Early education:

Where to now?

What will the complete dog’s breakfast of an election outcome mean for early education and care services and children’s access to early education?

If you had told me that I would spend the day after the election Googling ‘One Nation early education and care policies’ I would not have believed you. You may be as relieved as me to discover that they don’t have any!

What will the complete dog’s breakfast of an election outcome mean for early education and care services and children’s access to early education? I may regret these words later, but I think it may not be all bad.

As this article goes to print it is not clear which party will be able to form a government.

So let’s look at each possible scenario in turn.

Coalition wins

If the Coalition has enough lower house seats to govern in their own right, they will still have to contend with a complex Senate. Given they could not get their controversial ‘Jobs for Families’ package through the previous Senate, they would have to negotiate hard. They may ditch the controversial Activity Test which would see many children excluded from early education as well as their insistence that the extra $3 billion they have promised for subsidies was reliant on the Senate approving cuts to family tax payments.

Coalition forms a minority government

If the Coalition has to form a minority government, it would probably be with either Bob Katter or the Nick Xenophon Team. Unlike Pauline Hanson’s party, the Xenophon team do have an early childhood policy which strongly promotes early education and says that funding should favour community based services. Unless nefarious deals are done, they would be unlikely to agree to the Activity Test. They may also be able to be persuaded to veto the move of budget based Aboriginal funded services to the mainstream subsidy system. What happens once the legislation goes to the Senate with a Coalition government remains to be seen. However on current numbers it looks like if The Greens and Labor continue to vote against the Jobs for Families package they would only need to get the Xenophon team on side to scuttle it totally, whereas the Government would need to pull in as many as 10 independent senators (such as Pauline Hanson, Jackie Lambie) to get it through. It is hard to see that being successful unless they negotiated really, really well.

Labor wins

If Labor gets to form a government, they have promised a few key improvements over what the Coalition proposed. They have promised to ensure each child gets access to 24 hours of funded early education a week, increase budget based funding for Aboriginal services and provide them with a $25 million capital fund as well as well as creating more education and care places in areas of high demand including via mobile services.

In great news for early childhood teachers they have promised a new early years workforce strategy and a new professional development program to replace the one the Coalition defunded as of 1 July.

Labor has also promised to make submissions to the Fair Work Commission equal wage case for educators and early childhood teachers. Interestingly, one new ALP member, the new member for Longman, Susan Lamb, was a United Voice organiser for early childhood educators. Although Labor’s policy going into the election was to retain the two separate Child Care Benefit and Child Care Rebate subsidies, the Department of Education may yet persuade them a combined subsidy system is the way to go.

The Greens were the only party who committed to extend the Universal Access to Early Education funding to the states. The ALP announced they would review the program to increase accountability and improve outcomes for children.

It is clear then that the best possible scenario for early education is if Labor either wins outright or forms a minority government. If this doesn’t happen, then the fact that the Coalition would need to enter huge negotiations in the Senate and possibly in both houses to get legislation passed means that the parts of their proposed legislation that would have impacted the most negatively on early education access will need to be moderated.

So the way I read it is that the election outcome, although giving us a full gamut of ‘interesting’ individuals in positions of power, may well be not that bad for the early education and care sector as it could have been.

Of course, this may not be the outcome if Pauline Hanson happens to be holding a very long lived a grudge against her preschool teacher – and let’s face it – something strange had to have happened in her childhood!

Lisa Bryant
Early Childhood Consultant