Impact of Abbott Government’s refusal to guarantee certainty for kindergarten funding


KATE ELLIS: Well it’s fantastic to be here in Western Australia and to be joining Sue Ellery, of course the Shadow Education Minister here. We know that right across Western Australia every kindergarten is gripped by uncertainty because the Abbott Government refuses to confirm ongoing funding.


What this means is that from the end of this year, every cent of federal funding could cease. The impact of this is that the hours that will be offered to kindergarten children will be massively reduced, that we can see fees sky rocket, and that we will see kindergartens shut down because they are no longer viable. It simply does not make sense that we stand here in August and the Federal Government still cannot tell kindergartens whether they will be funded or not next year. We know that there are principals who do not know if they will have to sack staff. We know that there are parents who do not know if they have to try to find alternative care in child care centres, and if they will be able to find that care and what implications that has on their working patterns.


This is simply not good enough. The Abbott Government have already announced over $1 billion in cuts to child care and we know that they are just looking for an excuse to add to that and cut kindergarten funding. We stand here today on behalf of parents right around Australia who say we need an answer from the Government now. We stand here today on behalf of children right around Australia who we know deserve the best start in life and that all of the research shows that a quality early childhood education is that best start.


I’ve been travelling around the country and I have seen in Victoria where the Liberal Premier has spoken out and called on Tony Abbott to fund kindergarten. I’ve been in Queensland where the Liberal Premier, Campbell Newman, has spoken out and called on Tony Abbott to fund kindergarten. I stand here in WA and we hear absolutely nothing but silence from Colin Barnett when it comes to calling on his political mate to look after Western Australian children and their kindergarten services.


It is ridiculous that we have a Premier in Western Australia who says that early childhood is the most significant time for learning, yet will not stand up to the Prime Minister and call for ongoing kindergarten funding. Sue and I stand here today on behalf of Western Australian parents saying we hear your need for certainty and we will continue to lobby so that we can ensure that all four year olds get the 15 hours of kindergarten that they need and deserve. And I will hand over to Sue now.


ELLERY: I just wanted to make the point that Colin Barnett – It really is time for Colin Barnett to put his money where his mouth is. He needs to stand up to Tony Abbott. He needs to stand up for West Australian children. This is an extraordinary decision by any government to consider reducing investment in the early years.


Colin Barnett makes a lot of noise about how he stands up to Canberra but the silence is deafening on this issue. A reduction in kindergarten hours is going to mean job cuts in early education. And it’s going to mean for working parents and parents who’ve made plans based on their children being in kindy for that extra day, it’s going to mean significant inconvenience for them. And the alternative for them is paid child care and unfortunately we know there aren’t enough places in WA and the cost for parents is getting out of hand.


This is the time for Colin Barnett to stand up to Tony Abbott on behalf of all of the four year olds because this affects four-year-olds, not just in the public sector, but in private schools as well. It really is time for Colin Barnett to stand up.


JOURNALIST: In terms of a time when schools are getting used to the new funding model as well, that transition will be occurring. How much more uncertainty does this add for principals?


ELLERY: It really is extraordinary that the Federal Government would be considering number one - cutting early childhood when the State Government’s report is all about investing additional and reallocating funds into the early years. So it is extraordinary that any government would consider cutting the early years. But for schools it also means one more layer of uncertainty. One more layer of having to explain to parents that we don’t really know what is going to happen. And for schools it’s just further cuts. It’s extraordinary that this would be happening at the same time that the State Government is also making its cuts.


JOURNALIST: If the Feds do cut the money, should Colin Barnett stand up and put his hand into his own pocket?


ELLERY: Well he absolutely needs to because all of the research including that here in Western Australia, but also all around the world, says we need additional investment in the early years. Someone has to fill that gap. If Tony Abbott isn’t going to, Colin Barnett needs to.


JOURNALIST: In regard to the cutting of funding, if it doesn’t go ahead will we see kindergartens just reduce hours or be scrapped all together?


ELLIS: Look what we know is that different kindergartens will respond in different ways. Some kindergartens simply will not be viable. Some will have to increase their fees meaning that they are unaffordable to parents. And many across Western Australia will have to slash the hours that they offer to local children. What we do know is that taking this money out of Western Australian kindergartens would have dire consequences for every child using those services and for their families.


JOURNALIST: We’ve seen such a focus on NAPLAN results. How important then is it to start kids’ learning earlier?


ELLIS: We actually have Australian research that shows that children perform better in their Year Three NAPLAN tests when they have received a quality early childhood education. And since we increased funding and increased access to kindergarten for four year olds those results are improving.


All of the research shows if you want to make a difference in a child’s educational outcomes investing early is the smartest thing you can do. There is no sense in cutting funding to kindergartens. But there is no sense in leaving this uncertainty to continue a minute longer.


JOURNALIST: What’s the feedback you’re getting from parents relating to this uncertainty?


ELLERY: Kate can talk about the parents that she’s spoken to I’m sure across the nation. I’ve been talking to school communities in Western Australia about this and they are greatly concerned. Parents are concerned about two things: one – the uncertainty and two – the inconvenience if the hours are cut they’ll have to find alternative arrangements for their children. Schools themselves are concerned about staff cuts because in Western Australia these staff cuts will come on top of Colin Barnett’s $185 million worth of cuts. So this is a very difficult time for WA schools.


ELLIS: Parents have a hard enough time of juggling work and family as it is. What they don’t need is the uncertainty of not even knowing if they will have a kindergarten place available next year, and not even knowing how many hours it will be able to offer their child. Nobody can plan their life and their workforce participation unless they know that their children are going to be safe, well cared for and in a good environment. And it’s time that the Governments both Federal and State prioritised giving parents some certainty and stopping these ongoing cuts, and instead investing in Australian children.