Early Childhood Australia National Conference
Thank you, Sam, and thank you Aunty Serena for your Welcome to Country.
I acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we meet today, the Ngunnawal people, and pay my respects to their elders past, present and emerging.
But we have got to do more than acknowledge country.
We have got to acknowledge some hard truths.
Last year 55 per cent of four and five year olds were assessed as developmentally ready to start school.
But only 34 percent of Indigenous children met that mark.
And that percentage is going backwards.
In 2018 it was 35 percent.
The gap isn’t closing, it’s getting bigger. If that’s not a wakeup call, I don’t know what is.
You know this story better than I do. If you start behind at school it’s hard to catch up. A lot don’t.
Instead the gap gets bigger and bigger with every year at school.
Fast forward now to when these children are in their twenties and thirties.
Around 40 percent of young Australians in their twenties and thirties have a university degree.
Only around 7 percent of Indigenous Australians do.
If we want to close that gap we have got to start here.
I don’t want us to be a country where your chances in life depend on who your parents are, where you live or the colour of your skin. But we are now.
That’s why one of my first acts as Minister for Education has been to extend the Child Care Subsidy for all Indigenous families.
The Bill I introduced to Parliament last week provides a base level of 36 subsidised hours a fortnight of early education for all Indigenous children, whether their parents meet the activity test or not.
It’s not everything we need to do, but it’s a start.
And it gives you an idea about me. Who I am and what drives me.
Somewhere here in the audience is a very special person in my life. My big cousin Karen.
Karen has worked in early childhood education for thirty years this year.
She has forgotten more about the work you do than I will ever know.
And I hope I don’t embarrass her, but she gave me three tips when I got this job:
- Don’t say kids. Kids are goats;
- It’s not child care, it’s early childhood education;
- And the first five years are everything.
What they see, hear, what they eat. Every smile, every laugh, every friend, every book, every lesson, shapes the person you become.
That makes what you do about as important as any job in this country.
And all the evidence shows that.
Particularly the impact that early childhood education has for children from disadvantaged backgrounds.
It’s not just about firing synapses and fine motor skills though.
My five year old taught me that.
I am going to show you a short video clip from a year and a half ago.
My wife has given me permission to show you this.
It’s the moment we told our eldest son he was going to become a big brother.
The only thing you need to know is “Wrecking Ball” is the name he gave for the little brother he always wanted and never thought he would get.
Check it out.
Guess who Kelly is. You got it.
And in that moment I got it.
It taught me everything you already know.
How deep and special that bond is between teachers and educators and the children in your care.
But even that is not the end of it.
It’s not just about children.
Two generations benefit from what you do.
And that’s shaped the policy we took to the election and the Bill I introduced to parliament last week.
More than one million Australian families will benefit from the changes we are making.
It will cut the cost of early childhood education for around 96 percent of families.
And it will make it easier for primary carers to work more paid hours and days if they want to - and they are almost always women.
The fact is women today are twice as likely as men to work part time because of caring responsibilities.
60 percent of women with children under six work part time.
For many it’s because working more hours or more days doesn’t make financial sense.
Not when almost everything you earn for working a fourth or fifth day is gobbled up in the cost of early childhood education.
And that costs us as a country.
At the Jobs and Skills Summit a few weeks ago Danielle Wood, the CEO of the Grattan Institute, made this powerful statement:
“I can’t help but reflect that if untapped women’s workforce participation was a massive ore deposit, we would have governments lining up to give tax concessions to get it out of the ground”.
What we are doing isn’t tax concessions. It’s not welfare either. It’s economic reform.
It means more Australian women will have more choice. It means they can earn more. Can build careers. Can retire with more.
It also means more skilled workers back in the workforce.
Treasury estimates it will increase the paid hours worked by women with young children by up to 1.4 million hours per week next financial year.
That is the equivalent of up to an extra 37,000 full-time workers back in the workforce.
That makes this good for children, good for families, and good for our economy.
I am also conscious that none of this happens without you.
And we have got a real shortage of educators and teachers at the moment. Something like six and a half thousand and predicted to get bigger.
The Morrison government predicted we would need more than 20,000 more educators and teachers by the middle of this decade.
We are implementing the workforce plan they drafted, but it’s not going to be enough.
That’s why in the budget in a few weeks you will see funding for more university places and more fee-free TAFE places.
20,000 supported university places over the next two years, and 465,000 fee-free TAFE places over the next four years, targeted at courses where there are skills shortages. 180,000 of those fee-free TAFE positions will be in place next year.
And many of those university and TAFE places will be for early childhood educators and teachers.
Migration has to be part of the mix as well. Having the borders shut for two years has created skills shortages everywhere.
And that’s why we have increased the number of permanent migration visas available this financial year from 160,000 to 195,000.
We are also looking at migration reform more broadly, with a comprehensive review due to report at the end of February next year.
We also have to act on wages.
One of the first things we did when we won the election is make a submission to the Fair Work Commission to lift the minimum wage.
That happened on 1 July and it has lifted the wages of around 2.7 million Australians.
That includes up to 113,000 early childhood educators on the Children’s Service Award which went up by 4.6 percent.
But that is just the start.
We are also going to make gender pay equity an objective of the Fair Work Act, and embed a statutory equal remuneration principle which will help guide the Fair Work Commission on equal remuneration and work value cases.
That’s important for a sector where over 90 percent of the workforce is female.
At the Jobs and Skills Summit my colleague Tony Burke said that we will legislate to remove unnecessary limitations on access to multi-employer agreements.
That’s also important.
If you want to see how important, look at what’s happened in Victoria.
70 early childhood centres combined in pay negotiations and guess what? The educators and teachers that work there are paid at least 16 per cent above the award. Not only that, but the agreement is tailored to their style of business and delivers what employers want too. That’s a win for both. It shows it works.
But those centres still have to go through the rigmarole of registering that agreement 70 different times – this is the kind of thing multi-employer bargaining reform will make easier.
That’s a quick snapshot of some of the things we are doing. On Saturday my friend Anne Aly will talk about a few more.
We have a big agenda – which is why we have a dedicated Minister for Early Childhood Education. This includes an Early Years Strategy for children 0-5 and a Productivity Commission Review that will kick off next year with the aim of implementing a universal 90 percent subsidy for all families.
I hope you get a sense from what we are doing and what I have said today that we get how important the work you do is.
But not only that – how keen I am to work with you on all the big challenges we face.
Thank you for the invitation to talk to you today.
Thank you Sam and the team at Early Childhood Australia for everything you do.
And a big thank you to Chris [Christine Legg] who I think is stepping down as National President at the end of the year.
Chris has worked in education now for more than 40 years. And done everything from long day care and pre-school to senior management and leadership roles.
Just think for a second about the lives she has shaped and changed in that time.
It’s an extraordinary legacy isn’t it. To know that what you do changes so many lives.
I hope, working with you, that I can do that too.
Have a fantastic conference.
Thanks very much.