Bill's Speeches

A GENERATIONAL CHANGE IN EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION - MELBOURNE - THURSDAY, 4 OCTOBER 2018

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Good morning everyone 

I acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we meet, I pay my respects to elders past and present. 

I'd like to acknowledge our Shadow Minister for Early Childhood Education, Amanda Rishworth and another great member of our Shadow Ministry, Clare O'Neil, who now has Monash Uni as a big part of her electorate, and also our outstanding candidate for Chisholm, Jennifer Yang. 

I want to thank Monash for hosting us today, it brings back a lot of memories.

My mum taught here for 33 years, in the education faculty. She was a teacher of teachers.

In fact my twin brother and I attended here in the early 70s, a very radical period for Monash, but we were at kindergarten while mum was working.  

As John generously said, it is thanks to my mother, thanks to her passion for education, her relentless determination to make sure I worked hard as I could, that I was lucky enough to complete two university degrees here at Monash as well. 

So I think it is a good thing that I’m here today, at a place so central to my life, my family, my education, to talk about policy, to talk about vision and, dare I say it, to talk about courage.

Because now, more than ever, Australia needs a government with the courage to do what is right.

A government with enough faith in the Australian people to make the big and long term decisions, even if these decisions are difficult.

Australia needs a government confident enough that it can spell out the need for decisions and priorities and actually let the politics take care of itself.

This is the sort of government I hope to lead, from some point in the new year.

A government full of ideas, a government which actually has a sense of where this country is going in the future.

Where we will be in ten years' time, a government with a vision for what our country can look like in 2030, 2040. A government with a plan for the next decade, the next couple of decades - not just the next couple of opinion polls.

A vision for Australia excelling in the world, excelling by getting education right. Education and learning from the early years, right through to our schools, our TAFEs and our universities. An Australia which keeps pace and stays ahead in our region, our rapidly changing region. A nation that can create good and secure and well-paid jobs with a highly educated and empowered workforce.

I think frankly, anything less than that aspiration to be the best we can in the education of our people, is an aspiration which sells Australia short, which writes Australia small.

If I am elected as Prime Minister, I will never settle for second best when it comes to education and learning in this country. I'll never settle for second best for our people because why should the people of Australia ever have to settle for second best for themselves and for future generations.

I don't know about all of you, but one of the worst afflictions I see with our modern political discourse is that politicians have become perhaps too inclined to under-shoot, to underestimate the capacities of Australian people, to choose the small target, to choose the low road, the tyranny of low expectations.

Wherever I travel in Australia, I actually think Australians are hungry for the political discourse in this nation to be better. I think Australians want our politicians to aim as high for the country as Australians do in their own lives.  

I am ambitious for what Australia can be in a generation's time – and that ambition begins with education.

We are a smart nation, we are, by relative standards, a very rich nation. But we will not remain smart, we will not remain prosperous if we fail to invest in the early years of education.

This starts with acknowledging a simple, vital truth: early childhood education is so much more than child-minding and early childhood educators are not babysitters. 

Child care is not just a participation incentive to help women to return to the workforce, it is how we guarantee our kids the best start in life.

Child care needs to be re-imagined as early childhood education: nothing less than the foundation stone of our education system.

Many of us here are parents, or grandparents, or aunts and uncles, we understand that some of the most marvellous times with our children are those very early years.

You watch, almost physically in front of you, our young children changing and growing and gaining understanding every day they are with us in the world.

As every educational expert tells us, those early days, be it the first 1000 days of life, the early years are fundamental to how a child performs at school and later in life.

Ninety per cent of a child’s brain develops by the age of five.

The experts know it - and the smartest countries in the world have already moved on this fact. 

  • The UK has had near universal preschool education for three year olds since 2004, in New Zealand since 2007.
  • It’s the law from Norway to Ireland, it’s been the norm in France for thirty years.
  • In South Korea, 75 per cent of three year olds attend preschool programs.
  • China is aiming for universal access by 2020 - the number of Chinese three year olds in preschool is greater than the entire population of Australia.

