The federal election is coming and Labor’s game of musical chairs is over. Eddy Jokovich reflects on the past three years of government and what the sector can expect from the political process in the future.

(This article first appeared in Rattler 106, published by Community Child Care Co-operative (NSW). To purchase a copy, go to:

The parallel universe is usually associated with the realm of quantum physics but, if there was ever any proof that the concept might be applied elsewhere, then look no further than the current state of federal politics in Australia.

In these competing parallel universes, one government has carried its business out quite successfully: Australia’s economy is a leader among OECD countries; unemployment hovers around 5 per cent; interest rates are at historic lows; national wealth is at its highest; long overdue education funding reforms are taking place; a national disability insurance scheme is installed; measures to address carbon pollution are in place; a national quality system for early education and care has been introduced; the global financial crisis resisted and the pillars of society are standing strong.

However, in a parallel universe, calamity has struck—boats filled with asylum seekers are taking over our shores; a carbon tax is destroying many industries; the economy is on the brink of collapse and many jobs are being lost. Money that we don’t have is being wasted on national broadband networks, the high cost of childcare is making working families unemployed, and the National Quality Framework is too expensive and sending many operators bankrupt. A world filled with decay is awaiting … unless, of course, a change of government occurs.

So, where do the facts begin, and where does the fiction end? Which parallel universe is most believable?

Although the Labor Government, led by former Prime Minister Julia Gillard for most of this current term, has been a competent reformist government, it is heading for defeat. Since its term commenced in October 2010, it has been behind in every opinion poll and had every possible political calamity thrown at it. Whether the recently-installed Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, will make any difference to the election result is difficult to determine at this stage.

The 2010 election resulted in a once-in-a-generation event of a ‘hung’ parliament, where neither major political party could form government. While there were hopes this would result in a more consultative political process and better policy development, a more combative environment prospered under the guidance of Opposition Leader Tony Abbott, and the supporting cast of conservative media, who believed the Gillard Government to be illegitimate, due to the hung parliament and the implementation of the carbon tax.

However, the process of government has actually been constructive—over 550 pieces of legislation have passed through parliament since 2010, compared with 409 during Kevin Rudd’s first term, and 520 during the final term of the Howard Government. While the government’s management of politics has been poor, management of policy and implementation of programs has generally been good.

Media speculation on Julia Gillard’s leadership was relentless and led to the perception of unstable government. There has been a surreal element to federal politics over the past three years and each month has thrown political intrigue that made the fantasy series Game of Thrones seem more like The Wizard of Oz. The former PM endured two challenges from her predecessor, constant undermining of her position by a bevy of opposition parliamentarians, assorted shock jocks and other spivs, as well as the onerous demands of a hung parliament and a generally partisan mainstream media.

More recently, Ms Gillard contended with salami-sandwich throwing and heckling from high school children, puerile sexist comments about her published on dinner menus and questions about the sexuality of her partner (and, by association, her own sexuality). Surely, these are situations a male PM would never experience and raise the question of how culpable certain sections of a male-dominated media have been in demeaning the office of Prime Minister. Evidently, Australia is yet to come to terms with its institutionalised and casual sexism.

Although Julia Gillard has decided to leave politics at the next election, history will be kinder to her than her detractors have wanted to believe over the past three years.

Meanwhile, back on planet earth, educators are concerned about what a possible change of government could mean for the National Quality Framework and the early childhood agenda. The NQF has been a hard-fought reform supported by many people in the sector over many years.

According to the Productivity Commission, Australian Government expenditure on early childhood education and care was $3.8 billion in 2009/10 and $4.4 billion in 2012/13, increases of 54 per cent and 75 per cent respectively, compared to expenditure in 2005/06. There is still more to be done, and lower levels of commitment by future governments will result in lower quality of education and care. There are now just over one million children accessing education and care services, a 20 per cent increase over the past five years.

Being in government since 2007, Labor’s record for early education and care is available for all to see—the implementation of the NQF and the National Partnership on Universal Access—but, at this stage, it is not entirely clear what a Coalition Government will mean for the sector. Opposition Leader Tony Abbott has indicated that ‘the Coalition supports many of the positive elements of the National Quality Framework’, and does not intend any rollback.

This, of course, is a welcome response, but does not identify what these positive elements might be, and which parts of the NQF could possibly be changed. Of concern is that private services have been lobbying the Coalition to water down teaching qualifications, and any lessening of educator requirements will reduce the quality of education and care for children.

The centrepiece of the Coalition education and care policy relates more to workplace productivity through a Paid Parental Leave Scheme, and instructing the Productivity Commission to undertake a major enquiry into the education and care system and promises of ‘delivering more affordable and flexible childcare’.

The Shadow Minister for Childcare and Early Childhood Learning, Sussan Ley, has criticised the cost the NQF has imposed on childcare operators, by claiming the ‘Gillard Government’s national reforms to childcare is in tatters (‘Labor’s childcare reforms cost dearly’, Coalition media release, 17 November 2012). Really? In the parallel universe it’s quite possible.

Services are not that bothered about which side of the political bread is being buttered—the education of children is their primary concern—but an incoming Coalition Government needs to commit to the essence of the National Quality Framework, improvements to educator–child ratios, higher qualifications for educators, and maintaining the ratings system. These are hard-won reforms that are improving the quality of education and care in Australia, and must not
be given up so easily.

First published in Rattler 106, Winter 2013, Community Child Care Co-operative (NSW)

One Response to “Once upon a time in Canberra”

  1. Elizabeth says:

    It’ll be interesting to see if Kevin Rudd can walk the talk and follow through with Julia Gillard’s reforms as for Tony Abbott who knows what planet he inhabits – with an Abbott government life will probably be full of surprises.

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