Release type: Speech


Address to the 2023 Early Childhood Australia National Conference


The Hon Dr Anne Aly MP
Minister for Early Childhood Education
Minister for Youth

*** Check against delivery ***

Thanks so much, Sam. I really wanted to see that video because I haven't seen it yet, but what a fantastic video. And thank you, Sam, and thank you for everything that you do and everything that ECA does. I'm sorry that I'm only here for the last session of your amazing conference, but from what I've heard and from what I've seen, it's been an amazing, amazing four days. And that's all credit due to Sam and the team at ECA. Can I - yes. Huge applause! That's right, people, give her a round of applause.

I wanted to start by acknowledging the Kaurna people of the Adelaide Plains, the traditional owners and custodians of the lands on which I join you all. I pay my respects to their Elders, past and present, and I acknowledge their ongoing cultural and educational practices. I extend that respect to all First Nations people and those here with us today at “Kumarninthi—Becoming one: Old Ways, New Wisdom.” An inspiring and inclusive conference theme, I think, and a theme in which Early Childhood Australia – ECA – so appropriately incorporates Kaurna language into this amazing theme and the amazing conference.

I want to take the opportunity also to reaffirm the Albanese Government's commitment to constitutional recognition and an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice to Parliament. These are not the ideas of politicians; they are the ideas of Indigenous Australians. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, we know, are being left behind. They have lower life expectancy, higher rates of disease, higher rates of infant mortality and fewer opportunities for education and training. And I know that all of you here who work with First Nations children understand just what that means to the life of a child. We know that the current system isn't working and that's why our First Nations people are asking for a voice.

When we think of the theme here, “Old ways, new wisdom,” it really compels us and kind of opens up the door of opportunity for us to think about how we incorporate First Nations voices in what we do in our everyday practice, to ensure that we have better outcomes for children, and what that means at a broader scale across Australia if we do the same for all Aboriginal people - Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People. So, I look forward to voting yes in the referendum, and I hope you will join me. Thank you.

I want to acknowledge that ECA is actively also supporting the Yes campaign and is in full support of the Voice to Parliament, identifying it as a step forward toward a reconciled nation, which is an important legacy for Australian children.

It’s absolutely amazing to be with you this afternoon. I was asked earlier if I'm nervous, and I was like, “No, I'm not nervous. I'm among family.” Like, I feel like I'm among friends and family, and all of us working towards a single goal and a single objective of ensuring that children in Australia are the best that they possibly can be. And I just want to acknowledge the role that every single one of you plays in achieving that objective here.

So, it's absolutely wonderful to be at this year's conference. I was at the last one in Canberra as well and thoroughly enjoyed that one and have thus far thoroughly enjoyed this. And particularly, there's a great vibe out there. And I was saying to Sam earlier as we were walking around, that you come into a place like a conference like this, and you see educators and teachers sitting together, the level of professional knowledge that's being shared, not just from here - there, like, on stage, out. But the interactions that you witness and the collaboration that you see as you walk around the conference is really what makes it such a special occasion for everyone attending.

I want to also acknowledge modern teaching aides for their important role in making this wonderful conference happen. I'm a big kid at heart, so I had a ton of fun going around the exhibitions earlier and just playing with all the toys out there. You know, when I was a kid, all we got was a rock and a stick. So, it's great to see the kinds of thinking that's going into the learning tools – which is what they are – that are available now for children. So, I want to thank Trevor Brown, ECA National President, for all the organisation and everything that he's doing for children. Taylor Dee Hawkins, who I understand will be delivering a wonderful closing keynote as you look to the future. No pressure there, Taylor. And of course, thank you to my darling friend and incredibly talented Sam Page, who I am in awe of. And thank you for inviting me here today, Sam.

I had such a great time at last year's conference in Canberra, learning from all of you through the conversations that I had with individuals, but also through some of the sessions that I've got to attend. I didn't get to attend many sessions today, but can I just say that last session – and can I thank the presenters there from my old alma mater, Edith Cowan University, for that wonderfully informative session as well. And I find that if it's a conversation, if it's an individual conversation or attending a session, there's always a takeaway. There's always something that I learn that helps me to do my job better, but that, I think, really is indicative of the fact that whatever it is that we want to achieve, we need to achieve together, hand in hand.

Because the wealth of knowledge and experience that – you can basically touch it in the air here. And the professionalism, the know-how, the dedication, the passion, and as I mentioned, the knowledge and experience that you all have, is absolutely necessary for me to be able to tap into in order to ensure that the work that I do as a Minister, and the work that we want to do as a government in undertaking the reform that we want to undertake in early childhood education and care, is something that is actually going to make a difference, and that brings you all along with us. So, I want to just take a moment to thank each and every one of you as educators, as teachers, as experts, and just recognise that important contribution to educating Australia's children.

Now, I know you probably hear that a lot, right? Maybe, maybe not. But especially in a forum like this, you probably feel that you're appreciated, you feel that you're acknowledged, you feel that your expertise and your contributions mean something. But you probably don't hear it a lot from politicians. Yeah, to be honest? So, it gives me – it is actually an honour for me to be able to stand here and to actually give you a heartfelt thank you and a heartfelt recognition of the contribution that you make, and to tell you that what you do is absolutely invaluable and greatly, greatly appreciated.