But in Australia, only 15 per cent of Australian three year olds are attending preschool, indeed only 57 per cent of three year olds currently attend some form of early education, including long day care services.

So we are already miles behind the nations that I've mentioned and we are well below the OECD average of 78 per cent.

Currently, the landscape is that the programs for three year olds in Australia vary from place to place and many children just don’t attend regularly.

It should come as no surprise, therefore, that  Australia is slipping down the global education rankings. It’s no wonder that we trail our neighbours in maths and science and reading and writing.

That is not because of a lack of innate ability, it’s not the fault of the kids, it's not the fault of their parents, their hard working teachers and educators. It’s because we do not have universal access to preschool programs, it is because Australian children are starting school less prepared than children their same age in other countries.

Today, nearly one in four Australian children, 22 per cent, start without the foundational skills to be successful learners.

They’re behind.  And it's not just in pre-literacy and pre-numeracy but also in those social and emotional skills that children develop in their early years when supported by qualified early educators. And this deficit then flows right through their primary education. 

The 22 per cent of children who start school behind are twice as likely not to meet the minimum NAPLAN standards in years 3, 5 and 7. What a child experiences at three and four will be a predictor of their learning at 12 and 13.

So when we look around the world as we've just done, when you look at a snapshot of some results here at home. It is clear that we are overdue for a fundamental change in our approach, this is exactly what my Labor Government will deliver.

So today I am proud to announce that if I am elected as Prime Minister, if Labor is successful at the next election, we will introduce a National Preschool and Kindy Program which will guarantee permanent funding for preschool programs for all four year olds.

And in one of the biggest changes to Australia’s education system in a generation, Labor will expand our National Preschool Program so that it is available to every three year old in Australia.

So starting in 2021, every Australian child will be able to access two years of world-class early learning before their first day in school.

So if you've just had a baby, or you're expecting one soon, you're fortunate that your daughter or son will be part of a new generation of Australian education.  

Labor’s new, age-appropriate program, delivered by qualified educators, will ensure that our children get the best chance possible to grow into confident, capable and curious young learners who are ready to thrive when they start school.

Parents will be able to choose an early learning setting that suits their needs, with play-based programs offered in existing long day care, preschool and kindergarten settings right across the nation.

By the end of our first term in government, my vision is that we will have 700,000 Australian children enrolled in our new preschool programs, right across the country.

And we will make law to ensure every three and four year old has access to 15 hours of age-appropriate preschool a week, 600 hours in a year, so they can make the best possible transition to school. 

This is our vision: two years of quality, universal preschool, with qualified early educators, for every Australian child and every Australian family, regardless of the wealth of the parents.

And we will invest and prioritise $9.8 billion across the decade to turn this vision into reality.

So what this means, is that by 2036, the generation of Australian children finishing Year 12 will have had access to 15 years of continuous education and learning.

I want our children to be amongst the best-educated in the world. 

We can fully-fund this commitment, into the future, because my united and stable Labor team have had the courage to make the hard choices:

  • We will make negative gearing fairer
  • We will eliminate income-splitting amongst family trusts for adults who are in those families, who are not working in the  business.
  • We will wind back unsustainable government hand-outs on dividend imputation.

Now these changes are not popular with everyone, but as I said earlier, I believe we can persuade people that these are the necessary things to do for the future. 

Forming a government in this nation is about making choices

It is more important to me that every Australian child has access to two years of universal preschool education than a property investor is able to get a tax subsidy for buying their tenth property.  

It is more important to me, and to Labor, that we have the best early childhood education system in the world, instead of being the only country in the world that gives cash refunds on share dividends to investors who didn’t pay income tax in the first place.

We will make these calls, so that we can deliver profound and essential social and economic reforms which set the nation up for future generations. 

Universal three and four year old preschool will transform our early education system - I think in the same way that previous generations made decisions to lift the age which people left school, just as previous generations made the decision to provide universal access to university. 

Just as those decisions changed the opportunities for previous generations forever and for the better, we can do this in our time.

