Minister, show us the money

John Quessy

In a recent media release NSW Minister for Early Childhood Education, Leslie Williams bragged “High quality early childhood learning assured with 7,000 teachers accredited”. She went on to say that “accreditation by the BOSTES recognises the professionalism of NSW early childhood teachers and the vital role they play in developing young minds” and that “when we invest in early childhood education, we invest in the future”.

Such hubris however fails to acknowledge that these early childhood teachers are paid up to $30,000 per annum less than their professional equals teaching in schools largely because the NSW Government starves the early childhood sector of adequate funding. So, equal professional status, high quality teachers and vital work but seriously inadequate investment.

NSW has the lowest per child outlay of any of the states, $202 per child, compared to $357 in Victoria, $598 in Tasmania and $644 in South Australia. Consequently, childcare and preschool fees in this state are the highest in the country.

While claiming that investment in early education is an investment in the future, the NSW Government simply does not put its money where its mouth is. The Auditor General’s report shows that the government underspent its own early childhood budget by $350 million between 2011 and 2015. Rather than invest they hoard.

Properly targeted, this money could provide both for increased teacher salaries and reduced fees for parents. More affordable preschools would increase the participation rate of children in the year before school towards the national goal of 95%, well above the current level of 77%. The greater the investment, the greater the return.

Early childhood teachers are heartily sick of hearing government excuses. The state government blames the federal government for funding delays and uncertainty and when questioned about low salaries for early childhood teachers provide the Pontius Pilate response, “Wages and salaries are matters for the Fair Work Commission, governments don’t set salaries”.

This is blatantly untrue. Where an entity controls a significant proportion of the income of another entity it clearly exercises a high degree of control on the limits of expenditure. For decades, the government has starved preschools of funds limiting their capacity to pay fair salary increases and the gap between pay rates for school teachers and preschool teachers has continued to widen.

By curtailing the income of centres the government manipulates their capacity to spend. It is a nonsense for the minister to pretend otherwise. There is very little difference between the actions of the government and that of companies like Coles or Woolworths, which contract with trolley collection companies at rates so low workers are underpaid.

John Quessy IEU Secretary