ECA, an incredible eighty-five years. Eighty-five years of the ECA. Can we get a round of applause just for that? Eighty-five years? That's huge! A consistent, consistent advocate for children and for the early childhood education and care sector. Eighty-five years really is a legacy to be proud of, and something that is not the end, but a foundation to continue building on. The vision that we all share here today, ECA’s vision, is to have every child thrive and learn. And that really is a key priority for our government as well. We're working to deliver this vision where all children – all children – have equitable access to quality, affordable early childhood education and care, no matter their background or where they live. Now, I don't have to tell anyone here just how important those first five years of a child's life, or, that if we get those first five years right, we have the ability to change the trajectory of a child's life.

What we hold in our hands, our collective hands and our individual hands, is the ability to help a child overcome disadvantage and adversity. That's a pretty big thing. That's pretty monumental, because it means that no child born into disadvantage should have to or has to carry that disadvantage through their life. We understand the responsibility. We understand that responsibility of ensuring that all children thrive, no matter what their background and that's why we're taking action. So, I'll just go through a few things. I'm sure you all know that in July this year, we introduced early childhood education and care increase to the subsidy, making early childhood education more affordable for 1.2 million families. You know, in the first week of that coming into effect in July, families paid on average around 14% less per hour, per child for centre-based care.

We also made changes to the Activity Test for First Nations children, providing 36 hours of subsidised care per fortnight, regardless of their activity level. We've got the Early Years strategy to shape a vision for Australia's children and their families and I know that there are people in this room here who have contributed significantly to that, and I thank you for your contribution. That strategy will see a more integrated and holistic approach to the early years into the future. We've got the Productivity Commission looking at how we can make the whole early childhood education and care system more affordable and more accessible, universal. And we've got the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission looking into early childhood education and care prices. And all of these bits of important work are like a puzzle that fits together, helping us to chart that course to an early childhood education and care system that is world-class, that is world-class, that is quality, that is affordable and that is universal in the great Labor traditions of Medicare and Superannuation.

And you all play a critical, critical role in that course that we're charting. And so, we also know that we can't reach that goal without a strong and sustainable workforce, which is why last year we introduced changes to the Fair Work Act, which is now enabling early childhood education and care to bargain for increased wages, and I look forward to seeing that process progress. We’ve got – since coming to government, now, we've got more than 14,000 people entering the early learning workforce, so that's another 14,000 educators and teachers in the workforce. And I'm super-duper excited to say that we've got a further 123,000 – 123,000 additional educators and teachers in the training pipeline. And that's directly as a result of our fee-free TAFE, where the largest uptake of fee-free TAFE across Australia has been in early childhood education and care. Isn't that great?

And I've had the pleasure of meeting some of the people who are taking advantage of the free TAFE and doing early childhood education and care. And I can tell you the number of people that I've spoken to who are doing it have such an interest, a keen interest and a keen dedication to child development. And I'm excited to be part of a process of creating and developing a sector that keeps that fire in their belly burning and encourages them to continue that passion and that dedication for early childhood. So, we've got our workforce package; that's the access to professional development and paid practicums aimed at retaining and upskilling the existing workforce. And that workforce package was a direct outcome of sitting down and speaking with educators who were talking to me about the impact of doing paid practicums, the financial impact of having to do of having to do a practicum on their ability to upskill. And I remember this so clearly because we were sat in a room and I said to them, I said. So, if we were to pay for your practicums, would that make a difference? And they said, yes, it absolutely would. And the result of that was in the last budget, a package, a $72 million package, which included in their paid practicum, as well as professional development.

Now, fundamental to quality early childhood education and care – I know you all know this – is a child's right to play and play-based learning. You know, when you think about a child's right to play, saying that children have a right to play, it seems a bit of a no-brainer, right? It seems like a ‘water is wet’ statement. Of course, children have a right to play, they're children. But the sad truth is that many children don't have the opportunity, the opportunity to fully experience play and the benefits, the benefits of play to their development. It's a critical part of a child's development and that's why it's recognised as a right by the United Nations. Through play, children can express – children and adults, some might add, can express creativity. They can explore ideas, they can learn social skills, they can make friends. Play can be indoor, it can be outdoor, it can be organised, or it can be messy. It can involve rulemaking and rule breaking. And we've always known that play is important for children, but we've not always been understood why.

So, ECA’s Statement on Play, which I have right here, is an exciting evidence-based resource that's highlighting the crucial role of young children's play. I think it's a great resource for all of us and I'm absolutely delighted to be able to launch this resource here today. Statement emphasises how we all educators, leaders, parents, carers, the community and governments, can protect and promote, protect and promote the rights of every child to play. I think that's an incredibly important message about play and about child development. The statement also includes some robust evidence on play's impact on every child's well-being, learning and development, and includes tools and principles for educators and teachers to promote and protect play. And I also applaud ECA’s desire that this Statement on Play will, and I quote, “encourage deeper understanding and cooperation between families, policymakers, planners and early childhood professionals, so that play experiences are available to all children across Australia”.

The statement itself makes it very clear that a child's right to play is a collective responsibility, one that we all bear on our shoulders. And we each have a role to play in that. So, it's my absolute honour to launch Early Childhood Australia's Statement on Play today, and particularly at a forum like this, a forum of dedicated and committed early childhood education and care professionals, from all parts of your diverse sector. And particularly, at a gathering where we've had the opportunity to expand knowledge and awareness and make connections and talk about the vital role of play in learning. So, congratulations, Early Childhood Australia on this great resource. Can you give them a hand.

So, my recommendation to everyone, if I can urge you, is to look at this and apply the principles that are contained in this Statement of Play. Because together we can change the lives of our very youngest Australians forever. Thank you.