An Investigation of Influences on Politicians' Decision Making in Early Childhood Education and Care Policy in Australia

Kathryn Bown

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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Abstract

This thesis is about influences on Australian politicians' decision making in early childhood education and care (ECEC) policy. In Australia in the past decade, politicians across the political spectrum have instigated significant ECEC policy changes. In 2006, for example, the Liberal/National Coalition Federal Government implemented an 'overhaul' of the ECEC national quality assurance system. In 2007, the newly elected Labor Federal Government began its implementation of the national reform agenda for ECEC. Significantly, the Labor Government's national reforms required the support and agreement from all state and territory jurisdictions. However, despite the far reaching impact of politicians' decisions, little is known from empirical research about how politicians are influenced to make decisions about ECEC policy. This thesis explores how influence operates in the political context to better understand the complexity of ECEC policy decision making. Two instrumentalist case studies were designed to investigate the research question "What influences politicians' decision making in early childhood education and care policy in Australia?" in two policy 'sites'. The first case study examined a long-standing campaign from 2002 to 2009, organised by a large portion of the ECEC sector in the Australian state of New South Wales (NSW), to improve the state mandated ratio of staff to children for the birth to two year age group. The second case study investigated Federal Government changes to quality improvement and assurance systems during the terms of two Federal Governments, 2006 to 2009. Each case study involved an analysis of relevant policy texts and semi-structured interviews with policy 'elites'. 'Elites' included politicians (n=9), public servants (n=3) and high profile ECEC advocates/activists (n=21). The Foucauldian concepts of power, knowledge, discourse, eventalisation and agonism were used to critically analyse the interview transcripts. Four key influences on politicians' decision making in ECEC policy were identified. First, a discursive analysis found the normalising discourses of neoliberalism, maternalism and neuroscience have a 'gravitational pull' on Australian politicians' conceptions of ECEC and their subsequent decisions for policy. Second, the study found that a series of singular but interrelated events termed 'plays of forces' generated opportune political moments that were catalysts for politicians to take particular policy action. Third, the use of tactics by politicians, public servants, advocates and activists influenced politicians' policy decision making, often during opportune political moments. Finally, the study found that limited and/or narrow conceptualisations of the possibilities of ECEC influenced politicians' understandings and decision making. This thesis offers ECEC researchers, advocates and activists an historical record of key policy moments primarily during the period 2002-2009, illuminating how advocacy/activism was enacted, how it was perceived by politicians, and whether or not it influenced politicians' decision making. The thesis makes visible how a range of stakeholders have actively generated plays of forces which produced opportune political moments that influenced politicians to make particular policy decisions. The thesis makes a case for agonism as a practice of provocation and contestation to disrupt and dislodge normalising discourses influencing politicians' decision making and to broaden conceptualisations of the possibilities of ECEC policy in Australia.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Charles Sturt University
Supervisors/Advisors
  • Sumsion, Jennifer, Co-Supervisor
  • Press, Frances, Co-Supervisor
Award date22 Mar 2016
Place of PublicationAustralia
Publisher
Publication statusPublished - 2016

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