Child Australia's 2023 Early Childhood Learning and Development Conference
Good morning, everyone, and huge thank you to Uncle Neville for that wonderful Welcome to Country. It's such an honour to be here with you this morning. Can I start by acknowledging the Traditional Owners of the land upon which we meet, the Whadjuk People of the Noongar Nation. I pay my respects to their Elders, past, present and emerging and I extend that respect to any Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people joining us here this morning. I want to reaffirm the Albanese Labor Government's commitment to implementing the Uluru Statement in full and I look forward to voice, treaty and truth. I also acknowledge the Aboriginal Torres Strait Islander People's ongoing cultural and educational practises.
Great to see so many people here today. And can I acknowledge everyone in the room, including officers from the Western Australian, Northern Territory and Commonwealth Government departments, the Child Australia Board members and the CEO Tina. Thank you so much for inviting me to speak here today Tina, thank you. And guest speakers who will be joining you all today, including my dear friend, Rabia Siddique, I don't know if she's in the room yet. There she is. Hello, beautiful! We only ever see each other at events like this, now, don't we? And the 700 delegates, especially those of you who have come- travelled far to come here to WA. It's usually us Western Australians who have to travel very far to get to places around Australia. So it's great to see you all collected here in WA. Excellent to see you. I'd also like to congratulate all the winners and nominees from your sector awards last night. Congratulations to all the rising stars of your profession and acknowledge the dedication and commitment of everyone working in early childhood education and care here in Western Australia and nationally.
I'm looking around this room this morning and I am just filled with hope and inspiration. I know that within this room, within this gathering over the course of today, the collective wisdom, the collective knowledge, collective experience, but importantly also the collective dedication and passion and commitment to the children of Australia and to the families of Australia is something that I am in awe of. And since taking on this role as the Minister for Early Childhood Education and Youth, I have been absolutely privileged and honoured to meet workers, educators, teachers, staff members, centre operators, centre managers who demonstrate to me every day just how much your sector is reliant on that skill, that knowledge, that profession, that dedication and that commitment to Australia's children.
I wanted to start this speech with something big like “I have a dream”. But someone much more important and much more inspirational than me already started a speech with those words. But also, it's not my dream. It's not just my dream, it's your dream, too. The dream that every child in Australia has the opportunity for good quality early childhood education and care in those foundational years that sets them up on a trajectory in life that they can carry through their school years, carry through their teenage years, and right through to adulthood. My dream is that no child, no child born into any form of disadvantage should have to carry that disadvantage through their life. And I know that it's the work that you do, the dedication that you demonstrate, the professionalism that you have, the experience that you carry, the knowledge and the skills that you bring to that task that makes a difference, makes a real difference. My friends, collectively we have the power to change a child's life, to change a family's life, to change a community's life, and to change Australia. And I hope that hand in hand, we can do that together.
But there are challenges ahead. I know that nobody here needs reminding that the first five years of a child's life are everything, I know that. But there are some serious long-term challenges facing the sector, and it will be remiss of me to not mention those challenges and to not put out a hand to say we want to address those challenges. I want to address those challenges as Minister and the Government wants to address those challenges, and we want you to walk with us on that journey of addressing those challenges. There are some things that we've already done working towards addressing some of those. We've strengthened the ability of the Fair Work Commission to order pay increases for workers in predominantly female-dominated sectors like early childhood education and care. I know that that mechanism means so much to so many early childhood educators and teachers who have fought so hard for so long to be able to argue for fair pay in front of the Fair Work Commission without having to find a male comparator.
We've made some improvements that will help workforce supply through 180,000 free, fee-free TAFE. It's really hard to say fee-free TAFE, I don’t know who came up with that. And vocational education places right throughout Australia with 1,469 additional university places for early childhood teachers. And we've prioritised visa processing time for qualified teachers, including early childhood teachers. Those actions are important and they'll go some way to helping us retain the current workforce and attract and provide a pipeline of a new workforce coming in, but we know that there's so much more that needs to be done. So we're working in collaboration with states and territories and your sector to implement the ten year National Children's Education and Care Workforce Strategy, a strategy that was developed in consultation with the sector. All governments and ACECQA have committed to reviewing all of the 21 of the strategies actions and accelerate the implementation of 18 priority actions.
