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Tuesday, 12 May 2009
Page: 3582

Mrs Mirabella asked the Minister for Education, in writing, on 23 February 2009:

(1)   Has the Government allocated $970 million over 5 years to implement its Universal Access for Early Childhood Education initiative by 2012-13.

(2)   Did the attachment to the COAG Communiqué of 29 November 2008 state that ‘the distribution of funding across the States in the first 4 years will have an emphasis on assisting those jurisdictions that are further behind in the delivery of preschool services’.

(3)   Given that preschool participation rates in New South Wales (NSW) are just 64 per cent compared with 87 per cent across Australia, and parents pay the highest fees of any in the nation:

(a)   will a higher proportion of the $970 million funding be allocated to NSW; if so, what is that proportion likely to be;

(b)   what specific policies have been implemented in the short term to at least bring NSW into line with other States as soon as possible;

(c)   what measures will be taken to ensure that the NSW Government does not further cut funding;

(d)   what oversight will the Government provide to ensure that any money allocated to NSW goes directly to preschools, especially community-based preschools, to enable them to reduce fees and make preschool more affordable for NSW families; and

(e)   by what date will the COAG funding begin to flow through to NSW preschools.

Ms Gillard (Minister for Education, Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations and Minister for Social Inclusion) —The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:

(1)   The Commonwealth has agreed to provide $970 million over 5 years for the National Partnership Agreement on Early Childhood Education (NP ECE), which has been signed by members of the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) and is available on the COAG website. This includes $955 million to be distributed to states and territories to support the implementation of Universal Access, $14 million for data development and evaluation and $1 million for completing previous projects funded under initial Universal Access payments in 2007-08.

(2)   Yes.

(3)   The 2009 Report on Government Services (RoGS) states that the preschool participation rate in New South Wales was 60.4 per cent in 2007-08, compared to 64.6 per cent in 2006-07. NSW Officials have estimated the actual participation rate at 87 per cent if preschool provided through Department of Education and Training and private Long Day Care Centres is included.

(a)   The distribution of Universal Access funding to states and territories through the NP ECE is based on the population of 4 year olds in each jurisdiction. For the first 4 years of the NP ECE loadings apply based on the ‘gap’ in early childhood education participation and hours, and the ‘cost’ in terms of remoteness and the Socio-Economic Index for Areas. In the final year, funds will be distributed based solely on the projected population of 4 year olds in each jurisdiction. The proportion of the $955 million to be allocated to NSW has been calculated on a weighted distribution that included an estimated participation rate of 87 per cent for NSW. This is reflected in the NP ECE as endorsed by all first ministers. The proportion of funding to each state and territory is noted in the NP ECE. NSW will receive a total of $278.6 million over 5 years.

(b)   The Commonwealth is negotiating a Bilateral Agreement with the NSW Government that will detail how Commonwealth funding toward the achievement of Universal Access, by 2013, will be utilised in that State.

(c)   The delivery and regulation of preschool is a state government responsibility. The NP ECE requires all states and territories to maintain their current roles and level of effort in the delivery of preschool programs.

(d)   The Bilateral Agreement, currently being finalised, will contain a series of agreed deliverables and timeframes for actions in the first two calendar years. The National Partnership and the Bilateral Agreement will be reviewed after 18 months to assess progress towards the Universal Access to early childhood education commitment.

(e)   Payment to the NSW Government will be made once the Bilateral Agreement is approved by the relevant Ministers. Payments will be made in accordance with the payment cycle notified in the Intergovernmental Agreement on Federal Financial Relations. Funding will be provided on a 6 monthly cycle, based on progress reporting, including annual progress against agreed performance indicators.