Parliamentary Secretary to Prime Minister and Cabinet Maxine McKew has used a speech delivered at UNSW to announce a major rethink of early childhood care and teaching.
Effective early intervention, the integration of care and education, and an insistence on well trained staff were essential to deliver a world-class early childcare system, Ms McKew said.
"It's time to honour teachers and to return to the vocation of teaching the prestige it clearly deserves."
Ms McKew said the government would provide all preschool children with access to play-based learning delivered by degree-qualified early childhood teachers for 15 hours a week for 40 weeks of the year.
There would also be additional fully-funded university places in early childhood education,
260 new early learning centres and a rise in the childcare tax rebate to 50 per cent paid to parents on a quarterly basis.
Ms McKew made the commitments at UNSW on Thursday while introducing the So What lecture series, designed to showcase the work of scholars in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences.
The inaugural talk in the series - Families that Work: A New Agenda for Parental Leave and Child Care in Australia - was given by Professor Deborah Brennan, from UNSW's Social Policy Research Centre.
Ms McKew, who has special responsibility for Early Childhood Education and Child Care, told the audience the government is committed to providing improved support to parents and to making it easier to balance well-paid employment with raising children.
Professor Brennan said the unparalleled corporatisation of early childhood care in Australia must be reversed.
"No other country in the world allows a single corporation to dominate the provision of early childhood education and care to the extent of Australia.
"There is an inherent incompatibility between the functioning of markets and the needs of children."
On the subject of paid maternity leave, Professor Brennan called for a re-energisation of the debate.
In January of this year, the Rudd government referred maternity and parental leave to the Productivity Commission, asking it to examine ways to improve support for parents with newborn children. The Commission is due to report in February 2009
Photos: Susan Trent Gasbag Studios