Early years of children's lives should be a standing agenda item for national cabinet, says former South Australian premier Jay Weatherill, not an ad hoc matter.
The Thrive by Five chief executive released new polling showing about three-quarters of Australians support a universal early learning and childcare system, and more than half say it could influence their vote.
More than two-thirds of parents with children under school age say the issue is a vote-changer for them.
"The broader community can see the benefits of this for parents, but also for the economy, gender equality and the health and wellbeing of children," Mr Weatherill said.
The research, conducted by Essential Research, found the vast majority of parents of young children say access to more affordable, quality childcare would have reduced the career and personal sacrifices they have made.
Affordable meant keeping costs below a threshold of 7 per cent of disposable income, the research showed.
Rather than a childminding service for working parents, as some policymakers regard early learning, the children who would most benefit from early learning experiences are those from more disadvantaged communities.
"These might be the very parents that are struggling to be a regular part of the workforce," Mr Weatherill said.
"We'd like it to be a sustained effort by all Australian governments to build out a high quality universally accessible system."
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Georgie Dent, who runs the not-for-profit Parenthood advocacy organisation, said the federal government has been spending exponentially more money each year on the childcare subsidy for the last 10 years, without any meaningful increase in affordability for families or pay and conditions for educators.
"The reason for that is what we have seen is over time, subsidy just pushes the price of care up," she said.
It's not just an economic equation for parents, she said, as the quality of the care and the wages for educators were not always link in obvious ways.
"We need to start looking at how we fund and deliver early education in a way that creates better outcomes for educators, children and families."
Inaugural Early Learning Monitor key findings:
- Most Australians recognise the importance of play-based learning and acknowledge that children are more likely to experience play-based learning if they attend centre-based daycare or preschool.
- They believe, however, that the cost of early childhood education (ECE) and care has risen sharply over recent years and that many parents do not send their children to centre-based daycare or preschool because of the cost.
- A clear majority of Australians believe that cheaper ECE would be good for the economy as a whole, and that support has increased substantially over the last year.
- 7 in 10 support the introduction of a universal high-quality ECE and care system, and most think such a system would be good for the education system, the economy and social inequality.
- Almost half the respondents in this large study, including two thirds of parents of children under school age, say that early childhood education and care is a very or extremely important issue for their vote. Two thirds of parents of children in daycare say they would be more likely to vote for a party that advocated a universal ECE and care system.
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