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A broken promise for the greater good?

Jo and Gwenie

There is no doubt the Abbott government is in struggle town at the moment.

If recent polling is anything to go by voters have lost confidence in their Prime Minister. Incompetent and untrustworthy, terms once used by Tony Abbott to describe Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd are now how voters are describing him.

It’s the end of 2014 and Mr Abbott is having a lot of trouble reminding the electorate of why they voted for him.  Especially when chatting with well-known prime time morning TV hosts.

All we keep hearing about is broken promises – no cuts to the ABC, no new taxes, no cuts to health or education, the list goes on.

And on Sunday Mr Abbott appeared to have added his signature paid parental leave policy to that list of broken promises.

Can his constituency forgive him? Can women forgive him?

On this broken promise – I think we should.

In fact, I would go so far as to say Mr Abbott has given himself a great opportunity to turn those bad polls around and leave struggle town for good.

Without doubt the full implementation of Mr Abbott’s PPL policy was doomed to fail from the start. The amount of opposition just within his own party and from big business meant he was always going to crash, not crash through.

So I with thousands of other parents was thrilled when on Sunday Mr Abbott confirmed he would no longer try to crash his widely unpopular PPL scheme through the Parliament and would instead  “re-package” it to include a transfer of funds to the childcare budget.

This may seem surprising to hear but thousands of mums and even mums to be see this “broken promise” as very good news.

Because right now what actually makes the difference between being able to go to work or not is access to childcare not continuing to receive your wage while you’re on maternity leave.

The Parenthood’s exclusive survey of what Australian parents think about the Government’s PPL has found that over 85% of mothers say access to affordable childcare is more important to them and would have a greater impact on their ability to get back to work than a more generous PPL.

But before the government gets all excited about extending tax-payer funds to subsidise nannies and grandparents, let me share this thought – if this is all you do then you run a serious risk of missing out on a truly historic opportunity to change the Australian childcare sector for the better.

Because when I say childcare, I don’t mean access to someone who is able to feed and change nappies and basically keep your child alive for the day.

I mean access to the highly skilled and qualified educators who provide not only a safe but also an enriching environment for our children to learn and grow. And who are accordingly paid a wage reflective of the work they do.

So I’m talking about high quality early education and care. And it costs money. Lots of it.

Managing the nation’s budget is all about priorities. Where and when to prioritise spending and where and when to prioritise saving.

But if there is one area that should be a key priority spend for governments of all political persuasions it’s in education.

Now my mum, a primary school teacher of 30 years, is always concerned when I use the term “education” when referring to childcare. “How can babies receive an education? That’s just ridiculous!” She says.

And I say “Mum, it’s not education as we understand it when it comes to school. This isn’t about reading and writing, this is in fact about setting the ground work to learn those important skills when we get to school.”

This is about my 1 year old being provided with the environment where she can safely develop her fine and gross motor skills, her language skills, her cognitive skills, her social and emotional skills.

This is about the incredibly complex interactions my daughter’s educators have with her as they let her play and explore her environment all the while understanding and planning for how best to help her reach her developmental milestones.

The first 5 years of life are absolutely critical to our overall wellbeing and how successful we will be in life.

The experiences we have in these critical years shape who we are, our understanding of the world and how we view ourselves in it.

That’s why there is so much research to support the long-term benefits of access to high quality early education and care, especially for children who come from significant disadvantage.

High quality early education can be the difference between a life of success and achievement or a life of struggle and perpetual disadvantage.

By increasing investment and targeting it towards access to affordable quality early education we could see for the first time a recognition of just how important childcare is not only to enabling parents to work, but also to giving children the best possible start in life.

So I forgive and in fact congratulate Mr Abbott on his decision to reduce his signature PPL in order to re-direct funds to the childcare budget.

But I implore him to leave the old days where childcare was merely a babysitting service behind and instead acknowledge its significant value as the beginning of one’s education.

Mr Abbott make your mark on Australia’s childcare system – invest in childcare so high quality early education is accessible and affordable for all families.

Australia will reap the rewards of not only more productivity now, with more women in the workforce, but from the achievements of the leaders of tomorrow. The leaders who got their kick start to success from their friendly early years educator at the childcare centre down the road.

If you are interested in joining The Parenthood’s campaign for increased investment into quality early education and care visit www.theparenthood.org.au.

Jo Briskey is mother of one, is trained in Educational and Developmental Psychology and is currently acting CEO of The Parenthood.