No alarms and no surprises here. That’s the verdict from Early Childhood Australia CEO Samantha Page on the 2017 Federal Budget delivered by treasurer Scott Morrison on Tuesday 9 May 2017.
Although there were no shocks, Page turned on the government, citing missed opportunities to improve the childcare regulatory environment. The criticism hinges on the tying of childcare access so closely to workforce participation in the year-prior Budget, which was passed through parliament in March 2017 under the Jobs For Families rubric and due to come into effect on 1 July 2017.
“Early Childhood Australia believes this is a missed opportunity to strengthen early learning outcomes for children at risk of disadvantage, particularly in families with patchy or irregular work,” Page paged.
“A major flaw in the subsidy reform package is that it doesn’t factor in the significant benefits to children and society, of improved education outcomes, especially when vulnerable children attend at least two days of early learning per week.”
After leafing through the Budget, Page noted that it included a 12-month extension of universal preschool funding for 4-year-olds.
“This provides some welcome clarity for parents and services in 2018 but fails to provide a longer term vision for increasing preschool participation,” Page waged. “Early Childhood Australia would like to see the government lock in the agreement permanently and extend it to 3-year-olds.
“Ensuring vulnerable and disadvantaged children attend two days per week of quality early learning is an effective way to break the cycle of disadvantage and reduce inequality. It benefits the nation’s economy because it reduces the rate of people needing welfare support in the future.
“Other countries like New Zealand and the United Kingdom are racing ahead and reaping the benefits of providing free access to early learning for all 3- and 4-year-olds for the two years before school. This increases education performance throughout school and increases children’s likelihood of success in later life.”
More broadly, Page approved investments in Medicare to expand bulk billing for kids’ GP visits; greater emphasis on the benefits of vaccinations; and the new “modest” Parents Next program, which help vulnerable families secure work placements.
“However, ECA believes that a more ambitious, national education campaign is needed to raise awareness of the importance of the early years, together with a stronger vision to coordinate national investment to provide children with the best start in life.”
Page and her team furnished this visual aid to convey their overall mood regarding the Budget:
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