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Alicia Payne MP floats hope for free or cheap childcare

Labor MP Alicia Payne, Member for Canberra, spoke out about the need for affordable childcare at the renaming of a Community Services #1 preschool in Narrabundah today, 1 April.

“It’s critical that parents can afford to access early childhood education and care,” she said.

“In Canberra, we had the biggest increases of any city over the last year, and we have on average the highest childcare costs in the country.”

Ms Payne described the Federal Government’s response to last year’s spike in demand as “shambolic”.

Member for Canberra Alicia Payne, Community Services #1 CEO Amanda Tobler and preschool children at the Marlee Early Education and Care Centre.

She said Labor’s plan for childcare would see it become more affordable for 97% of Australian families.

“This is really important not just for children, but for the economy and for gender equality because around kitchen tables in Canberra and around the country, parents are discussing whether they can afford to return to work, and it’s generally the woman making that decision.”

She said Labor planned to have the Productivity Commission analyse the feasibility of universal free childcare.

“And I think ultimately, that’s where we want to be.”

Community Services #1 CEO Amanda Tobler said universal access to early education and care for three- and four-year-olds would set them up for success at school.

“At the moment, we have one in five Australian children that are going to school that are not ready,” she said.

“And for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children that’s one in two.

“So we need to do something different.”

Ms Tobler said there was an oversupply of childcare centres in the ACT and not enough staff to fill them.

“Having high quality, high paid – which they are not – educators, is the key to having great centres, great children who are ready and able to go on to the rest of their lives.”

Community Services #1 pay above award and have granted annual pay rises for the last “several years”, according to Ms Tobler.

“I’d love to pay them more.”

Ms Payne spoke about her stance on childcare costs after officiating at the renaming of Community Services #1’s Narrabundah Children’s Cottage (Senior), now Marlee Early Education and Care Centre.

Ms Tobler said the decision to rename the preschool, which looks after three- to five-year-olds, was to distinguish it from its sister site of the same name which hosts children aged two and under.

The 65-year-old venue was the first community facility in Narrabundah, and the name Marlee was inspired by the site’s tree canopy.

“The building has been around for so many years and is embedded into our community, and the trees have been here longer than the building,” Ms Tobler said.

Ngunnawal knowledge keeper and TOACK cultural director Richie Allan.

“We wanted an Indigenous name – we actually have a couple of other centres that have Indigenous names.”

‘Marlee’ means ‘elder tree’ in the language of the Biripi people of the mid-NSW coast – on whose land Taree and Port Macquarie were built – not in the local language of the Ngunnawal people.

Ms Tobler said Community Services #1 compiled a list of Indigenous and Torres Strait Islander words, which they felt “may be befitting” of the environment, and children, staff and families chose from a selection of options.

Ngunnawal knowledge keeper Richie Allan, who gave a Welcome to Country at the renaming, said there were many different names for trees in Ngunnawal language and ‘ngulla’ was one word he would use for the Narrabundah trees.   

“I encourage you to get out and learn more about the land you live upon, because there’s such rich history and culture in the dirt, in the plants, in the trees,” he said.

“Putting the Cultural world into the Western world is harder than putting the Western world into the Cultural world.

“It’s very hard, and that’s why this beautiful thing called reconciliation does work, and we walk side-by-side and educate each other.”

Mr Allan, cultural director of Traditional Owners Aboriginal Corporation Kinnections (TOACK), runs Ngunnawal cultural education programs for Canberra businesses and schools, from preschool through to tertiary levels.

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