Ms Bird (Cunningham) (15:38): I wanted to speak on my great colleague's MPI today and focus on early childhood, but I can't let some of the claims that the minister's made on vocational education, in particular apprenticeships, go unanswered, because he made them the other day as well in consideration in detail when I spoke at length on what's happened in the vocational education sector. The Minster for Education fails to identify that the changes that the Labor government made were not to apprenticeships; they were to traineeships. And they were because the fast-food industry was enrolling every young person they employed as a trainee, which is not the intention of the scheme—and I'm sure the minister and those opposite would have looked very closely at that themselves if they'd been in government and the scheme was being used in that way at that time.
Secondly, I think it's not really an appropriate skite by those in government to say: 'We introduced the Skilling Australia Fund and announced that we were going to create 200,000 apprenticeships. We've thrown up our hands in defeat. We're now 150,000 behind. We'll just pretend we never promised 200,000 and now say it's great that we're promising 80,000'—which doesn't even match their own target that they initially set, let alone make up for the 150,000 that have been lost since they took over government.
So I would really say that the conversation in the vocational education sector, like all of the conversations this government has in the education sector, follows a standard pattern: 'No. 1, claim we think it's really important. We really think preschool's important. We really think school education's important. We really think vocational education's important. We really think university education's important.' They make all the motherhood statements, followed up by, 'And we've given it record funding.' What's the basis of that? Generally natural growth. There's no actual program of reform and additional investment by the government in the education sectors that actually shows that they're prioritising this in the decisions that they make and the budgets that they bring down.
In particular, I want to talk about the early childhood sector today, because we know—the evidence is there—that investing funding into children before they start at formal school through a preschool program makes a significant difference to how well they perform over the whole lifetime of their education and, therefore, their opportunity to get employment and, indeed, to start the new businesses of innovation that will drive our economy into the future. One of the things you need to do is to make sure not only that the education program is available, accessible and equitable but also that it's quality and delivering what the nation needs. This is a particularly important focus in the early childhood sector. Only the other week—I think in the first week of September—we had Early Learning Matters Week. I was very pleased to be able to visit the Keiraview Children's Centre, an early education facility in my electorate, on Early Childhood Educators' Day. I give a big shout-out to the wonderful teachers who work in our early education sector as well. I noticed that the member for Page was talking about early learning centres before in the 90-second statements. I regularly visit early learning centres in my electorate. I've been to Book Week with Wollongong City Community Preschool. I recently—a month or so ago—visited the Corrimal Community Preschool. What happens when you go into those preschools is that you see their profound quality and dedication to giving our very youngest learners the very best quality of education. I always express—as I'm sure many colleagues do, including those on the other side who visit—deep appreciation for the value of the work that our early educators are doing.
What does concern me and many providers in the sector is that this government will not bite the bullet and put in place a determined program that guarantees ongoing funding for four-year-olds to get universal preschool access. If government members who visit their centres do appreciate the value of that, they need to tell the minister to bite the bullet and give guaranteed ongoing funding and, even better, maybe look at a really important initiative that, as our shadow minister for education pointed out, is happening in our competitors across the world: look at three-year-olds as well, because the best thing to set all of our children across the nation up for success in education is to fund three- and four-year-old preschool.
Watch Sharon’s speech here.