Home | Opinion | Opinion: 80 per cent of voters prioritise early learning

Opinion: 80 per cent of voters prioritise early learning

As the major parties’ early-childhood policies become clearer, close observers find there is much missing.

Voters are being offered the choice between three different ways of carving up a generous $3 billion injection of funding to make childcare more affordable and accessible.

Whilst this is welcome and overdue, we are not hearing enough about why this investment will benefit all Australians.

A recent Galaxy survey, commissioned by the new Early Learning: Everyone Benefits campaign, found that eight out of 10 Australians see early learning as important for children’s development and Australia’s future prosperity. They want healthy, educated kids and a vibrant future economy, and they can see that quality early learning can provide these. And it isn’t just women or mums who care about the next generation. In fact, young men aged 18–24 care most: 90 per cent of them indicated this in the poll.

Politicians should heed these results, especially as the poll revealed that for about half of people aged 18–34 with children, investment in childcare is a vote-swinging election issue.

Early childhood policies that address only funding formulas for childcare are missing the opportunity to bring the majority of voters along who overwhelmingly support the values of improving child development and our own future prosperity.

Whichever party wins the election, and that balance of power in the Senate, it’s critical that voters support increased investment in early learning, because Australia lags behind in providing it. We are in the bottom third of countries ranked by the OECD in participation of 3-year-olds in early learning – we rank 27 out of 39. We trail our Commonwealth cousins, the UK and New Zealand substantially.

The UK provides 15 hours a week of early childhood education, free, for every 3- and 4-year old, and up to 40 percent of most disadvantaged 2-year-olds – regardless of their parents’ workforce status or income. This will soon increase to 30 hours. In New Zealand, all 3- and 4-year-olds get 20 hours early childhood education for free.

We will not catch up with the UK and New Zealand until our government embraces what voters are willing to accept – that investing in our children today will create a more prosperous future for all of us.

Samantha Page is the campaign spokesperson for Early Learning: Everyone Benefits. She is also the chief executive of Early Childhood Australia.

To have your say this election, join the live stream of Early Learning: Everyone Benefits’ early learning election forum on Monday, June 20. You can ask questions of MP Kate Ellis (Labor), Senator Sarah Hanson-Young (Greens) and Senate candidate Skye Kakoschke-Moore (Nick Xenophon).

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