Sometimes, as I travel around Australia people ask me: “Why do you want to be Prime Minister.”

This is one of the reasons why. It is to hand on a better deal to the next generation than the one that we receive from our parents. To leave the place better than we found it.

We are all just passing through. And the ability and the importance of leaving the place better than we found it, I think that is an excellent reason, why we should invest in universal preschool.

These are the sort of reforms which will actually help improve people’s lives and set the basis for improved prosperity in Australia, fairly distributed across the whole nation. 

Under a new Labor Government, the early years of a child’s learning life will not be left to chance, to postcode, or to a parent’s wealth. Instead, every child will have universal access to preschool, to kindy, no matter where they live. 

This will cement our early childhood education as the fourth pillar of our education system, taking its rightful and overdue place alongside schools, TAFE and university.

Our reform means that when a child starts school at five, they'll have solid foundations in social skills and group play. And all those things you just can’t get from a screen: play-based learning, problem-solving, co-operating, making friends, basics of reading and writing and maths, much more easily mastered as they approach school.  

Children who complete two years of preschool program perform better in later school results in literacy and numeracy - it is a fact.

We also know that if children are doing well at school by year three, they are more likely to finish year 12.  

It’s a bit like the miracle of compound interest, compound learning.

What you learn as a three year old has a multiplier effect, on everything you learn after that year.

That’s why an extra year of preschool for every child is one of the fastest and most reliable ways to lift the outcomes for individuals and to lift results across all of our system.

Our plan will help close the gaps of disadvantage, it will help tackle the inequality faced by children who are in low-income households, currently denied educational opportunities that their peers may have.

And the evidence, the science, is 100 per cent clear: this reform will deliver positive benefits to everyone's child, to everyone’s niece, to everyone's grandchild. 

Two years of quality preschool education in this country for every Australian child is our vision - and in government we will provide the practical dollars and resources to deliver it.

It starts by putting back the $20 million that the Liberals have cut from the National Quality Agenda to ensure that safety and learning standards are monitored at every centre.

The states and territories have everything to gain from our plan for universal preschool for 3 and 4 year olds and we look forward to working with premiers and chief ministers to deliver this program without increasing costs for families.

I've been working with Premier Andrews and we'll share some more details later this morning, he's very enthusiastic about the benefits it would deliver here in the education state.

In government, I've asked Amanda Rishworth to draw up a new National Partnership Agreement on preschool, with individual state benchmarks for enrolment and performance.

And let me be very clear, that agreement will also include hard targets for keeping fees and out-of-pocket costs down.

We will come down like a ton of bricks on providers trying to inflate profits from educating our kids, there will be nowhere for privateers and profiteers to hide.

We will ensure that our investment supports every child, whatever setting their parents choose. And we will not allow unscrupulous operators to game the system, or if extra funds come into the system, to try and gain an even greater share for their private profits. 

I do not want parents stuck on that grim treadmill, where both are working full time to pay for child care, so that you are able to work full time.

If I’m Prime Minister, I want universal preschool to mean just that: accessible and affordable for every Australian family.

It is a good goal: universal, accessible, quality early childhood education for every three and four year old.

And to help the states and the sector deal with a new generation of three year olds enrolling in preschool, we will also create a new $100 million National Preschool Facilitation Fund to assist with finding the spaces, also by better utilising long day care centres and preschool services.

But with all due respect, to the federal politicians to the state premiers, to the people who own or operate the preschool and childcare centres, they're not the most important people we'll be counting on to deliver this vision. It is the early childhood educators themselves.

As I said earlier, we need a permanent change in the way we talk about the work early educators do for our society.

Early childhood educators are so important. They are the first people to whom we trust our precious children, outside the family unit.

We ask them to take charge of our child’s day-to-day wellbeing, their emotional development, their understanding and engagement with the wider world.

And yet we have been stubbornly, unforgivably slow to match our words of thanks and praise with a better deal on pay and conditions.

I can promise that if I’m elected Prime Minister, I will not simply expect Australian early childhood educators to do more with less or even just the same.

