One day a week of free early learning for three-year-olds and 400 more teachers and support staff for ACT public schools have rounded off Labor’s weekend after officially launching their re-election campaign for a record sixth term in government on Saturday (19 September).
Four-year-olds in the ACT currently have access to 15 hours of free early childhood education every week – a target Labor also wants to reach for three-year-olds.
One day a week would be the first step to reach this target, Chief Minister Andrew Barr said.
“Well-established research has shown that the period from birth through to eight years – especially the first three years – sets the foundation for every child’s social, physical, emotional and cognitive development,” he said.
“In 2020, the ACT Labor Government started this work by providing 600 three-year-old children most in need with access to access 15 hours a week of free, quality early childhood education.
“A re-elected ACT Labor Government will continue to work with the early childhood and care sector in Canberra to deliver this service for all families with three-year-old children in the ACT.”
About $15 million annually will be set aside for the program’s expansion.
Education Minister and Deputy Chief Minister Yvette Berry said a re-elected government would also hire an extra 25 teacher-librarians by the end of 2024.
Ten of these teachers will be provided with a scholarship to complete their required qualifications while extra funding will also be given to schools to help them employ a qualified teacher-librarian.
Labor also committed to an extension of the utilities rebate in 2021 from $700 to $900.
The announcements came on the weekend when ACT Labor officially launched their fifth re-election campaign – hearing virtually from party stalwarts including leader Anthony Albanese, Senator Penny Wong and Tanya Plibersek.
Former Chief Minister and current ACT Senator Katy Gallagher also spoke, lauding her former deputy for leading the most “progressive and experienced” government in the country while taking the opportunity to fire a few potshots at her former adversary, Zed Seselja and ACT opposition leader Alistair Coe.
Successive speakers – from Labor ACT branch president Brooke Muscat to Senator Gallagher – wasted no opportunity to brand the Liberals as an “ultra-conservative” threat to Canberra.
The Liberals used the attacks to reignite their criticisms of the government, saying “Labor demonstrated their total obsession with Alistair Coe’s active leadership in the community, talking him and the Liberals on at least 30 occasions throughout the launch while only mentioning cost of living once”.
“It is clear Labor has all the wrong priorities,” a Canberra Liberals spokesperson said.
However, Mr Barr said Canberrans needed a continuation of the government which has led the Territory in its most tumultuous year – including its worst fire season since 2003 and an unprecedented economic threat from the pandemic.
“Now, more than ever, Canberrans need an experienced, mature government they can trust to lead the Territory,” he said.
However, despite all the advantages of incumbency, a sidelined opposition during the pandemic and a significantly larger war chest, Mr Barr said 2020 would be just as close as previous elections due to the nature of the Hare-Clark system.
“There will be a well-represented opposition in the Parliament, there are not wipeout elections in the ACT like you can get in some other jurisdictions,” he told the launch.
“We will be out campaigning for every single vote.”