Jenny Leong on Early Childhood Education

Greens Member for Newtown, Jenny Leong MP has spoken out against the privatisation of early childhood education.


Ms JENNY LEONG (Newtown) (17:29:19): On behalf of The Greens I make a contribution to this public interest debate. The subject of this debate, early learning and before- and after-school care, is certainly in the public interest. The Government's pre-election promise was to provide before- and after-school care at every primary school in Sydney and major regional centres. In practice this promise has developed into the privatisation of many before- and after-school-care services and unacceptable increases in fees to not-for-profits as well as lowering the standards of care in some instances. There is huge demand for affordable before- and after-school care in New South Wales, with over 150,000 primary school students requiring this care.

Early learning itself is crucial and invaluable in addressing inequality and disadvantage in our society. Privatising this essential part of our education system is unacceptable. It is unacceptable that we are outsourcing our children's education and learning to private, for-profit providers, which is cause for serious concern. We are entrenching inequality in our future society if the main way people access early childhood education and learning is through paid services with for-profit providers. Recent reports have shown that Australian families are spending up to $6.8 billion on child care and early learning costs every year, including an average of $6,000 on long day care.

We have to start building a society where child care is an essential service, and early childhood education and learning is universally available and freely accessible to every family that needs it. That is what The Greens want to see, that is what the community wants to see, and that is what our children need and deserve. Instead, in New South Wales the Government's solution has been to seek to radically alter before- and after-school care by opening it up to for-profit companies and providing large subsidies to companies to do this. Parents are concerned about this and the sector is concerned about this. There have been overwhelming calls to ensure that smaller not‑for‑profits are sustained, that fees are reduced, that accountability and transparency are provided and that there be a move away from rather than a move towards unfair and unreasonable tender processes that mean small, not‑for‑profit providers can never be competitive against the major businesses and companies that are putting in tender submissions.

This is happening all over the State, including in the Newtown electorate at Stanmore Public School with the council-run service. Other not-for-profit services in other electorates such as the Rainbow Activity Centre in Randwick have been knocked out of the tender process by larger organisations. Fees have increased and as a result there has been a shift in the pressures put on parents, principals and school communities. The experience of parents at one of our local schools, Stanmore Public School, is an example of the way this process is simply allowing companies with little or no experience or expertise in the area to seek profits in this sector. One parent who wrote to us recently about the situation at Stanmore Public School said:

This is a private for profit company, which could of course, increase their rates at any time in the 5 years of this contract. They could be bought by another provider and increase rates as for profit companies do. At this stage we do not have any recourse if the owners and directors of this company decide to sell to a multinational or another for profit company.

The two Directors are Secretaries of the company, and their registered address is in the city … They do not list any childcare or children's services as their area of expertise.

The parents are very concerned about this decision to privatise a service, which is of a high standard, and appreciated and trusted by us.

Of course privatization then moves the entire services to the Children's Services Award, which is much lower than Council rates of pay and conditions.

This reduces the pay and conditions of the workers in those centres. Numerous firsthand accounts are on the Community Early Learning Australia website regarding issues around this privatisation agenda. We need to move to a model of universal and freely accessible early learning and child care as well as before- and after-school care for all in our community, not based on a for-profit model or the ability of someone to pay.

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