policy settings of the previous Labor Government, they were at least clear that they stood for a growth in funding to early childhood education, a national benchmark of quality and support for children and families experiencing vulnerabilities to access early learning.

We have no such direction from the current Government, even in such general terms. In Opposition, Sussan Ley regularly lambasted the National Quality Framework as “the dead hand of government regulation”, while in Government has defended it from attacks by Senator David Leyonhjelm.

Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey have grimly told Australians that the budget is tight and no extra money can be found for early education in the Budget, while allocating $5.5 billion to a Paid Parental Leave scheme that barely even has majority support within their own party.

The Government is under no obligation to outline specific early education policies until they are ready – but they have surely run out of time to keep their general thoughts on such policies hidden and unknown.

They have certainly not been shy about coming forward with their ideological positions on a number of other issues such as free speech, the environment and education to name just a few.

Which begs the question: why is the Government so silent on early education?

Two possibilities suggest themselves – either they have no idea what to do and how to do it; or the plans they do have are too shocking to share with the electorate.

It’s hard to know which is worse.

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The Abbott Government is playing the community off against itself on the right to childcare

The Productivity Commission is due to hand down its draft report into the Childcare and Early Learning sector this month. As the deadline approaches, we are finally beginning to see indications of policy approach from the Federal Government in this area.

The Coalition spent most of its time in Opposition, and so far all of its time in Government, blasting the ALP for inefficient management of the childcare sector. “Costs have skyrocketed”, they’ve declared; “educators are drowning in red tape”, they’ve proclaimed.

Over the last week a new angle has become clearer. The ALP’s mismanagement has left the system open to rorters and fraudsters. Decent, hard-working families are being denied places at their local childcare centre as the service is full-to-the-brim with the children of “stay-at-home-Mums”.

So determined to drag childcare into the Government’s overall narrative of “lifters versus leaners”, the Government has even started to demonise the very “stay-at-home-Mums” that during the Howard years were feted and showered with election-eve spending at the slightest hint of a poll drop.

The Government has been determined to reframe a difficult post-Budget period into a classic “us against them” battle, and it was inevitable that the complex and difficult issues around quality, affordability and accessibility of childcare would similarly be split.

Let’s get the obvious retorts out the way first. The Government has provided no data, statistics or numbers on any of the claims it has made. None at all. It has merely presented these issues as facts, and expected people to respond to them as such.

There are already clear, priority-of-access guidelines in place for all long day care services which clearly prioritise working families. If the Department of Education has specific evidence that specific services are flouting these guidelines, in breach of their operational commitments, then they can be followed up.

The Government has also alleged widespread rorting of a subsidy for parents who are studying (Commonwealth Jobs, Education and Training Child Care Fee Assistance or JETCCFA scheme), and has again directly implicated service providers. Apparently “some” parents are over-claiming this subsidy, and “increasing number” of services are claiming for services not provided and “a number” of services are overcharging to claim more of the subsidy.

It might be hard to pick through the dense layer of hard data and statistics quoted above from the Assistant Minister for Education’s press release, but it’s hard to actually tell how much of a problem this is from the information provided.

It’s the same story with the bludging parents taking up all the childcare places. The Assistant Minister has provided no evidence or data on the amount or increase of this problem. “It’s a very frustrating thing when you can’t get a place and you are a working parent and others who are not already have a place,’’ said the Minister – and she is undoubtedly right.

But the problem is that the Government are not proposing anything that will actually resolve these issues.

What the Government is doing is finally giving us an indication of what their policy approach to childcare will be.

A Productivity Commission into the sector was the right call, and should actually have been carried out some time ago. Childcare and early learning is an entirely different sector now than it was in the 1990s.

But the Commission has been critically held back from actually proposing the reforms that are desperately needed. The terms of reference provided to the Commission by the Treasurer Joe Hockey explicitly state that no further budget funds will be provided to childcare overall, despite investment in early childhood education being internationally recognised as best practice.

Given that restraint, the Commission will not be able to propose any policy changes that will actually fix the chronic underfunding and fragmentation of the childcare sector.

It is in that context that the Government’s framing of the debate becomes clearer. Despite the irrefutable evidence that access to high quality childcare has a hugely positive benefit not just to children and families but society as a whole, the Government will be making it harder for some children to access childcare.

For children’s advocates, every child has the right to access a high quality childcare service.

But rather than invest, repair and expand the sector to meet the needs of the modern Australian community, the Abbott Government will seek to play the community off against itself on which families and children have the right to access a service.

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What does this Government think the childcare sector is for?

