Thank you very much. Can I begin by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land in which we meet and paying my respect to their elders past and present. I want to acknowledge my parliamentary colleagues, the minister for many things, Including Early Childhood Minister, Peter Garrett we have the Shadow Minister Susan Ley, we did have the Green’s spokesperson Sarah Hanson-Young who will be back with us shortly, Parliamentary Secretary Jacinta Collins as well as a number of parliamentary colleagues from both chambers.
Can I acknowledge President Gwynn Bridge and all of the representatives from the Australian Childcare Alliance.
I see that we also have some early childhood workers with us here today and I would like to acknowledge you too.
Today is incredibly special, because I believe it is the first time that we have had the executive of the Australian Childcare Alliance from right across Australia all come and join us in Canberra. All of you are here to engage with policy makers about the ‘next steps’ for early childhood services in Australia. I do think that it is also the occasion for us to look at the journey we have been on together. I know that there has been incredible change over the last five years.
Five years ago the OECD declared that Australia was ranked 13 our 14 countries when it came to our expenditure on early childhood education and care – some would say that was pretty disgraceful.
Since then we have seen a tripling of the investment in early childhood services. I am incredibly proud that we will invest over $22.3 billion dollars over the next four years in this space. It is not just about the funding, it is also about the impacts that those investments and reforms have had on the sector.
We do know that there have never been more Australian children in approved early childhood care and education. I know that not too long ago we celebrated when one million Australian children were in care, we are now at 1.3 million children in care. Never before have we had so many children in care, never before have they been using the services for so many hours a week and never before have we had so many services across Australia.
In fact, I was just saying in discussions with the executive that we have seen a 36 percent increase in the number of approved early childhood services since we came into government – 36 percent increase – that includes 500 new services in just the last 12 months alone. I think when we are looking at the sector we can see that there has been extraordinary change, there has been a huge added investment but there has also been a very rapid growth. Of course why we are here today is to talk about the ‘next steps’ the future and where we are going.
I am very glad that Gwynn talked about the issue of affordability. There is nothing in this area that’s more important to our government than ensuring that early childhood services are affordable, accessible and quality.
In affordability alone we have seen a massive increase in investment, we have seen an increase in the child care rebate from 30 to 50 percent, we have seen the increase in the cap of the child care rebate from $4,354 a year up to $7,500 per year but importantly they aren’t the only statistics that matter.
The statistics that matter is the impact that this increase is having in Australian families. What we do know is that in 2004 when a family was spending on average 13 percent of their disposable income on their childcare fees, that by 2011 that figure stood at 7.5 percent.
We know that the added assistance from government is providing much needed assistance for Australian families and is ensuring that more families have the options of using care and using care for a greater number of hours – that is incredibly important.
We also know that it is about quality. We welcome the remarks from the Child Care Alliance about recognising the need for us to continue to move away from the days when we saw child care services as a babysitting service so that parents can go to work. Those days are in the past and those days must never return. We now know and we have all of the domestic and international research that shows very clearly that those first five years of a child’s life are absolutely critical to their future development.
We know that those early years will help to determine the future educational outcomes, social outcomes, health outcomes and development outcomes of Australian children. So it is in all of our best interests that we ensure that parents have peace of mind that when they drop their children off in the morning that they receive quality care and services.
We also know that it is incredibly important for Australian children to get the best quality care in these early years. We also know that it is important for our nation’s future that we invest in early childhood education services for families for children but also for our future productivity.
I am very glad that we are working in partnership to look at the ‘next steps’ in our reform process. As I said this morning, any government that says they have all the answers to make early childhood care easy are lying to you. We know there is no one silver bullet, that there will always be changes to our workplaces, there will always be changes to the structure of families, there will always changes to the sort of services that need to adapt to help Australian families.
That is a process that we have embarked on with in partnership with the Australian Childcare Alliance and all our stakeholders across the board. Prime Minister Julia Gillard has made it very clear that we are very interested in sitting down and working with you about what the ‘next steps’ are in this reform process and I welcome the opportunity to have a look at your 42 recommendations.
I welcome the opportunity to continue those discussions and the opportunity to work in partnership with you to ensure that we continue to make the ‘next steps’ and the next reforms and next investments to the benefit of children right across the nation.
Thank you very much.