Early Years Strategy Summit
Thank you, Jan. Good morning, everyone. Thank you so much for being here to participate in today’s National Early Years Summit and for your generosity in sharing your knowledge, skills and your experience with us here today. While Amanda was talking about how many children are born every minute, Minister Clare and I – well, Minister Clare mostly did the calculations because he’s good at maths, and we figured out that while we’re meeting here today hundreds of children will be born and what we do here today will help shape their future.
To begin, my sincere appreciation to Paul House for his Welcome to Country. I would like to acknowledge the traditional owners and custodians of the land on which we meet today. I would like to pay my respects to their Elders past and present and acknowledge their ongoing cultural and educational practices. I look forward to Voice, Treaty and Truth. I wish to acknowledge all First Nations people here today.
Joining us here today we also have Professor Deborah Brennan, who will be appointed an Associate Commissioner of the Productivity Commission and Professor Brennan will be co-lead of the Productivity Commission inquiry into Australia’s early childhood education and care system. The Productivity Commission review, and today’s summit, will both help form the work the Albanese Government is doing to identify solutions that will chart the course for universal and affordable early childhood education and care in the great tradition of universal Medicare and universal superannuation. I’m very excited about that. Because we know, a great early childhood education and care system pays a triple dividend. It sets the children up for a greater start in life. It helps working families to get ahead and it builds our economic prosperity by supporting workforce participation, particularly for women.
I’d also like to take the opportunity this morning to acknowledge Brenton Philp, the outgoing Deputy Secretary of the Early Childhood and Youth Group in the Department of Education. Brenton has played a pivotal role in delivering our more affordable early childhood education and care package and associated legislation. Thank you, Brenton, for all your work and all your support and I wish you the best of luck for your next endeavour. I take this opportunity to congratulate Kylie Crane on her appointment as the new Deputy Secretary of the Early Childhood and Youth Group at the Department of Education and I look forward to working with her.
And lastly, to my colleague and partner in this Early Years Strategy, Minister Amanda Rishworth, thank you. You have been a tremendous advocate for the early years. It is just so wonderful to have such a passionate partner in delivering this incredibly important work, a passion that is shared by our colleagues right across the Albanese Government, including the Prime Minister himself, as you saw in the video this morning; the Treasurer; the Minister for Health; along with colleagues who will be joining us throughout today. The Minister for Education, Jason Clare; Minister for Indigenous Australians, Minister Linda Burney; Minister for the National Disability Insurance Scheme and Minister for Government Services, Bill Shorten; and the Assistant Minister for Education and Assistant Minister for Regional Development, Anthony Chisholm. It is indeed a privilege to work with such a passionate group on such an important project for our future.
Let me just say I am super excited to be in this room today with around 100 people who have come together to create a brighter future for all Australian children. You bring an extraordinary breadth and depth of skills and experience to our discussion today and I am indeed humbled to be in your presence. As a former academic and professor, I have attended many summits – perhaps too many – around the world. And let me just say to you all, you are here in the presence of Ministers with the political will to make a change and we are eternally grateful for your expertise and for your sharing of experience today. Your great work across all aspects of the early childhood system, from research and advocacy to service delivery, makes you vital to the discussion and development of a holistic Early Years Strategy. Your expertise about what works in early childhood and, importantly, what’s not working, are invaluable to the work we are doing to deliver the best possible outcomes for our Australian children.
Now, everyone here knows just how critical the first five years of the child’s life are, where 90 per cent of brain development occurs. We know that what happens in those first five years shapes the rest of the child’s life, from education, health and wellbeing outcomes, even to how much they earn as an adult later in life. And as we meet today and as we continue working to shape this important Early Years Strategy, it is imperative that we are cognitive of this one fact; that is, we have in our control the power to change the trajectory of a child’s life – if we get those first five years right.
This is a power to help a child break free from the restrictive chains of disadvantage and poverty. Delivering in those first five years is one of the most powerful tools we have at our disposal to Closing the Gap for First Nations children because no child born into any form of disadvantage should have to carry that disadvantage through their life. That’s the important work that we are charged with here today. It is a phenomenal, phenomenal piece of work – a holistic Early Years Strategy with children and families at its centre has the power to deliver a better future for our children.
Investing in these early years, as Minister Rishworth mentioned, can help nurture children’s development, and ensure they grow up healthy, happy and resilient. I know this as a Minister. And I know this because I have had many conversations with many of you here in the room today. But importantly, I also know this as a mum and as the mother of two boys, one of whom would have had a very different life if it wasn’t for an early intervention when he was just two years old.
