CHILDREN’S SERVICES AMENDMENT BILL 2019
Mr FREGON (Mount Waverley) (12:34:38): What serendipity it is to have the Parliamentary Secretary for Schools sitting there as we talk about this sensational bill—the Children’s Services Amendment Bill 2019. I would like to start by giving a big special thanks to the Deputy Premier and Minister for Education for the excellent work he and his office have not only done but are continuing to do on this bill also by building and continuing to deliver the Education State. This bill introduces an overarching framework to regulate all children’s services from long day care, family day care and preschool to outside hours school care and of course occasional care as well. It brings those services into line so that our Children’s Services Act 1996 is aligned with the national quality framework. That is about 8 per cent of our early childcare services. This creates a simplified regulatory framework for all Victorian early childhood services, no matter which regime they fall under. The key benefit of this is that simplification. I think we can all agree that less administration where it is not needed is better for all businesses and that the more time our early childhood educators are spending with the kids instead of in the office doing the paperwork the better for all our kids. A number of years ago, before I entered Parliament, I dipped my toes into the democracy of community-run kindergartens as president for two years at Pinewood Preschool, which is just in my area. I will say that it was a very good apprenticeship for politics, being the president of a community-run kindergarten. So I would like to give a big shout-out to the director of the kindergarten, Debbie Brereton, and her whole team—Kirsty, Gayle, Gabe and Jeannine—and another woman, Rae, who worked at Pinewood for decades and who retired last year. I am sure she is very missed down there. Whilst I am at it, I would also like to give a shout-out to a local constituent of mine by the name of Asher Newton, who has been president there for I think the last three or four years, and before that he was on the committee. I think as I left he joined, so he has been there six years volunteering to help this great kindergarten run. A big shout-out to Asher and all the committee members for all the years that this place has run since, I think, the 1960s. I know the importance of ensuring early childhood services have strong but simple frameworks mainly because when I was president in 2011 was when the federal Gillard government, if I remember the year properly, brought in the transition to the national quality framework (NQF), with which this bill aligns our occasional care services, and also the 15 hours universal access for four-year-old kindergarten kids. That was a fantastic initiative. We went from just state funding to also federal funding and the state and federal governments working together to provide that year for four-year-old kids. Now, the 15 hours is evidence based and we know how it benefits our kids. So the visionary initiative of doing something similar for our three-year-olds is a fantastic goal that we will achieve, and I am sure we know that the Deputy Premier, the Minister for Education, will deliver as we go forward. We are looking very, very keenly towards 2022, when we will get our five years of subsidised three-year-old kinder in Mount Waverley. I guess as a father of three, I have had three kids go through three-year-old kinder. The member for South Barwon made mention too of his son. When his son went to three-year-old kinder, there were aspects that were recognised, including that having that extra year of kinder not only provided information for the parents but also assisted in mixing socially. That one extra year can make a lifetime of difference. With my own son Lindsay it was noted in his third year at kinder that he had some sensory elevations—I guess that is the word—and that was something, once noted, we could work on. The earlier that you can manage some of these things and help your child, the better the life they lead. So I am very grateful to the staff at Pinewood, as I mentioned, for assistance in that area. Lindsay is a great little kid, and we are all very proud. So I think that extra year being provided as we go forward with universal access to it is fantastic. The member for Cranbourne also mentioned in her fantastic contribution before the cost of three-year-old kinder. Previously when my kids went to three-year-old kinder the cost of 5 hours of three-year-old kinder was basically equivalent to the cost of the 15 hours of four-year-old kinder. So I can well imagine there would be many families where the decision is, although they would love to send their kids to three-year-old kinder, they just cannot. Again, those families will benefit greatly from our rolling out universal three-year-old kinder. This bill does some work in the licensing of the Victorian children’s services regime, and it aligns that with the Education and Care Services National Law. It adopts the relevant objectives and guiding principles to align our act more closely with the national law, with the primary focus always being on the quality of education and developmental outcomes as well as the safety, health and wellbeing of our children. I would just like to also mention again the volunteers who work in our kinders—the parents who turn up in our community kinders; the committees, whether they be cluster managed or not—and the amount of work that goes in. We have a fantastic program coming; we are funding it. If I look down here, I think we have got $1 billion of investment. We have got significant money in the state budget, so we can thank the Treasurer for finding all this with the help of the Deputy Premier: $475 million for early childhood infrastructure and $92 million to support early childhood teachers and for more professional development and scholarships. These are significant figures, but the hours that our volunteers do are crucial and our kinders, especially our community-run kinders, would not function without them. Year after year they turn up. One of the other community kinders in my areas is Highmount kinder. Lou Skepper is the president down there and she has been there a number of years. Now, they went to cluster management and they came back. She has done some excellent work. I was very happy to be down there earlier in the year to open up their brand-new inclusive space through the inclusive kindergarten facilities grant. They got $114 000 for that. It is a fantastic space. The whole place looks so much better and the kids love it. It is fantastic. All of our kinders work so hard. Earlier in the year I was joined by the Parliamentary Secretary for Early Childhood Education, the member for Carrum, and we went to Essex Heights Juniors and saw their fantastic program, because the NQF had just awarded them with ‘exceeding expectations’. The quality is there. The work from our government and the focus on our children’s lives for today and tomorrow is there. This is the Education State. Even though this bill may be a little dry in the actual technicalities that it works on, it allows for the next 10 years of development that this government will push and see and manage in our fantastic Education State. We are going to be the first in Australia to introduce kinder for every three-year-old, giving our littlest Victorians the best possible start in life. I commend this bill to the house.