Disappointingly, the Government continues to use the Productivity Commission to paper over its complete lack of a childcare policy. Beyond pointing out the issues and declaring war on “the dead hand of government regulation”, the childcare sector and the community in general have no idea what the Abbott Government think should happen in this area.

This week, the Assistant Minister for Education Sussan Ley may have given us a brief and tantalising spoiler. Responding to questions on what policies the Productivity Commission may propose, Ms Ley was quoted in The Australian:

“Ms Ley said “something is wrong with this picture” when asked about working parents unable to find places because they were taken by the children of parents who were not working.”

A simple statement that jibes well with the Government’s overall economic message of “lifters and leaners”, but in the context of childcare it is worth digging a little deeper on what Ms Ley may be telling us.

What does this Government think the childcare sector is for? Let’s look at the candidates.

1. The economy

The strong contender. Freeing up parents to contribute to the workforce has obvious benefits to the economy at large. This imperative has been a significant part of most countries creation of their own childcare policies and frameworks, and Australia is no different.

Australia’s economy is performing exceptionally by international standards, but workforce participation is a huge driver of growth and wealth.

2. Families

When we say families, we have to be upfront and say “mothers”. In Australia it is still women that face the greatest challenge in returning to the workforce after having children.

The benefits to families are not just about returning to work. Quality early learning programs help prepare children for formal schooling, and have the potential to remediate the effects of family instability or vulnerability. International research has demonstrated that early learning has the potential to change the destinies of families.

The childcare sector is also designed to facilitate empowerment of women to maintain their careers alongside their families – but the catch in Australia has always been that childcare services need to be affordable, accessible and of high quality. Since the deregulation of the sector in the 1990s, Australia was struggled with all three of those indicators.

3. Children

And the last on our list of candidates: children. The fundamental irony of the sector is that is directed to provide education and care to over 1 million Australian children, but the rights and needs of children are usually far down on the list of priorities.

The National Quality Framework was a strong attempt to provide a foundational expectation of quality in the outcomes for children attending childcare services. More structural reforms were needed to address the issues created by deregulation however, which were best exemplified in the spectacular collapse of ABC Learning in 2008.

Returning to Ms Ley’s statement, we can see that while the economy and workforce participation are high on the list of goals for childcare, children are not getting a look-in. She is indicating the Government would prefer that only children of working parents have the right to access childcare. This is a significant statement.

Advocates for early childhood education, including myself, view access to quality childcare as not just an economic issue, but a matter of human rights. Children have the human right to attend a quality early learning program, regardless of their socio-economic background or the current circumstances of their parents.

Australia does not currently have strong record on the upholding of children’s rights. We are currently turning ourselves into outcasts in the international community with our illegal and inhumane treatment of child asylum seekers; each day of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse reveals new horrors from Australia’s dark past of systemic failures to protect children; and child protection agencies around the country struggle to successfully keep children safe in the face of budget cuts and under-resourcing.

Approaching the sector only from the perspective of improving the economy leaves the system open to fail children – as it shockingly has in Ireland and the United States.

The importance of early childhood education, including strong childcare policies and structures, is now internationally recognised. As with the issues of asylum seekers, climate change and a host of others, Australia will fall behind the rest of the world by failing to properly invest in childcare.

But placing the rights of children at the centre of a restructuring of our approach to childcare has the primary benefit of being the right thing do by our society’s children, but the added benefits of meeting the outcomes for the economy as well.

A childcare sector that is properly funded and supported doesn’t have to pick and choose between the three outcomes listed above – it can actually choose Option 4: all of the above.

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Australian childcare doesn’t need a “nanny state”, what it needs is a system that works

According to leaks from the Productivity Commission’s forthcoming draft report into Child Care and Early Learning, published by The Australian, it appears that the Commission will be recommending streamlining the two current childcare subsidies (the Child Care Benefit and the Child Care Rebate) into one payment, means-testing it to some extent, and allowing the rebate to cover the employment of nannies.

The ability to claim rebates or tax deductions for nannies has been a long-standing political football in Australia. The issue appeared to be dormant for quite some time during the previous Labor government as they worked on strengthening the existing formal childcare system through their ambitious National Quality Framework.

Labor’s decision early on in its first term to raise the Child Care Rebate from 30 per cent to 50 per cent laid the groundwork for the issue to return many years later. Attendance in formal childcare skyrocketed, and currently sits at over 1 million children accessing some form of education and care service (primarily long day care).

This created fresh issues of both affordability and accessibility, which the then-opposition and now Government has consistently used to attack the ALP. This reached its peak during the 2013 election, with calls for nannies to be tax deductible. Abbott briefly flirted with the idea before handballing it to the Productivity Commission.

