Interview - Greg Jennett, ABC Afternoon Briefing
SUBJECTS: Early Years Summit; universal childcare and early education.
GREG JENNETT: Now, this time next week, a summit on the wellbeing of Australian kids will be held right here in Parliament House. It's one part of the big project underway in early childhood, to discuss that Anne Aly is the Minister for Early Childhood Education. She joined us here a moment ago. Well, Anne Aly, you've already been out at a childcare centre here for what I think the government regards as a fairly significant announcement today. This is to start to take the initial steps towards the goal of universal early childhood education. How will the process play out from here?
ANNE ALY: Thanks, Greg. Look, it is a really important announcement that we made today about the Productivity Commission review into early childhood education and care, and the appointment of a very well respected academic in this field, the Professor Deborah Brennan, who brings to the position a lot of, a wealth of just experience and knowledge about early childhood education and care. But in terms of those reforms and that movement towards universal access for early childhood education, that process had already begun when we introduced the Cheaper Child Care Bill last year, making it much more affordable for 1.2 million families right across Australia to access early childhood education and care. This next step, the Productivity Commission, is a very comprehensive review of the early childhood education and care sector, looking at how we can get to that, how it works, what we need to do, how we can better guarantee quality and safety for children working towards that goal of universal access.
JENNETT: Their expertise at the Productivity Commission, leaving Deb Brennan aside, is in economics, obviously. Does that mean within their terms of reference, they'll be trying to get a handle on cost issues here as well?
ALY: Certainly, the terms of reference are incredibly broad and intentionally broad because there is so much to look at in this space. Certainly, one of the aspects and one of the parts of the terms of reference is looking at the cost structure in early childhood education and care. But we also have the ACCC inquiry that will launch soon enough, which is about pricing mechanisms in early childhood education.
JENNETT: Now, there's quite a patchwork of goals around the country between different states and territory jurisdictions. Now, this national approach by the Federal Government, is it the case that in some places, like New South Wales and Victoria, they could actually be at universal early childhood education before you deliver, before a Commonwealth goal comes in place I was going to say, before you deliver this body of work, but in some cases they're five or six, seven year plans.
ALY: Yeah, I think look, the Commonwealth has responsibility overall for things like the childcare subsidy, for example. And I know that in some states, like New South Wales and Victoria, they're looking at universal care or universal education for three-year-olds and four-year-olds, but there's also zero to three-year-olds, which is done through predominantly long day care centres right around Australia. The sector itself, when we think about early childhood education and care, we're looking, we're talking here about long day care, we're talking here about schools and the delivery of preschool, kinder, pre-primary, whatever it's called in different states, through schools, but also through long day care centres. We talk about family day care, we talk about in home care, we talk about out of school hours care. So, it's an incredibly diverse sector, and the good thing about this Productivity Commission review is that it will look at the sector in its entirety and of course, take into consideration those things that are happening at the state level.
JENNETT: But in your own mind, where does universality start as a policy goal? Is it, as you say, at those very early six months old, or is it three years old?
ALY: Well, we know that those first five years are critical, zero to five, critical in a child's development. And early childhood education care is about zero to five before a child goes to school. Now, for myself, for example, because I was a single working mother, my children went to early childhood education from six months old. And I'm sure that there are many parents out there listening who are sending their children to early childhood education and care and relying on those services from a very, very young age. So that care that parents need for their children and the education that parents need for their children from zero to five is what we're looking at.
JENNETT: Okay, so all of that will be factored in. So, it's not only the expert view that is brought by the Productivity Commission and Professor Brennan, I think there is public involvement in this too, including yet another summit on this subject that's coming up next week. How does that feed into this process?
ALY: So, the summit next week is another very exciting Albanese Government initiative, and that's the Early Years Summit, which I'm super excited about, Greg, because this is really about a more broader perspective on the zero to five years old. So, it encompasses health, it encompasses family capacity and parenting, as well as early childhood education and care. Early childhood education and care is part of that, but it's not the only part of that. The summit kicks off, or the strategy that we're developing kicks off with the summit next Friday, that's 130 experts, including parents, coming to that, selected people. And then we'll have a series of roundtables, consultations, there's an open survey and there's a discussion paper that people are encouraged to write a submission to, and that process will go right up till June.
JENNETT: Okay, but that, as you say, goes beyond the sector of education.
ALY: Exactly, beyond that. And it's really around we know that health outcomes and education outcomes go hand in hand, okay. If your child is experiencing hearing loss, for example, that's going to impact on their education outcomes, their ability to learn, grow and develop that's going to have developmental outcomes for them as well. So, how do we bring all of those together to wrap around the child and ensure that every child, no matter who they are, no matter what their background is, no matter where they live, no matter who their parents are, have the absolute best possible start in life.
JENNETT: It sounds like a project that will occupy your time, well at least for this term of Parliament, if not beyond. Anne Aly we'll keep across developments with you. But thanks for joining us today.
ALY: Thank you so much Greg.