Meryl Swanson: Canberra Matters | Government must start supporting early education

Who would have thought at the age of 50 I'd still be learning lessons from my Kurri Kurri preschool?

Yet this is the situation I found myself in last week, speaking with Nicci, the director at the preschool.

Nicci was keen to impress on me that to make the child care sector viable, we need to value it appropriately. This starts by acknowledging that the sector provides early child education and care, and calling it as such.

It is no surprise that someone working with small children understands the power of language.

With correct labelling, it is much easier to see that the sector provides an important, two-pronged tool for our economy. It gives children a better start to life and supports parents to stay in the workforce.

When COVID-19 restrictions started, parents began pulling their children out of care. Labor urged the Government to act quickly to support the sector.

The announcement of free child care that followed was welcomed. Unfortunately, the Government is not properly funding this program, creating winners and losers - with some families receiving free child care and others receiving no care at all.

I held a forum last week with providers to understand the Government's failed policy that has left many struggling to stay afloat. The Government has taken away the rights of providers to charge parents for their services. Instead, the Government pays providers 50 percent of the revenue they would normally receive. What about JobKeeper, I asked, does that help? Well not every business is eligible and $1500 a fortnight is less than the salary of many staff.

It has also been a hard pill to swallow for small business operators, to have their income taken away and managed by the Government.

When I asked where to from here it certainly wasn't back to the old system, it didn't work either and we are facing a new economy.

The Government needs to see the true value of early education and care and create a system that supports it.