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Monday, 23 November 2015
Page: 8625

Senator LINES (Western Australia) (15:29): I too rise to take note of answers given by Senator Birmingham to Labor's questions on early childhood education and care. It is very evident from the answers that Senator Birmingham gave today that those opposite know nothing about the early childhood sector in Australia. Not once did I hear the word 'quality'. Not once did I hear about the significant benefits that the early childhood sector provides to young Australians. Not once did I hear about the academic or science based evidence out there that good-quality early childhood services enable children to get a head start in life, really follow through, get familiar with what school is about and increase their brain development. Not once did I hear that. We heard about business models and we heard about markets, but we did not hear about quality.

Those opposite have never accepted the amazing reforms that Labor made, which go to quality, ratios and well-trained educators. What did those opposite do when they were first in government? They took away the package that Labor had put together to increase the wages of early childhood educators. What is happening—and it has got worse under those opposite—is that 30 educators leave the early childhood sector every week because they cannot afford to stay. Those opposite now want to casualise the early childhood industry. Where are the educators going to come from? They cannot afford to stay there now on full-time wages; heaven knows how they will be able to stay in the industry if they earn for two or three hours a day. Those opposite are kidding themselves. Where is this sea of educators coming from? Are we going to import more foreign workers—is that the answer to their question? Is that how they are going do it—by dumbing down the early childhood sector and not promoting Australian jobs? Make no mistake, what we heard today from Senator Birmingham was all about flexibility. Even Gwynn Bridge from the Australian Childcare Alliance, mates of those opposite, is criticising them. Even she is saying that this model is not going to work.

I saw one of the responses on The Australian's feed today. Someone had said, 'The fee is $110 a day, so that will make child care $10 an hour.' What a ludicrous suggestion—to think that you can provide quality care, quality education and quality educators for $10 an hour. It will not get cheaper. You will have to load up a casualised rate because you have to provide good-quality educators across the whole day, and even though they are low paid they are still a significant cost to an operator. We did not hear anything about the word 'quality' today.

I put the minister on notice after his answer to the first question. He answered two supplementary questions where he could have quickly thought, 'I didn't mention quality.' No—he continued to talk about market opportunity and business opportunity. This is about children, from very young babies up to the age of six. It completely goes over the heads of those opposite. This notion, to casualise early childhood care in this country, will be a backward step. All of those good-quality reforms and all of the work that Labor did on ensuring proper ratios will go out of the window. When the biggest private for-profit operator in the country says, 'This is not going to work,' they should sit up and listen. The ACA was one of the organisations that continued to oppose the quality reforms Labor put in place, and now it is opposing the casualisation of the sector. Who is calling for one or two hours of care a week? Nobody that I have heard. The government has made the activity test so hard for parents at home that they will not be able to use it either.

The fact is that there are already not enough early childhood services out there now, and the government are proposing to create some kind of new business model, devoid of quality and devoid of quality educators, to casualise an industry that is already in trouble. They say that it is going to reduce costs. What absolute nonsense! The Turnbull government are completely out of touch with quality early childhood education and care.