Joanne Ryan MP
Federal Member for Lalor
Joanne Ryan MP

Early Childhood Education & Childcare

I would like to thank the parliamentary secretary for her words, and I join my colleagues on this matter of public importance. I really do welcome the tone of this debate and the subject of this debate being a matter of public importance. I spoke earlier in the week on this exact topic in an adjournment speech and made some very similar remarks to those of the parliamentary secretary.I would like to start by saying that, if we are going to have this national conversation about child care, we need to put some landmarks in about where we are. I apologise if some of my early comments may seem to be critical of the government, but we do need to get to a space where we can have this conversation before it begins. I welcome the rhetoric from the government and the way it has changed—we on this side of the House all do. It has been framed with the change of minister, a change of portfolio and a response to the Productivity Commission's report. But I have some concerns about that change in portfolio—that the educative matters in early childcare education and care are not being given the seriousness that they deserve.

I cannot ignore the cuts that have come. I wonder, too, if this congeniality and collegiality coming from across the chamber is not in response to the community outrage and the sector outrage that I have had communicated to me in Lalor about the cuts in that first budget. I do think we need to put that marker down before we can really start this serious conversation, and I call on the budget to reverse those cuts if they are serious about wanting to have this conversation.

I do join my colleagues the member for Adelaide and the member for Gellibrand to say that I am willing to assist in this conversation. As an educator, as someone with experience around learning and around children's milestones, I am willing to assist—like the sector, the families and the educators are willing to assist government to get this right. But, of course, I am a little bit wary. I am a little bit wary when I hear some of the rhetoric that is still coming across. It is not an industry subsidy. It is not a wages subsidy. I am listening really carefully, because the first part of a conversation is to listen—and I am listening really carefully, and I have some concerns. I have some concerns that we are separating quality from the educative function of early child care so early in this national conversation—because that is what is important. The quality framework has improved this system. It has professionalised this sector. Monitoring childhood milestones, childhood learning, childhood language development, cognitive development, emotional development and physical development is red tape. Unless we get agreement on that, this conversation, for me, cannot go forward.

I refer to the PriceWaterhouseCoopers report of September 2014, and I bring to the chamber's attention that this is not just a question of child welfare or of women's participation and men's participation in the workforce. This is a question of our future. This is about our economic future. This is about developing a vision that is going to see a smarter Australia. This is about our economic future and building the workforce of the future. This is about the early start we give our children across the sector. It is about including all children and their needs. The PriceWaterhouseCoopers report suggested that the projected benefit to the gross domestic product in increased participation of vulnerable children in early childhood 'education'—I make that clear; I am not talking about child minding and babysitting—is worth $13.3 billion.

So this is a really important conversation. Of course it is important because it is about the children. Of course it is important for me as a feminist, because it is about female participation in the workforce. But it is also important for our country for us going forward that we come to grips with the importance of education, that we see early childcare education not through the lens as a cost but through the lens as an investment in this country's future. We need to get to a space where we can really have that conversation and stop the rhetoric about burden and as if having children looked after is a release for the parents to go to work. Those things are part of this conversation; they are not all of this conversation.


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