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Friday, 28 June 2013
Page: 4481

Senator THISTLETHWAITE (New South WalesParliamentary Secretary for Pacific Island Affairs and Parliamentary Secretary for Multicultural Affairs) (14:32): I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

I seek leave to have the second reading speech incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The speech read as follows—

I rise today to read the Early Years Quality Fund Special Account Bill 2013 for the second time.

Commitment to early childhood

This Government has a proud record of achievement in early childhood education and care.

Core to our values is giving every child an opportunity to succeed and we have consistently demonstrated throughout the last six years, our commitment to improving the outcomes for all Australian children.

With more Australian children in education and care than ever before and a compelling body of evidence showing that 90 per cent of a child's brain development happens in these critical years, we want to give our children the best start in life.

Australian and international research shows that having educators with higher qualifications is closely associated with improved outcomes for children. More highly qualified staff means a greater understanding of early childhood development so staff are more able to lead activities that inspire youngsters and help them learn and develop.

This Bill acknowledges that commitment by securing for these educators the necessary recognition of their professionalism and to reward them accordingly with higher wages.

At the heart of this Bill is this Government's commitment to quality early childhood education, a commitment to early childhood education that is accessible and affordable and a commitment to having a highly qualified early childhood workforce.


The Government's commitment to quality early childhood education is evidenced by our leadership in establishing the National Quality Framework for early childhood education and care.

The National Quality Framework is an important reform which delivers a higher standard of care for children in the critical areas of educational development, health and safety and social interactions. It provides clear and comprehensive information for families so they can make informed choices about which service is best for their child.

The National Quality Standard improves quality through improved educator-to-child ratios, stronger educator qualification requirements and a new quality rating system.

Quality early childhood education and care ensures that children are happy, engaged and learning with qualified educators who are nurturing and caring. It means children are in safe and stimulating learning environments. When parents drop off their children, they need to do so with confidence that their child will be cared for and educated in the best way possible.

We have recently seen the first ratings published on the website giving parents more information to help them chose the service that meets their needs.

The NQF is a fundamental and long lasting reform. Ensuring improved quality of early childhood education and care will produce long term improved productivity and economic prosperity for Australia.

The Early Years Quality Fund will support the implementation of the NQF by assisting providers to offer educators higher wages consistent with changes in staff to child ratios and the increased qualification requirements of the NQF.

Affordability and Accessibility

This Government has been working hard to ensure that quality early childhood education and care remains affordable and accessible for all Australians families.

Over the next four years the Government will invest a record $25 billion in early childhood education and care, of which $22.1 billion will be in direct child care assistance to parents, more than triple the investment in the four years prior to 2007, making improvements to the lives of children and families.

But we know that affordability is only part of the story and that accessibility to quality services is critical.

We have recognised that early childhood education and care is not a one-size-fits-all endeavour.

We understand that services must be more responsive to the varying needs of families. That's why Child Care Rebate and Child Care Benefit can be used for a range of flexible approved child care services.

The Australian Government is trialling new ways to make child care more flexible for families, such as extending opening hours in long day care centres.

Our commitment to accessible quality early childhood education and care is also evidenced by the Government's investment of nearly $970 million between 2008 and 2013 to provide all children in the year before school access to a quality pre-school education delivered by a qualified early childhood teacher.

Recent data shows that because of this investment 266,000 four and five year old children were enrolled in a program in the year before full-time school in 2012. This is 60,000 more children enrolled in 2012 than in 2008

In this year's budget, the Government announced a further $660 million to extend the universal access commitment to quality early childhood education in the year before school to the end of 2014.

This brings the total funding to over $1.6 billion to area that was neglected prior to 2007.

It is with pride that I can also say that the early childhood education and care Closing the Gap target will be met this year. In 2008 we pledged to deliver access to early childhood education to all indigenous four-year-olds in remote communities within five years.

This year, 2013, we will meet that target. I am proud to be a part of a Government that not only set ambitious long term goals, but provided the funding and leadership to achieve that goal.

Quality Workforce

Every day thousands of committed and dedicated early childhood professionals help to prepare Australian children for the world around them, providing a nurturing, caring and supporting environment. An environment where every child gets the opportunity to learn, grow and develop at their own pace, with people interested only in helping them be the best they can be.

We know these critical early years mean so much to a child's future learning and we owe it to both the children and families using early childhood education and those that educate and care for them to do all that we can to recognise and reward the important work that they do.

With over 615,000 children in long day care in Australia to the September quarter of last year the benefit to the community is enormous.

And, in addition to the critical work educating children, educators are crucial in upholding the economic stability of the country through increased workforce participation and greater security of employment, especially for women.

I am proud of this Government's record in assisting the early childhood workforce, through programs such as:

The TAFE Fee Waiver—which enables students to obtain a diploma or advanced diploma in children services without paying fees.

The Recognition of Prior Learning initiative—which provides grants of up to $3500 to enable educators to have the skills they have acquired through working in the sector recognised and enable them to obtain or upgrade their qualifications.

The HECS-HELP initiative—which provides funding to reduce the Higher Education Loan Program debts of early childhood education teachers who work in areas of high need, such as remote areas.

The Inclusion and Professional Support Program—through which the educators and services receive professional development and support to enhance the provision of quality early childhood education and care services.

Early Years Quality Fund

In bringing this Bill here today, the Government continues this record of achievement in early childhood through securing a professional workforce that will ensure higher quality education and care for Australian children.

To complement the vital work that this Government has done to improve accessibility, affordability and quality of early childhood education and care, this Bill establishes a $300 million Early Years Quality Fund to support quality outcomes for children by assisting the early childhood services to attract and retain qualified hard working professionals in the sector and reduce the numbers of educators leaving the sector overall.

The Fund, which will operate for two years, will enable grants to be paid services to supplement wage increases of all educators and staff assisting in the provision of quality early childhood education and care.

The fund will ensure higher wages across all classification scales, providing an incentive for educators to further their careers by attaining higher qualifications.

This Bill will be the difference between some of the best and brightest in the sector staying in their vitally important profession, or leaving for higher wages in sectors such as retail or administration.

The Early Years Quality Fund will assist with maintaining the affordability of early childhood education, along with the Government's substantial financial assistance to families through Child Care Benefit and Child Care Rebate, while ensuring the high quality of education and care for children.

All Long Day Care centres approved for Child Care Benefit can apply for the funding. Eligible services must demonstrate a commitment to improve quality outcomes for children, including workforce plans to attract and retain qualified staff.

But we know that this Fund is the first step in the increased professional recognition of the early childhood education and care workers. That is why, the Government also announced the establishment of the Pay Equity Unit in the Fair Work Commission

The Pay Equity Unit will undertake research and data collection to inform matters related to pay equity under the Fair Work Act, modern award reviews and annual minimum wage decisions.

The Early Years Quality Fund and the Pay Equity Unit build on the record of achievement in the Social and Community Services and the Aged Care sectors. The Government has achieved significant outcomes with respect to pay equity, but is committed to do more to close the gender gap and assist workers in low paid sectors, who are usually women, to improve wages and gain the professional recognition they deserve.

The Early Years Quality Fund will give a much needed wage increase to our professional, hard-working qualified early childhood educators, ensuring that they not only feel valued, but that their value to the Australian community is reflected in their pay checks.

The Fund continues the Government's commitment to economic growth and jobs, supporting parents to remain in the workforce, increasing skills across the workforce and building a productive future for our children.