Press Conference – Wiradjuri Preschool and Child Care Centre, University of Canberra – Wednesday 3 May 2023





SUBJECTS: Early Childhood Education and Care Workforce Package; Cheaper Child Care; vaping in schools. 

MINISTER FOR EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION, DR ANNE ALY: Good afternoon, everyone. Can I start by thanking Adam and the team here at University of Canberra. It’s wonderful to meet all the early childhood educators who are here, who are doing their degree to become early childhood teachers. I also want to thank all the early childhood educators, teachers and sector representatives who have met with me over the past few months to talk about workforce issues and what we’re announcing here today is a direct response to the issues and the concerns that they have raised with me. 

What we’re announcing is just over $70 million for a package that consists of three tranches. One of those tranches is professional development and subsidising professional development to allow services to backfill while their early childhood educators and teachers undertake professional development. Now, this was something that the government used to fund, but the previous Coalition government abolished that in 2017. So, we’re reinstating that, acknowledging that early childhood educators and teachers have a lot of pressure on them and that professional development is key – key to retaining them in the sector, but also key to improving capacity and capability of early childhood education services to deliver that quality early childhood education that so many parents and children rely on. 

The second two tranches of this package relate to practicums. Now, we all know teaching degrees right across the board have a strong component of practicums in there. And early childhood educators who have taken that step to upskill have told me that doing the practicums places significant financial stress on them. So, what we’ll be doing is funding practicums for early childhood educators who are undertaking a teaching degree and funding practicum exchanges for early childhood educators who are already working in a service to enable them to undertake their practicum in another service without losing their wage. 

This package will benefit around 80,000 early childhood educators and teachers. It is just another step in what the Albanese Labor Government is doing in recognising the quality of early childhood education and care, recognising the professionalism of early childhood educators and teachers, and recognising that early childhood education is absolutely vital in a child’s early development in those first five years. So, I’m really proud of this announcement, I’m proud to say that the sector has responded very well to it. It does directly respond to the issues and the concerns that they’ve raised with me. And I know that it will be very well received by the sector, and I’ll pass on to Jason Clare, the Minister for Education. 

MINISTER FOR EDUCATION, JASON CLARE: Thanks very much. It’s great to be here with the amazing Anne Aly. Anne is the architect of this package, which is about building the skilled workforce that we need in our early education and care sector. There aren’t many jobs in this country that are more important than the work that our educators and our teachers do in our early education centres. I get reminded about that every time I pop into one of these centres, every time I pick up my little munchkin from the early education centre in my neck of the woods in Sydney. After this press conference, I’ve got to race back to Sydney to make sure I pick him up on time as well. 

The first five years of a child’s life are everything. Everything they see, everything they hear, everything they eat, every book they open, every lesson they learn shapes the person that they become. We got a privileged opportunity to see that in action here at the University of Canberra again today with ‘The Bunyip and the Stars’. I want to thank Adam and the team here who are doing such an awesome job helping to care for and educate the next generation of Australians. Can I thank you, Vice Chancellor, for your leadership here at the University and your team, and particularly, I want to thank the teachers here, the educators here and the students who we met today who are already working in early education and care and are taking the next big leap from being educators to being teachers. That’s really important. This package, in part, is about helping people to do that as well. 

In just over 50 days, child care will get a lot cheaper for more than a million Australian families. Child care is important, but it’s expensive and it’s gone up by about 49 per cent in the last ten years. Apart from the mortgage and rent, this is the biggest bill that a lot of Australian families have to pay. And the changes that we have made and that start on the 1st of July will make child care a lot cheaper for more than a million Australian families. If you’re a family on a combined income of $120 grand, it’ll cut the cost of childcare by about $1,700 a year. That’s real money. That will make a real difference. It’s good for kids, it’s good for parents and it’s good for our whole country. It’s good for children because their time in centres like this will prepare them for school. It’s good for parents because it will mean more money in their wallet and their purses. It’s good for the country because it will help to get more skilled workers back in the workforce. 

But this is just the first step. At the same time, we’re also rolling out plans for a big reform to create a truly universal early education system. That work is led by Professor Deborah Brennan and the Productivity Commission. They’ll provide their interim report to the Government at the end of this year and their final report in the middle of next year. As part of that, the work we’re doing and the work that states are doing, we need to build a bigger workforce. 

There are tens of thousands more people working in early education today than there were a year ago. There’s about 128,000 people, like the educators we met today that are in the pipeline at university and at TAFE at the moment. There’s also about 2,000 people in the last twelve months that have come to Australia on visas to work in early education. But we need even more. We’ve got to build a bigger workforce and the package that we’re announcing today is about helping educators to skill up and helping centres to backfill while they’re doing all of this professional development. 

I want to pay tribute to Anne. As I said, Anne is the architect of this package. She’s put it together by talking to teachers, talking to educators, talking to the sector over the last six to nine months. This will make a practical difference, helping centres and helping the workforce in our early education system to get the skills they need and to help us build a bigger, better workforce. Our plan is all about cutting the cost of child care, providing access for more children, helping parents skilling up the Australian economy, and making sure we’ve got a bigger workforce to do this essential job. 

I also just want to say something about the announcement that the Health Minister, Mark Butler, made about vaping yesterday. Vaping is a massive, massive issue in our schools. Ask any parent of a child at high school and they’ll tell you they’re worried about it. Ask any teacher and they’ll tell you that this is a massive issue in their schools that they need to tackle. 

The companies making these vapes are plainly targeting our kids. You can see it with the shiny packaging, you can see it with the sweet flavours, you can see it in the fact that these things are disguised to look like USBs and highlighters that they can hide in their pencil cases and in their school bags. 

The result is that ten years ago, barely any children were using vapes. Now one in six young people have tried them and if you’ve used them, you’re three times more likely to end up smoking. These things have become a gateway drug for nicotine and for cigarettes. 

Parents are worried about them; teachers are worried about them. Teachers are basically being turned into de facto police, being forced to do search and seizure of school bags to find these things out. And if you ask principals, what they will tell you is that this, along with mobile phones, is one of the biggest behaviour management issues in their schools. Because you’ve got children that are either being affected by the nicotine and coming off it, or you’ve got children that are trying to duck out of class to have a vape, or it’s distracting them and other kids in the classroom or causing behaviour issues. 

We’ve got to get rid of the shiny packaging, you’ve got to get rid of all of these vapes that are disguised as something else, and we’ve got to make it harder to get access to these things. Get rid of them from the corner store, get rid of them from the petrol stations as well. That’s what Mark announced yesterday. 

In the coming weeks, the Health Minister and I will have more to say about the work that we’ll do with State and Territory Governments in our schools to make sure that we’re taking the action we need to get these things out of our schools. Thanks very much.