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Opinion: Greens prioritise early learning now

At the core of the Australian Greens’ commitment ahead of the election is that all families, regardless of their income or employment situation, will have access to affordable, flexible, high-quality childcare and early-childhood education.

As a nation, we value education highly. We understand that schooling is a right, not a privilege, and that higher education, such as university, should be made available to everybody. One area where the government has been letting people down, however, is early education and care for our youngest Australians.

We know that childcare isn’t babysitting and that it is an essential step in the education process that cannot be ignored. In many ways, the education children receive at childcare is the fundamental building block upon which the following years of schooling are built.

With that in mind, the Greens have committed at this election to offering universal access to early education, with a minimum of 24 hours a week of subsidised care guaranteed to each and every family.

The Greens oppose the government’s planned Activity Test, which would leave hundreds of thousands of families worse off, with some locked out of childcare support completely. By changing the activity test to include a minimum of 24 hours a week for each and every Australian family, the Greens would guarantee that every child gets the best possible start in life.

The Greens policy would support families with a single, means-tested payment model guaranteeing access for all. The means testing of these payments is crucial, as it would direct greater support to those who are in greatest need.

Whether Labor or the Liberals win government, they will need to get their proposed childcare legislation through the Senate. The Greens will work in the Parliament to implement this policy from July 1, 2017.

While the Liberals want to reform the sector, their proposal has serious flaws and they’ve put the matter in the ‘too hard’ basket, saying they won’t be doing anything for years. Labor wants to act now, but its plan is to funnel billions of dollars into the current, failing system, which runs the real risk of driving up fees even further.

The truth is, families need help and the sector needs reform. Only the Greens have a sensible middle path that will reform the sector, give children access to the education they need and help parents deal with the rising cost of care.

Despite the promises made ahead of the 2013 election, the Abbott/Turnbull Government has been a disaster for early education and care. In 2014, it ripped $230 million out of childcare support for families by continuing the freeze on the childcare rebate. Now the government has announced that it wouldn’t do anything to reform childcare for another two years. That huge delay would mean that families who believed the Coalition would help make childcare more affordable at the last election would miss out. Their kids would move on to school before they received any increase in support from this disappointment of a government.

What the Liberals don’t seem to understand is that the early-education sector needs to be supported. Hard working educators in centres across the country are charged with caring for our children at one of the most crucial development stages in their lives.

Educators, carers and families are doing it tough and the government’s approach simply hasn’t been good enough. That’s why the Greens are putting childcare reform front and centre in this election.

Sarah_Hanson-Young

Sarah Hanson-Young is the Greens’ spokesperson on early-childhood education and care.

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