Think it’s tough being an early childhood educator now? Just wait until 2 July 2018.

I’ve talked pretty endlessly on this blog, and on the Early Education Show podcast, about my concerns about the Federal Government’s new Child Care Package (formally known as the Jobs for Families Package, which tells you quite succinctly everything you need to know about these reforms). They’re bad for children, they’re bad for the sector, and the sector should not have supported them in any way.

As we heave ourselves over the line into 2018, the year that will see the introduction of this new legislation, I wanted to highlight an issue I am worried is not getting anywhere near enough attention.

Continue reading “Think it’s tough being an early childhood educator now? Just wait until 2 July 2018.”

Advertisements

Australia’s business community should be thinking long-term about childcare investment

We didn’t get a lot more information about the Government’s planned “families package” at the Press Club yesterday, but we do now know that Tony Abbott’s signature Paid Parental Leave scheme is – to coin a phrase – dead, buried and cremated.

Which leaves a rather large sum of money now up for grabs, funded by a 1.5% levy on some of Australia’s largest companies. Predictably, the business community has insisted that since the PPL is gone, the levy should be gone as well.

The Government has made no mention of what will become of this levy, though it seems reasonably clear given Tony Abbott’s address and Scott Morrison’s recent media comments that it will be kept and redirected in some way to the childcare budget.

The members of the business community quoted are flatly stating that any additional funding of childcare is the Government’s responsibility. I am fine with this argument in a broad sense, and indeed strongly advocate for full Government funding of all forms of early childhood education and care.

But this is still a cop-out from Australia’s businesses. The potential short-term increases to workforce participation (particularly for women), and the enormous long-term improvements to the economy are now almost universally accepted. Business has a chance to be a real part of the solution in ensuring that childcare is affordable, accessible and of high quality.

In the heady days of 2014, when members of the Government tended to laugh until they cried when anyone suggested they increase investment in childcare, I wrote that the sector may find a possible partner in Australia’s business community. This sprung from the Business Council of Australia’s submission to the Productivity Commission enquiry into the sector which strongly advocated for a much stronger childcare sector.

For the business community to now simply turn around and say “not our problem”, while demanding that the Government provide billions of dollars worth of tax breaks, incentives and other financial palliatives to support them is more than a little hypocritical.

Business leaders have made a habit recently of complaining about the short-term nature of politics, which doesn’t look beyond the next term. They should start looking beyond the scrapping of a levy that isn’t even in place yet, and think long term about what sensible structural reform to Australia’s childcare sector could mean for the entire community.

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

business-card

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.