Federal Labor has promised to extend preschool access to three-year-olds, guaranteeing 15 hours a week of subsidised early childhood education for about 700,000 children, if it wins government.
Under the $1.75 billion plan, all three and four-year-olds would get 600 hours of subsidised preschool or kindergarten a year.
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten will formally announce the policy in a speech in Melbourne on Thursday, making a pitch to parents head of the next election, due by May.
“For the first time, every three-year-old in Australia will be able to access 15 hours of subsidised early childhood education, so they can get the best start to learning,” Mr Shorten said in a statement.
Extending early childhood education to three-year-olds would bring Australia into line with the United Kingdom, New Zealand, France and China.
“Our global competitors have recognised the value of a two-year early childhood education program, and it’s time Australia gets on board, before we fall further behind,” Mr Shorten said.
Labor will fund the plan by reining in tax concessions, including negative gearing and dividend imputation.
Megan O’Connell, director of Victoria University’s Mitchell Institute, backed the two-year preschool plan as a way to lift national productivity.
“There is mounting evidence showing that two years of quality preschool helps children thrive in school and later in life,” Ms O’Connell said.
She said extending education programs to three-year-olds was a minor cost compared with helping people who fail to secure employment later in life.
“Specially designed preschool programs for three and four-year-olds can give children the head-start they need to engage with learning when they’re at school and discover where they can excel,” Ms O’Connell said.
Mr Shorten said his party would work in partnership with the states and territories to deliver the plan, including setting enrolment and attendance targets, particularly for Indigenous and vulnerable children.