Labor’s ECEC policy blunts hard edges of Coalition’s plans, but fundamental reform still nowhere in sight

Mid-way into the endless 2016 election campaign, Labor has released the details of its early childhood education and care policies.

Continue reading “Labor’s ECEC policy blunts hard edges of Coalition’s plans, but fundamental reform still nowhere in sight”

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Government arrives at policy position the rest of Australia arrived at 18 months ago

In what is presumably another example of the Prime Minister tackling the numerous barnacles that seem to be stubbornly attached to the ship of Government, Tony Abbott has foreshadowed that 2015 will see some tinkering to his signature Paid Parental Leave scheme. This will apparently see a focus on low- and middle-income families, as well as “more available and more affordable child care as well.”

As in many policy areas with this apparently “consultative” and “listening” Government, it seems that everyone else in Australia (including the majority of his own party) came to this realisation many, many months ago. Tony Abbott’s stubborn determination to hang on to the original “Rolls-Royce” version of the PPL was turning in to some sort of ongoing performance-art piece on political incompetence.

It’s important to note however that no actual details have been provided regarding any redistribution of funds from PPL to childcare. Presumably Cabinet s sifting through the Productivity Commission’s report into the sector, utilising its incredibly broad and diverse breadth of experience in these kind of issues to develop sensible and considered policies.

(Quick reminder below of the immense diversity and breadth of life experience in Cabinet. I dare anyone to find a group of old white guys more reflective of today’s Australian community than that bunch below.)

Various media outlets are reporting that the “tinkering” will see significantly less money spent on women earning $150,000 and over, with the savings essentially redirected into funding nannies and other in-home care arrangements.

I’ve written before about the complications that would ensue from simply pushing for more nannies. Clearly, the best solution to the issues facing the childcare sector is a well-funded, high-quality and easily accessible early childhood education and care sector. A significant redirection of funds into Long Day Care in particular could reap significant benefits.

We’ll likely know a lot more in early 2015. But given the Government’s track record in other policy announcements, we’ll likely wish we didn’t know a lot more in early 2015.

Early childhood education: the next great Australian project?

I was fortunate enough to attend a breakfast event at Parliament House this morning, hosted by Goodstart Early Learning and Early Childhood Australia.

As well as featuring MPs (including the Assistant Minister for Education Sussan Ley), Professor Frank Oberklaid spoke on the importance of investment in public policy aimed at the early years.

As the Founding Director of the Centre for Community Child Health at The Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne, Professor Oberklaid is an expert on the development of young children – particularly their brains.

He made a strong argument for a greater, bipartisan focus on funding investments in early years programs, particularly early childhood education and care.

As all the most recent research tells us, children exposed to vulnerable situations will start life on the back foot – and will most likely never escape that handicap.

Yet the evidence also shows that quality early childhood programs can help to close that gap, at a significantly lesser cost than trying to close it later in life.

I was particularly struck by Professor Oberklaid’s challenge to view investment in the early years as Australia’s “next Snowy Mountain” project. This chimes with my own frustrations on current public policy in the early years, which is more “fiddling around the edges” of existing systems.

It would be incredible to see a bipartisan commitment to undertaking the big reforms that are needed – not to change the odd regulation, or add another bit here, but to fundamentally alter how we support young children and families in Australia.

Education and care Vs. economic imperatives

 

Interesting piece from Yvonne Haigh up at The Conversation that explores the tension between a “caring” society and the political desire to be seen as “strong” on the economy. She touches on ECEC policies:

The Labor government introduced the National Quality Framework (2012) to ensure quality of educative and care services and it tinkered with rebates and family benefits to the tune of A$7,500 rebate for many families per child. But this does not cover the total costs for children attending day-long or out-of-school child care.

The Coalition has proposed a Productivity Commission inquiry into child care: one that takes into account costs, rebates and subsidies but does not target funding for child care centres.

As proposed solutions, these positions reinforce the tension between policies that “care” and enhancing the economic bottom line. The Coalition’s paid parental leave policy has been criticised for reinforcing inequality and discrimination against women; the Labor Party’s approach has been criticised for excluding superannuation. In both positions, the importance of care is lost in the rhetoric that focuses on time periods and amounts of financial assistance.

The article is worth a read, and also touches on disability, aged care and family policy.

Coalition now supporting the NQF?

Sussan Ley, the Coalition’s spokesperson for childcare and early learning, has signalled that if elected her party will ensure the implementation of the National Quality Framework.

The Coalition has promised if it wins the election to convene a meeting with state and territory ministers to fine-tune the NQF to remove excessive regulation, but will maintain the quality aspects of the reforms to a sector dominated by low-paid female workers.

“Rollback of the reforms is not a term I have ever used and, by law, any slowdown would be a decision for the state and territory governments, individually or collectively,” opposition childcare spokeswoman Sussan Ley told The Australian.

“If we’re elected, we will sit down with state and territory ministers to work out what aspects of the NQF could work better than they are at present,” she said.

“In particular, we will focus on where excessive regulation adds to compliance and cost but not to quality.”

Source: The Australian

This is a fairly significant backdown after years of dramatic recitations of “the dead hand of government red tape”. The Coalition will also apparently accept the verdict of Fair Work Australia on any wage increases for educators. Taking Ms Ley at face value, this is good news for the sector.

It is important to remember, however, that the Coalition has been feeling political pressure on childcare and early learning, and the Australian has been very accommodating to their views on government regulation.

Also importantly, in the article Ms Ley claims that she has never stated that the Coalition would “roll back” reforms. This is disingenuous at best, and an outright falsehood at worst.

A good comparison on Ms Ley’s apparent change of heart can be found be reading this article “Coalition plans for childcare rollback” from 2012.

Ms Ley told The Australian the regulation was killing the sector and must be abandoned.

“Family daycare is becoming incredibly inflexible under the National Quality reforms,” she said. “I’m really feeling the frustration of the sector because every childcare roundtable I attend brings forward more examples of the dead hand of government regulation in a sector that absolutely doesn’t need it.