If we want quality outcomes, if we want professional standards, then we need to treat our early childhood educators as the professionals they already are.

Nothing is more important to me than raising the status of teaching and educating, at every level.

I will work with United Voice and other unions, I will work with employers, I will use every instrument, every mechanism available to government, to ensure that early educators are paid for the valuable work they do - and that parents do not face higher fees.

I want to do away with this argument that somehow the only way that early childhood educators can win, is if parents do worse. But we simply cannot ask early childhood educators to subsidise the learning and development of our children.

And, of course, we don’t just need to pay early educators more, we need to train more of them.

Labor has already committed the funding of an extra 200,000 university places through the next decade, including vital degrees like Masters of Education.

In our first term, we are going to waive the upfront fees for 100,000 TAFE places in high priority courses, not just early childhood education but definitely including early childhood education.

My very capable deputy, Tanya Plibersek and I have said this many times: we want teaching and educating – at every level, school, TAFE, university, the early years – to be a profession that school-leavers compete to get into with the same ferocity that they compete to get into other courses.

The same competition, though, for the same reason: because it’s rewarding work, because it is respected community work, and because it is well-paid work. Because I want early childhood education to be a career, not a sacrifice.

I said at the beginning of this speech that Monash is a special place for me.

I came here as a student because my mum, a teacher herself, taught me the value of education.

But I was also able to go to this university because of Labor governments which believed in opening the doors of higher education to everyone who studies hard.

It's one of the best things about our world-class universities: studying for a degree in this country is still, by and large, an opportunity that you earn, not a privilege that you inherit.

I think this is Australia at its best: when we match our determination to achieve excellence, with our faith in a fair go for everyone. When we build for the best in the world and we include everyone in those opportunities.

It is the story of Medicare, and it is the story of superannuation, it'll be the story of the National Disability Insurance Scheme when we get that back on track, it is the story of the changes that opened the doors of these institutions to a previous generation.

I hope that in ten and twenty years time we can look back at today's announcement and say that what we announced today is part of that tradition. 

Not fiddling around the edges, not one year by one year funding, not piecemeal stop-gap approaches, not treating education or early childhood education as a political problem to be band-aided.

But instead at the centre of a clear and profound national mission: two years of quality, universal preschool education, taught by qualified early childhood educators, for every Australian family, regardless of their circumstances.

You know, in the past month or so, I’ve had quite a few people come up to me in the street and say: “Oh, well you must be confident that you’re going to win the election now because the other side have been so divided and hopeless.”

It is as if, somehow, some people believe that the appalling behaviour of the current government disqualifies them to be taken seriously.

I don't actually take that from the madness of the last few weeks and months, in fact I take the exact opposite.  

The shambles that we’ve seen from the current ruling coalition of this country, has created I think a deeper problem, a challenge of demonstrating to people that politics in this country still has a proper purpose, that politicians can actually do better.

The challenge is bigger than who wins the next election. It’s about restoring trust and confidence in our democratic system itself.

People want vision. People are over short term and they want long term plans.

I say to you here and to other people watching, I feel that responsibility, that pressure, that obligation to prove to Australians, that through our ideas and our plans and our vision – that they shouldn't be pessimistic, that they have some cause for optimism - because we can do better and we will.

I do not want the next election to be decided by the ‘least worst’ option. I want the next election to be about the next generation, about greater opportunities for Australia in 2030 and 2040.

About preparing every Australian child to compete and succeed in the society and the economy of the future, empowering every Australian child to get the best start in life to fulfil their innate potential.

Labor’s universal access to preschool for two years is a plan and an investment in a smarter country, a stronger economy and a more equal society.

I think the true test of an idea is not how it feels today, but whether or not we could assemble here in five and ten and fifteen years time and look back and say, well that was the good and obvious thing to be done.

It's how we can, I think, deliver on government’s most important job: handing on a better deal to the next generation. 

That is what animates my steady and stable and united Labor team.

It is how we can ensure that every Australian child shares in our nation’s founding promise: a fair go for all Australians.

Thank you very much.


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