The issues surrounding subsidising the use of nannies are more complex than they initially appear. In some key areas, particularly metro Sydney and Melbourne, Australia does face an accessibility problem. Making it easier to employ an in-home nanny would seem like a relatively simple policy decision to address that.

But as is so often the case with Australia’s childcare sector, this would be a short-term bandaid solution that would do nothing to resolve the fundamental problems facing the community on this issue.

Even with a rebate, nannies would still inevitably be the privilege of the well-off. This is an issue in a country rooted in egalitarian principles – even when those principles bend and flex in the appropriate political climate.

But the biggest issue would be the equating of a home nanny with the formal education and care sector. Having both essentially under the same system devalues the hard work, education and commitment of Australia’s early learning teachers and educators.

Equating the teaching that now takes place under the National Quality Framework, which requires more qualified staff and higher standards of early learning provision, with the household duties of a nanny is a dangerous precedent to set.

Around the world, more and more countries and governments are recognising the need for investment in and strengthening of their childcare and preschool sectors. US president Barack Obama has made it a key policy for his second term, while a dramatic expansion of the UK childcare sector will be a major election issue in that country next year.

The Abbott Government’s instruction to the Productivity Commission in its terms of reference clearly outlined that no extra funding of the sector would be made available. In global terms, this is a backwards and out-of-step restriction given that investment in early education is now seen as one of the most positive economic and social investments a government can make.

Extending the rebate to nannies is particularly concerning in this context, as the funding for it will have to come from existing budgeted funds currently committed to the childcare sector.

The main problem with “the nanny issue” is that the issue is not really about nannies at all.

Australia’s childcare sector is under-funded, fragmented and largely out of the control of the Government since the deregulation policies of the 1990s. The issues of accessibility and affordability directly stem from this.

The solution is not to hire nannies, but to properly review the current system and then invest in creating a modern and internationally-respected childcare sector that meets the needs of children and families.

Australian childcare doesn’t need a “nanny state”. What it needs is a system that works.

This article was originally published on the ABC’s The Drum website.

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Indigenous early learning budgets cuts are cruel and inexplicable

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May is finishing up 2014 as the beginning of Reconciliation Week – a time to reflect on significant on significant political milestones for Indigenous Australians, as well as increasing support for the Recognise campaign to include First Australians in our constitution.

This is ironic given that an earlier event in May, the handing down of the Federal Budget, saw widespread cuts to a number of programs, policies and agreements in Indigenous health, legal services and early childhood areas.

Well, the Government would prefer we don’t use the term “cuts”, but the far cuddlier “consolidations”.

Now is as good a time as any to remember that Tony Abbott once promised to be “a prime minister of Indigenous affairs”.

Now these “consolidations” don’t necessarily rule that out. After all, it was the man who described his political party as “the best friend Medicare has ever had” that has put in place the $7 co-payment that essentially ends Medicare as it was designed.

Being the focus of positive attention of Tony Abbott and the Coalition may not be the best place for anyone or anything right now.

As Reconciliation Australia has pointed out, there is a staggeringly small amount of detail on what these consolidations will actually mean for Indigenous people. But one of the few certainties is that early childhood programs in particular will suffer.

It’s at this point that I will have to lose some of my sarcastic tone, and descend immediately into deep anger.

The decision to cease funding of all 38 Aboriginal Children and Family Centres and slashing spending on the Budget Based Funding program is appalling, and will have an immediate and deleterious impact on Indigenous children and their families according to the Secretariat for National Aboriginal and Islander Child Care.

We know that addressing structural disadvantage and vulnerability must start in the early years. The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare has a significant amount of research demonstrating the necessity of early childhood being a critical part of the Closing the Gap strategy.

Finding short-term savings through the closure of programs such as these is not only cruel and short-sighted, it’s monumentally stupid (NOTE: previous versions of this blog had a number of different words instead of monumentally).

If Australia has any hope of meeting the current Closing the Gap targets, investment in the early years is critical. Cutting investment in this area is inexplicable.

But this is also an utterly bizarre and seemingly capricious set of budget cuts given that early childhood education and care was largely spared the budget axe. The Abbott Government has stated that any significant changes to the sector will occur after they have received the recommendations from the current Productivity Commission inquiry.

So in a Federal Budget that (with a few exceptions) leaves childcare alone, the Government has chosen to specifically and decisively destroy a proven and necessary early years strategy to address Indigenous disadvantage in our country.

People of Australia, I give you Australia’s first prime minister of Indigenous affairs.

