Tonight’s federal budget is an important opportunity to restore long-term growth to the Australian economy by investing in large-scale investment projects, but it is also an important opportunity to invest in the long-term growth of Australia’s greatest resource, our children. Not only because it is the right thing to do but because it makes economic sense.
This should begin with an increased investment in the accessibility of early childhood education and care. For decades UNICEF has prioritised the first years of life across its international programming in developing countries for good reason – experiences in early life influence outcomes later. More than 85 per cent of a child’s development occurs within the first five years of life. Yet, despite our relatively high standard of living, one in five Aussie kids starts school with developmental vulnerabilities. This means that they lack the emotional maturity, communication skills or cognitive skills expected at their age and may struggle to keep up with their peers.
"More than 85 per cent of a child’s development
occurs within the first five years of life."
During the recent months of the COVID-19 pandemic, the government has proven that there are many short-term benefits to improving access to universal early childhood education and care. Extending that short-term relief in Victoria is welcome and will increase workplace participation, however these efforts remain a band aid on one of the lowest standards in pre-school participation in the OECD. Australia ranks 38 out of 41 countries and a staggering 85 per cent of Australian three-year-olds do not attend an early learning education and care facility.
The productivity gains achieved by improving parents’ workforce participation through the provision of universal early childhood education and care would boost the economy. Price Waterhouse Coopers released a cost-benefit analysis that showed the $2.34 billion in costs associated with the provision of 15 hours of early childhood education in the year-before-school, would result in a return of $4.74 billion in benefits to the economy by way of parental workforce participation, educational attainment and future lifetime earnings, higher taxes paid to government and reduced social expenditure on unemployment, health and justice systems costs.