KATE ELLIS, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EARLY CHILDHOOD: Labor is today launching our national campaign, the 15 Hours Best Start campaign, because we know how important universal access to preschool and kindergarten is to Australian children. We know that there is $1.6 billion of funding at risk if it is not confirmed in the Abbott Government’s upcoming Budget. And what we do know is that if this funding is not there, then right across Australia kindergartens and preschools will only have two options available to them. They can massively increase the fees that Australian parents are charged, or they can cut the number of hours which is offered to Australian children. Neither of these options is acceptable.
We know how important the investment in early childhood education is. All of the research confirms that with 90 per cent of brain development occurring in the first five years of a child’s life, that this is one of the smartest investments a government can make. Labor is incredibly proud that we set up the Universal Access program and we have seen a huge boost in the number of children that are accessing preschool. We have seen that when the program was established in 2009, preschool enrolments have now climbed from just under 70 per cent nationally in 2008 to over 90 per cent in 2013. We also know that all of the experts say that 15 hours is the required amount. That in 2008 just 23 per cent of Australian children were accessing 15 hours, and that number has now climbed to over 82 per cent.
This funding is incredibly important. This is about more than politics. It is about certainty for a sector who have been left gripped by uncertainty as a result of the Government’s refusal to confirm ongoing funding. We’ve seen over a period of time every excuse used – the Government calling for more evidence, the Government stalling to make a decision. We have all of the evidence, we know how important this is, and now Australian parents, Australian kindergartens and preschools, and Australian children need to know that Tony Abbott is not going to rip this funding from this vitally important service.
Right around Australia, Labor MPs will be standing with parents, with Early Childhood Educators, and we will be doing everything to demand this funding is present in the upcoming Budget. We will be launching this national campaign and we will be ensuring that the Abbott Government hears loud and clear just how important preschool and kindergarten is for Australian children today and to the future of Australia tomorrow. Thank you.