I know that your sector is actively working to address those many challenges. And in fact, I attended a conference in Canberra because, for me conferences are like Disneyland, because I'm a former academic, so I do love conferences. And if you'll allow me I’d like to join you for at least part of your morning this morning, and just hearing some of your speakers and some of the discussion. But I remember attending that conference and in the closing session, they put up the findings from their first conference, which was in 1988. And it was incredible to see that the findings that were reflected in that very first conference in 1988 were issues that were still continuing now. So it was incredible to see that, but also disheartening to know that in the more than 30 years since that those challenges had become more acute. And it was a timely reminder that something needs to be done and it needs to be done now.
So I know that your sector has come a long way in addressing those challenges and indeed, organisations like Child Australia, like REED and some of the organisations represented here today, I know, have worked very hard and have come up with some really innovative solutions to address some of the challenges that your sector is facing. We also know that there's much more to be done to improve access to early childhood education and care. And I look forward to continuing to work with you to deliver a strong and sustainable sector. As you know, our more affordable early childhood education reforms will come into effect from 1 July, that’s around 100 days from now, making early childhood education and care more affordable for families right across Australia. Now, I was a single mother, single working mother, working outside the home. We all know that working inside the home is incredibly hard work, but working outside the home, but I know what it's like to sit around the table and work out the family budget. And one of the first things you factor in is the cost of early childhood education and care. And then you work around that how many hours you can work, and you work around that, how much rent you can afford, as well as a whole range of things. So increasing the childcare subsidy for 90 per cent of families earning $80,000 or less is about delivering cost of living relief for families that are doing it hard these days, as we all know. But it also means that we can increase women's workforce participation, but also increase those opportunities for so many more children to have access to early childhood education and care that quality early childhood education and care that you all provide that makes such a difference to their lives.
Looking more long term, we've launched the Productivity Commission review into Australia's early childhood education and care system, and we've got Deborah Brennan, a well-respected academic in your sector, one of Australia's leading researchers, to lead that review. And we'll get a final report by 30 June 2024, but an interim report before that that can give us some indication of what we can be doing. The review itself will make some recommendations to support affordable, accessible, equitable and high-quality early childhood education and care, reducing barriers to workforce participation and, importantly, supporting children's learning and development. We've also directed the ACCC, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, to examine the drivers of early childhood education and care prices.
One of the most exciting things that we're doing, and I know that you had a session with Jay Weatherill about this yesterday, is the Early Years Strategy. I'm super excited about this. And this is a strategy that will look at how we can better coordinate Commonwealth service provision and state service provision, but Commonwealth service provision, that puts the child and the family at the centre. Now, I know that's what you do every day, right? You put the child at the centre and the family at the centre. But we don't do it so well at the government level. We don't. Our services are all disjointed, they are siloed. We know that education and health are so intrinsically tied together that if a child is excelling in education, there are health indicators around that. And if they're not, if there are some developmental delays, there are health indicators around that, as well as parenting, as well as social services, as well as all of those services that wrap around the child in their first five years. So I'm excited about what the Early Years Strategy will do to ensure that at the government level as well as at the service level, at every level, the child is placed in the centre and all the services that a child needs wrap around that child and wrap around that family. And we get better outcomes in those critical first five years of a child's life.
I want the strategy to be bold. I want the strategy to champion innovation, to harness new opportunities for partnerships, to build on successful models. But above all, I want the strategy to be driven by the needs and aspirations of Australians. And you know what those needs and aspirations are, because you work with them every single day.
So, to finish, I want to thank you so much for the invitation to speak and join you for part of the morning. There’s nothing else to do on a Saturday morning that I can think of, so this is great. Literally nothing else, I'm serious. There was nothing else I was going to do this morning. Allowing me to come here and celebrate your successes with you, to recognise the achievements of your profession, but also to be with you as we look together into the future and imagine, imagine what that future could be. I'm excited for that, but I hold no illusions about what the challenges are. But I'm optimistic. I'm optimistic that we can meet those challenges. I can't do it alone. The government can't do it alone and you don't have to do it alone. So thank you. Thank you for everything you do every day. And your conference theme of Grow, Change, Thrive could not be more apt. Have a great day.