This week, in the midst of terrible rape allegations, the distraction of Facebook's decision to ban story-sharing, and excitable murmurings about Anthony Albanese's leadership (oh no, sorry, that's old news now) one of our most significant national challenges received almost no media coverage; despite a high-powered lobbying team pursuing politicians all around Parliament House. That lack of news wasn't because the issue - early childhood development - isn't important: it is. It isn't because no one has any idea about how to make it better: they do.
What's slipping between the desirability of allowing our youngest children to flourish and thrive by the age of five isn't that we don't understand what needs to be done. The problem is quite simple. Any change always threatens someone.
So while everyone agrees some simple policy shifts could dramatically alter outcomes for some of the most vulnerable members of our community, people who can't speak for themselves, and although measures being urged are cheap and any costs will be more than repaid by productivity gains in future, the need for a new approach is being slowly yet inexorably worn down as it progresses, at glacial pace, through the bureaucracy.
Those pushing reform are the Thrive by Five team, former South Australia Labor premier (and early childhood minister) Jay Weatherill and a mother, a person driven by the need to ensure children get the opportunity they need. And yes, as a journalist, instead of describing Nicola as a person in her own right I'm professionally bound to describe her as "the wife of one of Australia's richest men, Andrew Forrest". That's true, of course, but it's got absolutely nothing to do with her involvement with this issue. Nicola's there because she sees the need and knows the country could make simple changes and do things so much better.
Her voice cracked as she spoke at the National Press Club, overcome with emotion and we were offered a sudden glimpse of a genuine, real person. This moment spoke more directly to her advocacy than all the words, numbers and statistics backing up the arguments she was making so logically.
So what's the problem? Everyone is positive when the gains of reforming the current system of early childcare are put to them - yet nothing happens. Why? Well, federalism works by fostering competition between the states. The trouble is any system - and we have nine - creates vested interests and these want to keep things exactly as they are. In New South Wales, for example, the state demands a higher ratio of tertiary trained teachers and carers, so the system's more expensive to run. That's why people in border-towns like Albury and Tweed Heads travel over the border, and that's why we need to improve the national system.
It's time to pay attention to the really hard graft and not the constantly changing agenda.
- Nicholas Stuart is a Canberra writer and a regular columnist.