Federal government inaction on Universal Access condemned

12 February, 2021

The federal government’s failure to address the future of Universal Access funding means Australia’s early childhood education (ECE) sector remains in a tenuous position.

The Productivity Commission’s recently released Report on Government Services (ROGS) series 2019/2020 shows Australia’s ECE sector is facing significant shortcomings.

The ROGS is released annually and provides insight on the equity, effectiveness and efficiency of various Australian government services, including ECE.

Report findings

According to the ROGS, Commonwealth funding contributions through the Universal Access program decreased in 2019 – 2020 to $433 million, compared to $439 in the year before.

The report showed the number of children enrolled in kindergarten the year before school decreased by 3.3 per cent compared to last year, with 87.7 per cent of all children enrolled in at least 15 hours per week.

To read more about the findings, see here.

New Minister should mean new approach

Despite the appointment of a new federal Minister for Education following a Cabinet reshuffle in December 2020, the federal government continues to neglect the ECE sector and ignore expert recommendations calling for permanent Universal Access funding.

IEU-QNT Senior Industrial Officer John Spriggs said it was worrying the new Minister for Education Alan Tudge had failed to provide any certainty about the future of Universal Access funding, especially given funding is only guaranteed until the end of 2021.

“An independent review conducted last year found the short-term nature of the UANP has adversely affected the efficiency of funding arrangements in that it has led to cautious decision-making about investment in programs and in staffing,” John said.

“It also found children across Australia are benefitting measurably from the 600 hours of early childhood education before compulsory school.

“The report recommended the government commit to a five-year funding model rather than the current short-term and uncertain approach to funding renewals.

“In the absence of recurrent funding, a five-year cycle (as recommended by the report) is the minimum which will ensure the continued existence of quality early childhood education,” he said.

John said the review highlighted the significance of Universal Access funding to the provision of quality kindergarten in the year before school.

“Only now is the return on this investment starting to become apparent in the further developmental and educational progress of children,” John said.

“This combined with the review’s findings should compel the federal government to commit permanent funding to the UANP.

“Such a commitment is essential to facilitating professional pay rates and conditions for early childhood education teachers and assistants which in turn will ensure quality education for all children,” John said.

Time for permanent funding

Ongoing, guaranteed funding through Universal Access is not a new idea to our union.

We have been consistently fighting for a long-term commitment to investing in early childhood education through the Fund Our Future campaign as we know first-hand the difference that quality early childhood education has on children’s development.

Members are encouraged to sign and share our petition calling on the federal government to guarantee permanent Universal Access funding.

Sign the Fund Our Future petition www.megaphone.org.au/petitions/fund-our-future

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