Stark election policy differences between the parties

The Early Learning: Everyone Benefits campaign has analysed the early childhood policies proposed by the three main parties—Australian Labor Party, Liberal–National Coalition, and the Australian Greens—and found some stark differences between their proposed policies.

Campaign spokesperson, Samantha Page, CEO of Early Childhood Australia, said:

‘The Coalition is relying on its delivery of an $8.5 billion investment in the new Child Care Subsidy system, which it claims has reduced out-of-pocket expenses for many working families by 9 per cent. But it hasn’t promised much else for the sector. We found that both Labor and the Greens are keen to address each of the seven priority policy areas identified by the Early Learning: Everyone Benefits campaign’.

Two announcements by Labor really elevated early childhood policy to a key election issue, with some commentators calling it ‘the biggest economic news of the election’.

Main points of difference

Labor has announced a major overhaul of the Child Care Subsidy system to reduce costs to families earning less than $174 000 per year, with families earning less than $69 000 potentially getting free child care.

The Greens have proposed to make child care fee-free for families with a combined income of up to $171 958, and to raise the rate of subsidy for all other families with a combined income below $351 248.

Labor staunchly defended its policy announcement that, to maintain quality in the early childhood education system, educators’ wages need to rise to reflect their level of training and professional expertise. The proposed 20 per cent pay rise for educators, and 10 000 free TAFE places are being welcomed by the campaign as long overdue and necessary adjustments.

Labor has also committed to working with the early childhood sector to develop a National Workforce Strategy to address the looming crisis in the early childhood educator workforce, which has a turnover of 37 per cent, and an undersupply of degree-qualified teachers. The Greens have fully supported raising educators’ wages, and developing a national workforce strategy. Coalition, on the other hand, has rejected any intervention on wages, and is campaigning against the idea.

Labor is standing by its $1.75 billion commitment to extend preschool funding to three-year-olds for 15 hours per week. The Greens are supporting this and extending it to cover 24 hours per week. The Coalition is not supportive of extending preschool/kindergarten to three-year-olds, but has implied that three-year-olds’ access to preschool could be addressed once attendance rates for four-year-olds increase.

A point of contention is the impact of the activity test in the new Child Care Subsidy—the Early Learning: Everyone Benefits campaign has sought commitments from each party to ‘ensure children can access at least two days per week of quality early childhood education, irrespective of their parents’ workforce participation or other activity’.

In response, the Coalition has no plans to review the activity test, and claims that participation rates of vulnerable children have not decreased. Labor says it will support access for all children to early learning, but will retain the current activity test. They are promising they will review the impact of the Child Care Subsidy system on vulnerable and disadvantaged children, including the activity test. Labor has also pointed out that their commitment to extending preschool to three-year-olds means that all three- and four-year-olds would be exempt from the activity test for 15 hours per week. The Greens have promised they would unequivocally abolish the activity test.

The Coalition has not responded to the proposal of Australia needing a cross-portfolio Early Years Strategy that recognises the importance of early childhood development, family support and play-based early learning across home, community and early childhood settings. But both Labor and the Greens are strongly supporting this initiative.

This comparison is based on each party’s responses to the campaign’s Candidate Survey on Early Childhood Education and Care, their speeches given during the National Early Childhood Election Forum on 2 May 2019, as well as the parties’ published policies and public statements.

 

Read the campaign’s seven election priorities here.

Read about the Early Learning Policy Guide 2019 here - view or download it here.

Read about the parties’ responses to the Candidate Survey here.

 

Media Contact: Campaign Manager Carolin Wenzel  ph: 0497 300 331   email: cwenzel@earlychildhood.org.au

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