Speech: Universal Early Childhood Education and Care
That the Senate take note of the answers given by the Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment (Minister Birmingham) to questions without notice asked today.
Today is early childhood educators' day but I don't think it's that happy a day for the educators. The United Workers Union representing early childhood educators came to parliament today to meet with the education minister and deliver a petition signed by more than 30,000 people. The petition calls for the federal government to provide a wage guarantee to workers in early childhood education and care through COVID-19. The union says that the employment guarantee provided by the government doesn't prevent part-time staff and casuals from facing drastic cuts in hours. The vast majority of the sector is part time or casual. There is no safety net. The government must commit to a wage guarantee for our critical early childhood educators and carers.
Just this week, the Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Kate Jenkins, identified an overhaul of early learning as a key priority for supporting Australian women and for gender equality. Recent research from the ANU Menzies Centre for Health Governance and the Grattan Institute has also revealed the huge social and economic benefits of public investment to slash the cost of early learning, particularly for women. But, after a brief reprieve with free childcare, most families are now back to paying expensive fees in the middle of a pandemic and a recession, when people are doing it incredibly tough.
The government is dragging its heels and refusing to commit to making our childcare system universally accessible. What we need is free early learning for every child and every family. What we need is proper funding so that educators can be fairly compensated for the essential work that they do. I urge this government to make sure that early childhood education is universally accessible to every single family and that it is fee-free.