My son Adam was developmentally delayed. As a first-time mum in her early twenties, it was something that I didn’t pick up. But it was something that his early childhood educators did pick up and luckily, they picked it up in time to ensure my son did not have permanent hearing damage. At the age of 2, he underwent surgery to fix his hearing loss and ever since then he has not shut up! But he also went on to be dux of his school, to go to university, to study law and finance, and now he’s in his 30s – 34 this year, as a matter of fact, which makes me feel incredibly old – and he’s doing well I’m happy to say, possibly despite his mum. But I will forever be grateful for the highly skilled early childhood educator who had expert skills to identify that my son was not socially developing in line with his peers.
The intervention at two for my boy Adam meant that he was not only school-ready with no developmental delays, but that he continued to thrive well into his adulthood. However, with the current fragmentation across the early childhood programs and supports, we run the risk of children falling through the gaps and not receiving these kinds of early interventions that can make such a difference in their lives. This fragmentation makes it difficult and often confusing for families trying to access the support they need. And by this, I mean the Commonwealth early childhood education programs and funding are split across different portfolios and departments and this can often make it hard to access services on the ground where they are needed most. The early childhood education and care policy, for example, including the childcare subsidy, and programs such as inclusion support and in‑home care are led through the Department of Education while the Department of Social Services leads other family support services in the early years, such as kindy and playgroups. If we don’t work collaboratively, families are at risk of falling through the cracks. A more coordinated connective approach across the Commonwealth will strengthen overall responsibility and accountability for early childhood outcomes for children and especially those who need additional support and additional focus. Integrated holistic approaches to the early years, harnessed connections, they focus on the whole child to achieve better outcomes than single interventions alone.
While Commonwealth early childhood programs and funding also integrate with State, Territory and Local Government services, the Strategy is an important opportunity to take a close look at the Commonwealth’s footprint in the early years and to make sure that we’re getting things right. As an example, take the very successful $81 million Connected Beginnings Program. It aims to close the gap between First Nations and non-Indigenous children by ensuring that health, education, and family support services are all working together to help children and families thrive. The program works with local communities throughout Australia to help First Nations children aged zero to five become school‑ready. Connected Beginnings currently supports around 11,600 First Nations children across 34 communities, mostly in regional, remote, and very remote locations. In fact, I was recently in Geraldton in WA, my home state, to launch a Connected Beginnings site in their community, one of the newer sites as we expand the program to 50 sites across the nation by 2025.
The development of the Early Years Strategy provides us an opportunity to think creatively about how we use the available resources and bring new ideas to the table. I want this Strategy to champion innovative approaches, to harness new opportunities for partnerships and to build on successful models. Most importantly, I want it to be driven by what the Australian community wants and needs, including our regional and remote communities. I seek and welcome your views about how we can do things better and where we should be focusing our efforts and investments. And I encourage you to make the most of today – I know you will – to bring new perspectives, to think creatively, and bring your diverse views to the fore. Most of all, I charge you to be bold in your ideas for the future because while many Australian children are thriving, unfortunately, too many are still experiencing disadvantage. This will never be acceptable, which is why the Albanese Government is taking action.
We’re investing in the early years and we’re strengthening the early childhood system through practical reform. We’re delivering on our commitment to increase childcare subsidies from the 1st of July. We’ve launched a comprehensive Productivity Commission inquiry into Australia’s early childhood education and care system and directed the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission to examine early childhood education and care prices. We continue our focus on developing, recognising and supporting the early childhood education workforce and acknowledge the incredibly important and valuable role educators play in the lives of our children and their families and the economy.
We’re also working to improve outcomes for First Nations children and their families. The Early Childhood Care and Development Policy Partnership under the National Agreement on Closing the Gap has been established, with work already underway to support our First Nations children. This formalises our commitment to working in genuine partnership with First Nations people to drive community-led early childhood outcomes in a holistic way and through changes to the Child Care Subsidy activity test, we’re boosting the number of subsidised hours of early childhood education and care to families with First Nations children to a minimum of 36 hours each week.
But there is more to do.
My aspiration is that all Australian children should have the opportunity to thrive, regardless of where they’re born or their cultural background because no child born into disadvantage should have to carry that disadvantage forever. Working together in developing the Early Years Strategy provides the perfect opportunity to reflect on how we as a nation can and clearly do things better to support Australian children. This includes our First Nations children, children from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, children with disability, those experiencing vulnerability and disadvantage. That’s our challenge.
So, I look forward to hearing from you throughout the day as we begin this national conversation together. I cannot overstate the importance of this conversation as we begin our engagement on the Strategy. Each of you, individually and collectively, has a vital role to play and your combined knowledge is important. I appreciate the time you’ve taken. I appreciate your generosity in coming here today as you are critical to ensuring the success of the Strategy.
So, let’s get started. Let’s be bold. Let’s be creative. Let’s be innovative and let’s get this going.
Thank you so much.