Shadow Ministers show support for early childhood sector

The NSW Shadow Minister for Early Childhood Learning, Jodie Harrison, and the NSW Shadow Minister for Rural and Regional Jobs, Yasmin Catley, paid a visit to North Ryde Community Preschool on 30 June to hear firsthand from teachers and parents what the revocation of state and federal support in September will mean for them.

“Listening to staff, teachers, educators and parents at North Ryde Community preschool reinforced just how important continued support to preschools is,” Harrison (pictured centre, with Catley left) said.

“I certainly hope, on behalf of all the preschoolers and their families, that the Berejiklian Government adopts Labor’s sensible policy of free preschool at least until the end of 2020.”

A segment of the early childhood education and care sector has been the first to lose federal government pandemic support. A $1.6 billion package enabling free childcare for parents throughout Australia, beginning on 6 April, ended on 12 July for long daycare centres (preschools retain support until late September). Access to JobKeeper for teachers in this segment was revoked on 20 July – they were the first in the nation to lose payments.

The NSW Government, which in April committed $51 million so the community preschools it funds could also waive fees, along with $82 million to support council-run early childhood education and care centres (where teachers were not eligible for JobKeeper) will cut this support in September – just as the JobKeeper scheme is set to wind down nationwide.

“The NSW Government is marching the state towards an economic cliff in September,” Harrison said. “It must extend free preschool, at least until the end of the calendar year. When early childhood education and care becomes unaffordable, the people who suffer most are women.”

This is because women are more likely to interrupt their careers to be the primary carer, and because the vast majority of teachers in the sector are women. In NSW alone, 94 per cent of early childhood teachers are women.

Unemployment data from May shows women in NSW are disproportionately feeling the economic impact of COVID-19:

  • 155,000 women have lost jobs, compared to 114,000 men
  • 117,000 women exited the labour force, compared to 99,000 men
  • female unemployment is 6.6 per cent, compared to 6.2 per cent for men.

Both the NSW and Federal Governments appear more focused on male employment. NSW is spruiking big construction projects while the Federal Government is pushing its HomeBuilder grant.

In the face of this, NSW Labor has launched a campaign to help women back to work, and their immediate focus is early childhood education and care. “Continued access to free childcare and early education in NSW is by far the government’s biggest lever to lift workforce participation,” NSW Shadow Minister for Women Trish Doyle said.

“The potential benefits are enormous. It’s an opportunity to support children’s learning and development while giving parents the flexibility to work. We know that for every $1 spent on early childhood education, $2 flows to the economy.”

Harrison agrees. “Helping women who want to re-enter the workforce is about breaking down the barriers to employment,'' she said. “The single most effective way to do this is through supporting the early childhood education and care sector.”

Monica Crouch