Opening of the University of Wollongong Early Start Facility
Well thank you very much for that kind introduction it is tremendous to be with you all here today, and to Richard, thank you for your welcome to country. I also acknowledge the Waddi Waddi people and the Dharawal nation, which is of course the same nation that is the traditional owners of the Sutherland Shire. It’s tremendous to be visiting here because when we come to the University of Wollongong–John Rayner would know this as the General Manager– we think of this not just as the University of Wollongong but the Shire University. So many young people from the Shire, just north of here come along to the University of Wollongong and it is their university of choice, it is their university of choice. So it’s tremendous to be here with you Vice Chancellor and of course Chancellor Jillian Broadbent, thank for every much for the invitation and there are many other Vice Chancellors represented here today I don’t know what the plural is for Vice Chancellors but I’m not the one to venture the adjective, I’m sure others will.
To my Parliamentary Colleagues that are here, Connie Fierravanti-Wells my Parliamentary Secretary and Ann Sudmalis from the South Coast seat of Gilmore, it’s tremendous you being here. Can I also acknowledge the work that all federal members and senators have done around this project and support of this university over a long period of time at the state and federal level it’s important that institutions such as this and programmes such as this do receive that support and I am so pleased that has been happening here over a long period of time.
The University of Wollongong, I laud its success wherever I go, I did it long before I went into Parliament I’ve seen this university grow and develop to become an incredible an incredible innovator and leader in its field and a university of choice not just for people of the Illawarra and the Shire but from the state and in fact the whole country so I commend everyone for their incredible work that they have done.
It’s great to have the ‘Flame Trees’ here with us here today and it’s not the first time I have heard the national anthem sung in Dharawal because every single primary school in my electorate sing in Dharawal that national anthem and my own two little daughters aged now 6 and 8 they are learning that song in Dharawal as well and particularly out at the landing site at Kurnell where we have the Meeting of Two Cultures ceremony every April it is a beautiful thing to hear that national anthem sung in the Dharawal language so thank you so much for your contribution to that today.
This is an incredibly important day and it’s a thrill to be here because not only are we marking the official opening of this tremendous institution but we are also recognising Christopher and Barbara Abbott as well and the Chancellor will have a bit more to say about that shortly, but I particularly wanted to acknowledge them here today. It is a truly inspiring thing to see Australians give back in the way that the Abbotts have and this building but more importantly the legacy of those that learn and study and research and teach and are cared for within it, will be their enduring legacy so I particularly want to welcome them most of all for their participation in this incredible project.
This has been a project that has been running over some period of time and it was originally the Higher Education Endowment Fund that was set up back in 2007 which became the Education Investment Fund from which some $31 million dollars has been invested in the development of this facility and programmes that go around it and in addition to that the $7 million from the Abbott Foundation but also the $6 million that has come from the University of Wollongong itself. So they have skin in the game here, they’re not just the receiver of funding making this happen, they are making it happen themselves and they are making an investment and I would like to commend Vice Chancellors past and present for their leadership in making that investment and seeing the importance of this programme.
We all agree that investment in a child from the earliest possible opportunity will create lifelong outcomes and benefits for those children. I often feel like as the Minister for Social Services I am moonlighting in so many other roles because I understand that unless we make the interventions in education or in health or in other economic portfolios or in job creation or any of these other areas, unless we do that then Australians will have to come in on the social services provided to the general support of the taxpayers. We know from research that has come before that which will take place in this institution – and research will continue to confirm – investment early in young children’s lives makes a very, very large difference.
It makes a difference not just in the case of ordinary Australians and their families but it particularly makes a difference in the lives of the most disadvantaged Australians and none more so than our Indigenous communities. None more so than in the lives of children with disabilities and learning difficulties and those who come from very difficult homes where being in a place where they are receiving that care and support is in fact respite from them from otherwise very, very difficult existence. For them, this is where the circuit breaks from those lives of disadvantage. This is where the change starts for them at those very early opportunities that are provided through the work that is done through early childhood education right across the country.
Now the government has committed to the Jobs for Families package which will see some $3.5 billion extra invested in early childhood education and child care around the country and there has been much focus on that investment. It will be the single largest investment in this area from a federal government than at any other time but I’ve got to tell you the area that I am most pleased about and the area I am most excited about is the work that is being done in the Child Care Safety Net, with the Additional Child Care Subsidy, the Community Child Care Fund and the Inclusion Support Programme which includes block funding investments in some of the most disadvantages areas of our country whether it’s for indigenous communities or non-indigenous communities all around the country.
What’s exciting about this project is that it links the learnings here in this facility to the community. It links it to the lives of children and those who are out there educating children all around the country and it particularly does it in the case of the 40 odd centres that are specifically connected in the work that is being done as part of this programme. That experience, that shared knowledge, the amplification of what is being learnt here – the only facility of this kind not just in the country but understand arguably anywhere in the world – that is something that the University of Wollongong and its generous benefactors can be very proud of. So by connecting up with those frontline centres, those ones that are there nurturing the lives of young children every day, we will see the loop closed and we will see the learnings go backwards and forwards and we will see it particularly here in the centre behind us in the playgrounds and other places we see all around.
So the work you do here with the research, your active involvement with disadvantaged communities, your role in training, all of this will certainly contribute to a brighter future for children who need it most all around the country.
As Social Services Minister, we support this sector through the provision of the child care assistance which embraces the early childhood learning elements of the programme, but it is more than just that because it does provide the quality, not just the access, which is necessary for these programmes to work so well. That’s why the government has been pleased to continue the work of the National Quality Framework for Early Childhood Education around the country and that’s why we’ve committed some over $60 million in this Jobs for Families package that will see the work of the National Quality Framework continue.
So in conclusion, can I come back again to the wonderful generosity and vision of the Abbotts. I often talk about the vision of one particular Abbott, but today, I’m happy to be talking about the vision of some other Abbotts. One of the things that marks out many other western societies is their generous philanthropy and frankly it’s something this country we need to do a lot better on. Maybe it’s because we do have such a strong welfare safety net in this country, maybe it’s because people feel we pay our taxes, and as a result, these services should be there for all those who need them. But the Abbott’s go further than that. They’ve certainly paid plenty of tax in their lives, I have no doubt about that. I’m sure their accountants know that as well. But they have chosen to invest over and above what is expected of all Australians and in committing $7 million through the Abbott Foundation for this project they are showing an example of not just what’s important to invest in but why it’s important to invest well beyond what we all do as Australians in meeting our obligations as taxpayers. So my personal thanks to you both. We’ve established a Business Community Partnership with the Prime Minister, bringing together philanthropists, those working in the not for profit sector, those working within the social welfare sector, to try and further grow and encourage exactly the sort of leadership and inspiration and generosity we’ve seen from the Abbott’s here today.
So I’m pleased that there will be a wing named in their honour, but today, apart from the singing and dancing which you have already enjoyed and I’ve made a few remarks – it seems in this job you do lots of singing and dancing and chasing chickens around child care centres and various other places – a bit different to the last job I can assure you. It’s very enjoyable to be able to come and spend time and see these young lives change and today we’re seeing that in reality, we’re seeing it through this wonderful facility and it’s been my great pleasure to be here to formally and officially open the Early Start Centre.