I state clearly here that I do not and would not presume to speak for Indigenous people. I am a white, middle-class, Anglo-Saxon male and as such am representative of many of the past and continuing struggles that face the First Australians on this land that was, is and shall always be Aboriginal Land.

For the perspectives of Indigenous people regarding these issues, I recommend visiting the websites of SNAICC and Reconciliation Australia.

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Endless inquiries into early learning won’t tell us anything we don’t already know

It seems that Government inquiries into early childhood education and care are like Star Wars movies. You spend ages waiting for one to come along, and then all of a sudden three are announced at once.

As well as the high-profile Productivity Commission inquiry into the sector, there are also two separate Senate inquiries running concurrently. Three significant and investigative examinations of Australia’s childcare sector. Clearly there is a huge gap of knowledge in how to best fund and manage childcare in this country, right?

Well actually, no.

There has never been more global attention on the need for investment and serious political focus on the provision of early learning. From James Heckman’s ground-breaking research in the United States, to the OECD’s own global economic assessments, and analysis of our own long-term data around children and families such as the AEDI, the evidence-based argument for investment has all but been won.

Ever since Tony Abbott announced his “signature” Paid Parental Leave policy, he’s been told left, right and centre that if he really wants to make an impact on women’s workforce participation, then $5.5 billion would be far better directed into childcare.

Three inquiries, or thirteen, or thirty, won’t tell us anything we don’t already know about investment in the early years. The inquiries aren’t about the economics of the issue, but about the politics.

Particularly with the Productivity Commission Inquiry, the Government has already stated that increased investment is off the table. This is stunning, given that the major reform that is needed is significantly more investment.

The inquiries will all have similar recommendations – a reformed system could have incredible benefits for children, families and communities. But the Government has already let us know that is not going to be happening.

They can hold all the inquiries they want, but until funding childcare becomes a budgetary priority, fiddling around the margins will have marginal impact.

But don’t take my word for it. Feel free to hold an inquiry or three.

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The twelve days of red tape repeal

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Hello, dear readers. It’s that magical time of year, Red Tape Repeal Day!

Is there any more wonderful time to gather friends and family close, grab the extra-large ceremonial scissors and go to town on all the red tape you can find.

In the spirit of the season, please join along with me for a non-regulated sing-a-long!

On the first day of red tape repeal the PM repealed for me
Those lefties at the ABC.

On the second day of red tape repeal the PM repealed for me
Childcare quality.

On the third day of red tape repeal the PM repealed for me
Women in cabinet.

On the fourth day of red tape repeal the PM repealed for me
Credit card protections.

On the fifth day of red tape repeal the PM repealed for me
Newtown Year 9!

On the sixth day of red tape repeal the PM repealed for me
Ministerial accountability.

On the seventh day of red tape repeal the PM repealed for me
Aged care safety.

On the eighth day of red tape repeal the PM repealed for me
Indigenous funding.

On the ninth day of red tape repeal the PM repealed for me
Job security.

On the tenth day of red tape repeal the PM repealed for me
Reporting refugees.

On the eleventh day of red tape repeal the PM repealed for me
David Gonski.

On the twelfth day of red tape repeal the PM repealed for me
Being mean to Bolt.

Happy Red Tape Repeal Day, everyone!

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Exclusive: new quality ratings now available from Government

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It’s not often that we break news here on Lighting Fires, but it is with humble pride that we can exclusively reveal exciting new information from the Assistant Minister for Education Sussan Ley on the ratings system for children’s services.

The Assistant Minister has been valiantly crusading against red tape in children’s services, attempting bravely to bat away the “dead hand of government regulation”.

Services have been lumbered with 50-page – fifty!! – reports outlining their current quality standard, using ridiculous metrics like “evidence” and “observations”.

As the Assistant Minister articulately pointed out:

I think that when you walk into a childcare centre, if you are a qualified assessor, and we’ve got good people in the West, I know, you can feel it, you can see it, you can – you know, you might have to measure some things but you don’t need to get carried away with too much red tape. [Source]

We’re pleased to reveal that here at Lighting Fires we have received a draft copy of the proposed new quality ratings, and the assessment process.

Visits will take a maximum of an hour, or until the cup of tea is finished, whichever comes first.

Centre ratings will henceforth be presented not in a heavy, unreadable 50-page – fifty!!! – document filled with complicated words and tables, but will be scrawled in biro on the back of a napkin.

This report will ideally be presented to the service on the day.

