I rise to speak on the Early Childhood Legislation Amendment (Premises Approval in Principle) Bill 2023, a bill that I am happy to support. Ensuring the safety of children in early education and childcare settings is of paramount importance to me and the entire coalition. With rapidly increasing demand for early childhood education and childcare services across the state, ensuring the children in these facilities have safe evacuation routes in the event of an emergency is integral. It is also important to provide regulatory certainty to organisations seeking to offer childcare and early education services in multistorey buildings so that there are enough childcare and kinder places to meet growing demand over coming years. The coalition supports this bill because it will improve the safety of children in early education and childcare centres that are housed within multistorey buildings as well as improve the regulatory approval process for organisations seeking to establish new early education and childcare centres. This bill implements recommendations from the 2019 national quality framework review, which aim to improve the regulatory framework governing early childhood education and care across the country. The NQF review framework has broad stakeholder support and reflects the consensus position of all state and territory governments.
Sadly, there are still several areas where this Labor government lags behind when it comes to improving the wellbeing of young children. A survey I organised has highlighted the dire state of child care in my electorate of Euroa, with responses from all over the electorate sharing similar concerns. The survey, which was launched in June and remains open to responses, asks members of the community several questions about their experiences in accessing child care. Responses have been received from parents in Avenel, Benalla, Broadford and Rushworth, as well as many small towns. I wanted to hear directly from the community and bring their stories to Parliament to create meaningful change in the region because, simply put, there are far too many families in our community who are struggling to access childcare options. Our major towns are not inaccessible backwaters, but they are placed at a disadvantage when it comes to child care. The lack of childcare facilities is preventing parents from returning to the workforce at a time when the cost of living is rapidly rising. This is a real handbrake on our community and places a hurdle in front of young people who want to raise their family in the country.
Some of the issues raised in the responses include multiyear waitlists, a lack of childcare providers in their town and families relocating to other areas to access better childcare options. The responses share overwhelmingly negative experiences, with 100 per cent of parents who shared their experience saying they have been adversely impacted by the lack of available child care under this government. Some of the responses from this survey have been truly disheartening.
Jodie from Benalla said:
The centre that my son has been at this year … has just announce that on Friday 22nd December, they are permanently closing their doors. They can not find staff and therefore can not have the number of children to make the centre financially viable. The lack of staff has meant that I have had to pick my son up early on certain days, find care when the centre has had to close unexpectedly. I am a single mother who works full time. The pressure on me is huge and I have had to lean heavily on my mother and sister to help me through this past 12 months.
Another parent said:
There is no spots and the waitlists are 12-18 months long. I’ve had my 2 on the waiting lists for 8+ months and no sign of a spot anytime soon. We are struggling financially whilst not being able to access childcare for our kids.
Another local mum, Isabel, said:
No access as there are no spots available.
Maddison from Avenel told me that:
Was on the waitlist for months (nearly a year) for 4 different childcares (government and family daycares). Couldn’t go back to work. Nearly lost my job due to not being able to go back enough days. Finally have care but not in our home town which nearly an hour each morning and afternoon for drop offs/pick ups which adds a financial strain.
Beth from Euroa told me that:
When I had my first I popped her name down at the only childcare centre in euroa at 4months. I was told there was a waiting list. She’s now 2 and still no places have come up. The family daycare options are all booked up also. I’ve heard at playgroups that a lot of families have moved out of the district as there was no childcare available.
We have women waiting in foyers of childcare facilities seeing if a sick kid has opened up a space for their own children.
I had a constituent from Broadford call my office last week and explain some of her concerns with childcare in the region. Broadford has a 1½-year-long waitlist for their childcare facility, meaning that this teacher was unable to return to work anytime soon. Due to the waitlist, facilities in neighbouring towns were looked into as possible options, but sadly, these towns are suffering with similar problems. Broadford is on the verge of a massive expansion, yet infrastructure in the town is not matching this pace. On top of issues with child care, this local mother pointed out there are still issues with a number of doctors and dentists, meaning that kids were being left behind.
While the government has made ambitious promises to increase the number of childcare facilities in our state, we are failing to see a coherent plan or any real progress. The early childcare centre promised for Seymour will not be built any time soon. The Labor government choosing to not include it in the first round of centres being established is heartbreaking and reflective of how out of touch it is with the childcare crisis.
Juliana Addison: On a point of order, Deputy Speaker, I am just wondering about the relevance of this discussion, considering that is the Early Childhood Legislation Amendment (Premises Approval in Principle) Bill. It is very wideranging.
Emma Kealy: On the point of order, Deputy Speaker, as the member just stated, it has been a wideranging debate, and I ask you to rule in that way.
The DEPUTY SPEAKER: Order! I concur that it has been a wideranging debate. The member to continue in silence, please.
Annabelle CLEELAND: Thank you, Deputy Speaker. The Labor government choosing not to include Seymour in its first round of centres being established is heartbreaking and reflective of how out of touch it is with the childcare crisis that is plaguing our state. The recent promise to establish a new early education centre in Seymour is a clear example of the empty commitments that align with election season. The misleading deadline of 2028 for the Seymour childcare centre’s delivery shows a lack of genuine concern for the immediate needs of the community. Despite the region being regarded as a childcare desert under this government, there has been a disregard for regional families who need reliable and affordable child care now. A 2022 report from the Mitchell Institute showed the Euroa electorate had a number of childcare deserts, meaning areas that have childcare places available for less than 33 per cent of children in the local community.
The DEPUTY SPEAKER: Order!
Annabelle CLEELAND: I might repeat that figure for those that are not listening. There are childcare places available for less than 33 per cent of children in our local community. The report showed that Seymour, Benalla, Kilmore and Broadford were some of the areas struggling the most, while smaller towns such as Murchison, Rushworth, Tooborac and Redesdale have no child care at all. So far there have been no commitments to fund a childcare centre in an electorate other than Seymour, which remains without a set time line. There are many women angry about this false and misleading promise, and I am one of them. Towns like Avenel and Nagambie are still in desperate need of more child care options, whereas smaller towns like Murchison, Rushworth, Tooborac and Redesdale have no child care at all. While the safety and wellbeing of children will be improved by this bill, the Labor government remains happy to seemingly disregard this in other areas such as school –
Vicki Ward: Deputy Speaker, I have a point of order. There is one important word missing from the member’s contribution, which is ‘federal’ government. I would ask the member to be relevant to a state government bill rather than addressing federal government responsibility.
Jess Wilson: On the point of order, Deputy Speaker, the member was being entirely relevant. In fact she had just referred to the bill.
The DEPUTY SPEAKER: I will comment that the member for Kew was very tight to the bill in opening the debate. However, since then it has been a very wideranging debate.
Annabelle CLEELAND: I was going to talk about school crossings, but I guess that might be stretching it. But that is another issue where the government disregards the safety and wellbeing of our children. I just wanted to do a quick shout-out regarding a report that was –
Annabelle CLEELAND: Okay. Thank you to all the childcare providers, school crossing supervisors, parents, babysitters and teachers for doing an amazing job caring for our children. The safety of our children is and always will be the priority, and it was about time the government realised this and stepped up to the plate.