Early Childhood Legislation Amendment (Premises Approval in Principal) Bill 2023

01 November 2023

Martha HAYLETT (Ripon) (11:35):

I rise to speak on the Early Childhood Legislation Amendment (Premises Approval in Principle) Bill 2023. I could talk about the topic of early childhood education all day. I am so proud of the work our Labor government is doing to make sure every young Victorian has the best start in life. As the Minister for Local Government noted earlier, the key purpose of the bill is to put into practice a recommendation agreed to by the education ministers meeting for the 2019 national quality framework review. As part of the review, Commonwealth, state and territory education ministers agreed to a number of outcomes aimed at improving children’s health, safety and wellbeing. Importantly, each of those outcomes were informed by those who know the issue best: parents, families and workers within the education and care sector themselves. This bill gives effect to one of the review’s recommendations – establishing a premises approval in principle scheme for new early childhood services in multistorey buildings. By providing approval in principle, these changes ensure that applicants will have confidence that designs of their proposed premises meet the necessary standards defined under the national quality framework, including those aimed squarely at protecting the safety of young children in emergency evacuations.

Importantly, the proposed changes in this bill will also improve the early childhood services approval process for services in new or altered multistorey buildings, saving applicants time and money. It also reflects the changing nature of early childhood education and care in our nation. Whilst less than 1 per cent of early childhood services are currently located in multistorey buildings, and 0 per cent in my own electorate of Ripon, we know that as our population grows and as the needs of families change, our approach needs to change too. That is certainly the belief and record of our government. Under our watch Victoria is leading the nation on early childhood education and care. At the heart of that effort is our $14 billion commitment to transforming kinder across our state. Already we have made kinder free for three- and four-year-old Victorian children. This means a saving of up to $2500 per child each year, providing massive relief for family budgets – 2500 bucks; that is incredible. It will also enable more than 28,000 Victorians to return to work, with more than 26,000 of them being women.

Our rollout of three-year-old kinder is also continuing, with every child in Victoria now able to access at least 5 hours a week of early childhood education. This will only get better, with all Victorian families progressively able to benefit from 30 hours of free pre-prep each week over the next 10 years. Many families in my electorate will be the first to enjoy this nation-leading reform, with kinder transitioning to pre-prep and being delivered in the Northern Grampians shire and the Ararat Rural City Council areas first in 2025 before other council areas progressively join the rollout in the following years. I know that the communities of Ararat and St Arnaud are so excited about pre-prep coming to them first. We know how important early learning is to a child’s development, so vulnerable children living outside these initial areas will also be eligible from 2026. It will have a profound impact on kids’ lives forever, giving them the best building blocks to succeed into the future. It will also be a game changer for so many young families across my electorate who raise the issue of early learning with me constantly. It comes up everywhere I go.

Thankfully our plan to establish 50 government-owned and operated early learning centres will also make a big difference. Focused firmly on addressing childcare shortages in communities that need it most, these new centres will mean the local families can have confidence that there will be an available place for their little ones. In Ripon it means a brand new childcare facility in the Creswick–Clunes area, in Maryborough and in the Loddon shire. Wherever possible, these new centres will be co-located with schools, enabling parents to ditch the dreaded double drop-off. In other instances they will be co-located with services like maternal and child health care and playgroups, providing a central and joined-up spot for local families.

Currently there are absolutely no childcare options in Clunes and absolutely no childcare centres in the whole of the Loddon shire, and there is a 12-month waiting list for child care in Maryborough. Mums and dads cannot go back to work as a result, and it is being felt at our local hospitals, schools, councils, supermarkets and other workplaces. It is also impacting our rural and regional kids’ development as they are not around other kids their age and learning all together. Our action as a government will change this. We had to step in as we were sick of waiting for the federal Abbott, Turnbull and Morrison governments to do anything about early childhood education. For families it means doubling the number of funded kinder hours from 15 to 30 a week, and for our kids it means even more opportunity to learn and play and grow. It is a hugely ambitious reform, but as with so many of our government’s big ideas, we are not wasting a moment in delivering it.

We are also expanding kinders in the growing outer areas of Ballarat in my electorate. In Haddon we are delivering a massive $2.7 million upgrade of the Haddon Kindergarten. It will mean 50 more kids can join free kinder locally and have the very best start in life. We are also building a brand new kindergarten at Napoleons Primary School with two classrooms and an outdoor learning area. The kinder will mean 66 more local kids can benefit from the service, and having the kinder and school all together will avoid that double drop-off and help kids have a smoother transition into primary school.

We are doing so much to improve early childhood education in this state. I am so proud to be on this side of the chamber delivering results for our rural and regional communities. I know how much of a difference this is going to have. Mums in Wedderburn and Inglewood in the Loddon shire regularly talk to me about how they have got to lock up the kids in the car while they are working on the farm to make sure that they do not walk around the machinery or they have got to have the kids in a playpen in the butchers shop because there is absolutely no child care right now, and that is not okay. That is what the government is addressing to ensure that we build more government-run childcare centres for those childcare deserts in our rural and regional areas where they are needed most. I know that this comes up in St Arnaud, and they are so excited about getting their pre-prep modular buildings. In Ararat they are so excited about pre-prep as well. In Maryborough one of my staff is pregnant herself, and some of her friends said ‘You’d better get them on the waiting list already for child care’. We know that is absolutely not okay and we want to fix that issue, and we on this side of the chamber are.

I would also like to take the opportunity to give a shout-out to all our early childhood educators, who do a phenomenal job. I have had the pleasure of meeting many of them over the past year, including the incredible staff at the Clunes and District Preschool, Creswick and District Preschool, Ararat Early Learning Centre and Journey Early Learning Centre in Lucas. I am looking forward to travelling around and meeting all of the staff and the kids at all of our learning centres across Ripon. They go above and beyond for our little Victorians, and I could not be more grateful for all that they do. We are also supporting their work with $5000 for every single early centre across Victoria to purchase more toys – which is very, very happy days – and free kinder kits for every little one as well.

This bill is just a part of that reform, supporting the delivery of the infrastructure required for our landmark Best Start, Best Life program and ensuring that all early childhood services in Victoria operate under the same regulatory requirements. We are not wasting a moment in getting this done and making a change to reform our early learning sector in Victoria – because as I said, we were sick of waiting for the federal government to do anything about it when the Liberals and Nationals were in control. I commend the bill to the house.