15 August 2018

I rise again to speak on this very important issue: the government's abject failure to invest in the early years of our kids. Last week was Early Learning Matters Week, and I was horrified that the Turnbull government chose that week to confirm that it is refusing to commit to funding for the national kindergarten program. It's clear they intend to walk away from the 350,000 kinder kids across Australia, including, I might add, 2,500 in my electorate of Batman, who rely on this program. In fact, they are going to cut $444 million from the sector a year after the next election is due.

There is a mountain of research, data and literature which shows the positive educational, social, health and emotional benefits of a quality universal preschool program. Preschools are one of the public policy success stories of the last decade. Since the first agreement was signed by Labor in 2008, preschool enrolment has increased, as we heard from previous speakers, from 77 per cent to over 93 per cent. Of all the cuts the Liberals have made in the last five years, this is surely one of the most cynical and the worst. This is on top of the damaging childcare subsidy changes, which will affect those who can least afford it.

In my electorate we have so many wonderfully diverse early learning centres, from Thornbury Kinder to the Keon Park Children's Hub, the Annie Dennis Children's Centre to the Yappera Children's Service, who provide early education to our First Nations community. These centres are all incredibly unique but unified in two things: (1) the educators are passionate about the value of early learning, as they work in this sector not for the measly amount of money they earn but rather because of their passion for educating our young kids and caring for their entire families, and (2) they are incredibly concerned about the government's unwillingness to commit to kinder funding and the stress that the childcare subsidy changes is causing to families. Just this morning at an AEU information session we heard from three wonderful early childhood educators—all women, I might add, as the industry is a female dominated one, which brings a whole gendered aspect to this debate. The stories and experiences of these women were remarkable, from stark anecdotal evidence of the benefits they see and deliver every single day to their charges, to the rock-solid research that underpins the vital nature of early learning.

Thornbury Kindergarten in my electorate, led by Danielle Logan, prepared a petition to the government, which was signed by educators and parents, calling on the government to provide certainty for kindergarten funding. They get right to the heart of the matter, and I'd like to read a section from the petition to you:

As you are aware, since 2013, the federal government has offered only temporary funding for their contribution towards funding 4 year old kindergarten. This is unacceptable.

For the last five years, teachers, educators, families, employer groups and the Australian Education Union have needed to campaign to retain 15 hours of kindergarten for 4 year old children.

For the last five, years teachers and educators have had no job security. For the last five years, families have had no security for their child's kindergarten education. We need to fix this.

We on this side of the House get it. I especially do. As I told the House yesterday, I have twin girls, who are now 30, but they actually failed kindergarten. It was their early childhood educator who identified that they simply weren't ready to go to school and would benefit greatly from another year. I am eternally grateful to that early childhood educator for alerting me to this, and my girls, who get teased mercilessly about failing kindergarten, went on to do very well at school and have become teachers themselves.

My kids went to kinder in our local area—Clyde Street Kindergarten, actually. It gave them social and education skills to get them school ready. All kids deserve this opportunity, especially disadvantaged kids, as early education means their future holds more opportunities and choices, like finishing school, getting a decent job, and fulfilling their hopes and dreams. Today, along with the parents in my community, early educators, unions, grandparents and many kids themselves, I call on the government to fix the mess they have created. What could be more important than equalising opportunity right from the start by providing early education to all our kids?