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Monday, 3 December 2018
Page: 12315


Dr FREELANDER (Macarthur) (11:21): I take great pleasure in rising today to speak to the motion moved by my good friend and colleague the member for Newcastle. I'm absolutely delighted also to be speaking after the member for Lalor and to be followed by the member for Lingiari, all of whom have fantastic skills in the education field and great knowledge about what's best for Australian children, particularly in terms of early childhood education.

Like the member for Newcastle and all of my other Labor colleagues, I'm supporting a proposal to extend preschool access for young children. Labor's plan, which we will be taking to the next election, is good for the children of Australia, good for the children of Macarthur, good for parents and good for the economy. I would also like to acknowledge the help, in writing this speech, of my chief of staff, Mr Brydan Toner, an ex-school captain of Nowra boys high school and, at present, doing a part-time degree in education.

It shouldn't take a paediatrician to tell the government why they should support Labor's commitment and properly fund preschool for four-year-olds. But, alas, here I am, trying to tell the government what to do. As a medical student—and it's been quite a long time since I was a medical student—I did a thesis with the then professor of paediatrics, Thomas Stapleton, at the Children's Hospital in Camperdown about early childhood brain development and literacy. Those opposite should know almost 90 per cent of a child's brain development and literacy skills develop before they reach the age of five. It's also worth noting that the importance of a child having access to a quality preschool or early childhood education is reflected in good school data now, which demonstrates how important this is. Studies have shown that children who access quality early childhood education achieve far better test results in NAPLAN testing throughout their schooling.

Shamefully, nearly 25 per cent of young Australians begin their schooling journey without having grasped those fundamental skills of literacy, which are so essential to their becoming successful learners. Indeed, I saw many of those children in my practice as a paediatrician. Unfortunately, I saw many of those children start school without adequate literacy, and then learnt not to like school, developed behavioural problems and, unfortunately, did not complete their education.

One in four children starting school with poor literacy is a shamefully high percentage of the population in a developed country like Australia. These are the children who are missing out on access to an early childhood education. They come from disadvantaged backgrounds and would benefit immensely from access to early childhood education at an early age. Access to an early childhood education is particularly vital in closing the disadvantage gap before a child starts school. The team that I am proud to be a part of heading into the next election has a plan that will see around 340,000 three-year-olds and a similar number of four-year-olds able to access preschool every year. Not only as a paediatrician but as a father and grandfather and as the member for Macarthur, I cannot comprehend the government's attitude towards education and, in particular, funding for early childhood education. Undeniably, those opposite have continually denied certainty for funding of early childhood education. In Macarthur, their failure to extend funding for four-year-olds to attend preschool beyond the next year has left 2,364 Macarthur children in limbo.

We on this side of the chamber know that one of the biggest barriers that families face in regard to accessing early childhood education is the cost. I'm determined to expand access to preschool and preschool education so parents can balance family and work and so we can reduce the cost of child care for families with children already in education. I must also say that the government's failure to provide ongoing commitment for the funding of early education isn't just bad for the families; it's also bad for business—and they love talking about business. Those opposite come in here and pretend they're the party of small business, yet the proof's in the pudding. Through the failure of the coalition to provide a commitment for ongoing funding to early childhood education providers, people have been unable to plan ahead. Again, I assure the Chamber that this is a big issue for many of the preschools in my community—small businesses which greatly contribute to Macarthur.

This is an investment in our children and in our futures. Like the member for Newcastle, I urge the government to come to the table and properly fund four-year-old, early childhood education and extend this to three-year-olds.