Every service will now recieve one of four ratings:

  1. “Meh”. Bit of work to do, people, maybe get round to that when you get a chance.
  2. Working Towards “Seems Fine”. Look, could things be a bit better? Yeah, probably, but hey, I get you’re busy. Chuck up a few posters or something and you’ll probably do OK.
  3. “Seems Fine”. Had a quick wander around, things feel pretty good.
  4. “Not Too Bad At All”. Hey you’re doing great! Keep up the good work, we won’t bother you for 10-20 years.

Centres who receive a rating of “Not Too Bad At All” will be able to chuck the assessor a twenty and receive a rating of Top Notch.

Families can rest assured that quality will still be assured for children under this new system. Assessors will be thoroughly trained in “getting a feel for the place” and “the vibe”.

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Will the ghost of the EYQF continue to haunt the Government?

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The Coalition Government has found much to fault the previous Labor Government for, not least in its handling of early childhood education and care.

They’ve managed a tepid and limp hand clap for the creation and implementation of the National Quality Framework, which provides a national minimum standard for this work for the very first time.

Services are however, apparently “drowning in red tape” and quaking in fear from the “dead hand of government regulation”. The way the Coalition tells it, the last six years in ECEC have basically been a horror movie that the public has at last been able to walk out on.

Labor, those socialist fiends, have apparently just been throwing money at problems plaguing the sector – which presumably means that services are drowning in both red tape and money. A weird way to go.

But it appears that nothing has made the now grown-up and serious Government more disappointed than the handling of the Early Years Quality Fund.

“It was unfair,” they cried. “It was inequitable!” they wailed. “It was a lot of money we’d rather not spend on educators!” they murmured quietly on their way back to their offices.

Now, to be fair, it was unfair and it was inequitable. Please see previous blog rants for anything more on that.

But it placed the Government in the tricky position of trying to tight-walk between their burning desire to erase the last six years of history from the books, and the somewhat uncomfortable image of ripping away a small pay increase from people who work with young children.

To address this fairness and inequity, the Government has instead redirected the $300 million fund to “professional development” to the entire sector.

Well, $300 million minus the amount that had already been contracted out to organisations who, when politely asked by politicians on hundreds of thousands of dollars a year (plus entitlements and apparently any large bookshelves they feel they might need) to return the money they were going to give to some of the lowest-paid workers in Australia, shocking said “No”.

According to the Department of Education, money should be rolling out to spend on professional development pretty soon. There is not a lot of information available on requirements, processes or obligations on services concerning the money.

But a more basic question has possibly not been asked – can the Government even do what they are proposing to do?

Let’s have a look at what we know.

The EYQF was legislated – it passed the House of Representatives and the Senate and became law. This means the money allocated for it can only be used for the prescribed, legislated purpose – i.e. professional wages.

From an interview on ABC’s 730 program in December:

SUSSAN LEY: …the special account Labor created only targeted long-day-care centres and only targeted a small proportion of those.

LEIGH SALES: But you’re in charge now. You’ve got the $300 million?

SUSSAN LEY: Well, we are stuck with their legislation and I don’t propose to send the legislation back to the Parliament.

The context of the conversation was that Leigh Sales had suggested to Sussan Ley if the issue was one of equity, why not just redistribute the funding to the entire sector. In this section, Sussan Ley has suggested that this was not possible due to the nature of the legislation.

The actual legislation itself – The Early Years Quality Fund Special Account Bill 2013 – is available here and is pretty clear. It’s a riveting document with an almost spectacular lack of detail, but the key point is Section 7:

Purpose of the Early Years Quality Fund Special Account:

 

The purpose of the Early Years Quality Fund Special Account is to provide funding to approved centre based long day care services, to be used exclusively for paying remuneration, and other employment-related costs and expenses, in relation to employees in the early childhood education and care sector.

Based on the evidence, it would appear to be legislatively impossible for the Assistant Minister to do as she is proposing, which is to redirect the funding legislated in this Bill.

Yet that appears to be exactly what is occurring, with apparently no objection from either the Opposition or United Voice.

The Bill does state that funds can be used for professional wages and “for other employment-related costs and expenses, in relation to employees in the early childhood education and care sector.” This, however, hardly directly equates to professional development.

I have contacted the Assistant Minister with these questions and, based on my previous communications with her office, will receive a reply from her Department in 2-3 months.

But it perhaps needs to be asked of the other political players in ECEC why this rather substantial question on whether the Government can do what they are proposing to do has not been asked in Parliament.

Editors Note: Grateful thanks are given to Karl Hessian and Lisa Bryant for their research and assistance in this post. You can (and should) follow them both on Twitter by clicking on their names.