Build coalitions of support

The following is a short extract from a speech by NSW Shadow Minister for Early Childhood Education Jodie Harrison made at the IEU’s Early Childhood Conference on 29 August.

Early childhood education and care has begun to receive the political recognition it has long deserved. During the 2013 Federal election childcare and paid parental leave were topics of fierce debate and both major political parties went to the election with commitments on childcare.

The recent State election in March also saw policies about early childhood education announced, with Labor focusing on the future and committing that all future schools will have either an early childhood centre or OOSH centre located on site, eliminating the dual drop off for parents.

It was disappointing that the Liberal’s main early childhood announcement was about extra money for Outside of School Hours centres, however the recent funding to increase preschool education in long day care is welcome.

The recently announced changes to childcare subsidies are a real cause for concern. The workplace activity test has created a complex, multi-level criteria for determining a family’s level of subsidy and will cause confusion for many families, leaving too many families worse off.

“The pay of early childhood teachers is also a feminist issue.”

There is also the issue of how people working in the sector are viewed, recognised and rewarded.

I have no doubt that the historical situation for female dominated industries is well known to people in this room. The recent win of the equal pay case for community sector workers demonstrated that gender has long played a role in industrial agreements and that this is not just a historical situation. While there are many dedicated men working in early childhood education and care, pay of early childhood teachers is also a feminist issue.

It is also no surprise that the union movement was instrumental to the success of the community services workers case. The union movement and the values of collective action have always had a role in promoting workplace and social equality for women.

Before entering Parliament, I spent a number of years working as an union organiser, including as an organiser on United Voice’s Big Steps in early childhood education campaign.

During this time I visited many long day care centres in Sydney, the Central Coast and the Hunter, speaking with hundreds of early childhood teachers and educators. I heard of the passion people in the industry have for ensuring the healthy development of our young peoples’ minds and bodies.

But one of the fundamental tasks that the Big Steps campaign reinforced to me is the need to build coalitions of support. If early childhood education is to maintain its place within the national and state agenda it cannot just be the voices of teachers and educators being heard. While we will need all teachers and educators supporting increased investment in the sector we will also need parents, we will need centre operators, we will need industry bodies, we will need employer groups and we will need politicians.

I understand some of you have met with Leslie Williams [NSW Early Childhood Minister] and weren’t happy with the answers given – I’m more than happy to ask questions of the Minister on your behalf.

My message to you is this: reforms don’t happen because they’re the right thing to do, they happen because people fight for them. Work within your union, your workplace and your community to make sure that governments can’t ignore early childhood education.

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