Independent MP Dai Le said the government must come up with practical solutions to address the workforce shortage in the early childhood education sector ahead of the introduction of cheaper subsidies.
Minister for Early Childhood Education Anne Aly noted in question time on Monday that early childhood education will become cheaper for more than 1.26 million families across the country from July 1.
South-western Sydney MP Dai Le said the government needs to address workforce issues if it is going to improve the cost of living pressures for families.Credit:Alex Ellinghausen
“We went to the election with a commitment to allow more parents to go back to the workforce, take on more hours, boost their household income, and boost productivity and the economy. And this year, all of that becomes a reality,” Aly said.
But Le argued the government’s Cheaper Childcare Bill – which passed parliament last year – does not address the supply of places at early childhood education centres.
In a motion the Fowler MP introduced to parliament on Monday, Le noted the bill does not guarantee families increased workforce participation from the expanded access to subsidies, and pointed out it comes at the same time as the low and middle-income tax offset – a tax cut of up to $1500 for people earning less than $126,000 – is abolished.
“Access to high quality, affordable and sustainable early learning services is important for many families,” Le said. “However, the government must also address the workforce shortage that the sector has been crying out for.”
Workers and providers have been urging the government to raise the minimum award rate for early childhood educators, and United Workers Union says the government should fund a 25 per cent pay increase to help the sector attract and retain staff.
Figures from the Productivity Commission show more than 1.3 million children attended government subsidy-approved childcare services across nearly 14,000 providers last year. Those figures exclude services that do not receive federal funding, including services that are funded by state or territory governments.
The report found children from certain groups including those from non-English speaking backgrounds, from low-income families, and those of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander heritage had a lower participation rate compared with their representation in the community.
Le said the government needs to increase funding to support the growing number of children with diverse backgrounds and additional needs.
“There are children and families who need additional support but cannot access a service provider, or sometimes the focus on special needs often means other children missed out on the required attention and placing huge burdens on teachers,” she said.
Expanding access to early childhood education is not the only government focus on families. On Tuesday, Labor is introducing legislation to increase its paid parental leave scheme, increasing it to 20 weeks from July 1 and reserving two weeks for each parent.
Social Services Minister Amanda Rishworth said 180,000 families will benefit from the expanding scheme each year. The government has committed to increasing the scheme to 26 weeks by 2026.
”It gives more families access to the payment, provides parents with more flexibility in how they take leave, and encourages them to share the care to support gender equality,” she said.
Later this month the government is also hosting a summit to look at how early childhood development and wellbeing can be improved in Australia.
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