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Monday, 10 September 2018
Page: 8334

Ms CLAYDON (Newcastle) (11:17): Today I'd also like to recognise all of the early childhood educators who walked off the job across the country last week, and I'd like to thank the member for Sydney for bringing this important motion before the House today. This is the fourth walk-off in 18 months, and it was spurred by the desperate wages crisis that has been completely ignored by this shambolic Liberal government, regardless of who sits at the helm trying to steer this crazy ship on any given day.

The action from the early childhood workers was designed to give a clear message to the Liberal government that the time is absolutely up on the gender pay gap. Australian women are sick to death of being paid less, whether it is in early childhood education or any one of the grossly undervalued caring sectors that employ so many women. Early childhood educators have been underpaid and undervalued for far too long. While there's been some small progress to reduce the gender pay gap in some sectors, the female-dominated caring sectors lag shockingly behind. This is a fact that is not missed by any Australian woman in any part of this nation. The pitiful wages paid to early childhood educators in no way reflects the true value of their work to our community.

In fact, it's hard to overstate the contribution that these workers make to our children, to our communities more broadly and to our social wellbeing as a whole. Everybody knows that education is the key to unlocking a child's potential. A child's brain develops dramatically during the first five years of life. It's a time of rapid cognitive, linguistic, social, emotional and motor skills development. Again and again, the studies show us that high-quality early childhood education improves a child's outcomes. Children who participate in early childhood education have more advanced development than those who don't, and disadvantaged kids have the most to gain from those early-learning environments.

But wages are way too low. Early childhood educators are some of the lowest paid professionals in the country, with pay as low as $22 an hour. Certificate III qualified educators receive a little over $800 a week, which is around half the average weekly earnings for all occupations. It is just so wrong that the people who are responsible for educating young Australians at such a critical stage in their life are paid less than half the average national wage. How can we possibly say that the people who are responsible for the wellbeing and development of our children are worth this little? It's appalling that these women could earn more stacking shelves at a supermarket than they do undertaking the work that they love so much. If we do not pay our early childhood educators properly, we won't be able to attract, or indeed retain, the skilled workers that we need to ensure our kids get the best start in life.

There are committed, talented people who have to turn away from these jobs because they simply can't afford to stay in them. According to a 2016 survey, one in five early childhood educators had plans to leave the profession within 12 months and others took on a second job just to get by. This cannot continue. Of course, it's no coincidence that the majority of workers in this important industry are women. Just like their hardworking colleagues in aged care or disability services, the vast majority of early childhood educators are women. So what needs to happen here? Well, it's past time for this government to take action. It's timely that we should be discussing issues of gender equity today—the sitting week after a bunch of men in the Liberal Party bullied and intimidated Liberal women who dared to stand in the way of their ruthless ambition. The wages crisis for early childhood educators demonstrates one massive problem with this government: they simply do not have enough women sitting at the table. The Liberals' refusal to commit to a genuine target like Labor, a 50-50 target, means that we're going to be sitting around for another 50 years waiting for those guys to get their act together and have equal representation in the Australian parliament. It's not good enough. Their time is up.

The SPEAKER: The time allotted for this debate has expired. The debate is adjourned and the resumption of the debate will be made an order of the day for the next sitting.