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Federal Opposition Leader Bill Shorten has announced that if elected, his government will invest $1.75 billion dollars into early childhood education.
Mr Shorten revealed his plan to fully-subsidise 15 hours a week of pre-school education for all three and four year old children during a visit to Monash University, in Melbourne, on Thursday.
“By the end of our first term in government, my vision is that we will have 700,000 Australian children enrolled in our new preschool programs right across the country,” Mr Shorten said.
“Labor will expand our national pre-school program so it is available to every three-year old in Australia… and prioritise $9.8 billion dollars across the decade to turn this vision into a reality.”
Mr Shorten plans to introduce the strategy in 2019 so that students finishing high school in 2036 will have experienced 15 years of quality education.
President and Vice Chancellor of Monash University Professor Margaret Gardner supported the initiative.
“The opportunity for all to have quality education and make the opportunities for themselves is something that we can all aspire and look forward to,” Prof Gardner said.
Early Childhood Australia’s Chief Executive Samantha Page said the proposal will benefit all Australian families who struggle to access early education services.
“Sixty per cent of three year olds are already participating in some form of education, but the 40% that aren’t are likely to include the children that would benefit the most from it,” Ms Page said.
“Australia has been underinvested in early education for a long time. We rank 22 out of 30 countries for our participation rates of children in early education, which is pretty woeful.”
“The UK has had near universal pre-school education since 2004, in New Zealand, 2007… but in Australia, only 15% of three-year olds are attending pre-school… we are already miles behind the nations.” Mr Shorten said.
When questioned about how the initiative will be funded, Mr Shorten hinted that he planned to make changes to taxation, especially around negative gearing.
“It is more important to me and to Labor that we have the best early childhood education system in the world instead of being the only country in the world that gives cash refunds on share dividends to investors that didn’t pay income tax in the first place.”
“There are so many social and economic benefits to be derived from investing more in early education and our aim eventually is for this to be something that all parliamentarians understand and support,” Ms Page said.