Speeches Health Community facilities | October 16, 2019

Children's Services Amendment Bill 2019

Victorian Parliament  - October 16, 2019

Ms KEALY (Lowan) (18:29:27): It is fantastic to be a young mother—I would like to call myself young, anyway—in this place and be able to speak on a childcare bill when I actually have a child who participates in after-school care. It is just great. This is something that I speak about with members of my electorate quite frequently. It is something that is a minimum expectation, I guess, in any rural community and any community; you have minimum expectations of what services are available to you. There is a minimum expectation around access to good quality health care. You have an expectation that you will have police in close proximity and that you will have a safe community. You have expectations around other simple things like communications, telecommunications, access to the internet and access to public transport where possible. But what families are also looking for these days is good access to child care. Unfortunately across the Lowan electorate we do not have fantastic access to child care. In fact over the past five years we have seen a decrease in childcare services across the electorate. This is a huge problem when we are looking at having even population growth across the state. Not having access to childcare services means you cannot attract families to come and work in rural and regional areas. I would like to refer to a couple of specific instances in my electorate where there is currently no child care available. It has been closed over the past few months, and I know there have been regular problems in one of those areas. I know there was a reference from the member for Carrum around how great three-year-old kinder is, and it will be rolled out in some areas of my electorate. However, while it is so important that we do make early education available, it must be available to all Victorian children and not just some in some areas. I know that councils in my electorate, and I am specifically referring to the Yarriambiack Shire Council, are very, very concerned that the rollout of three-year-old kinder will actually negatively impact on their region and that they will not be able to deliver on it. So we have this grand promise and commitments about how this government are going to invest in three-year-old kinder in our region, but if you have got the councils themselves concerned that they are not going to be able to deliver on it, it will result in not just no access to three-year-old kinder but other childcare educators shutting down their services and looking elsewhere. You will not be able to deliver on it. Unless this critical schism is addressed where you have got an enormous gap in the number of childcare educators available in rural and regional areas, if they are not paid properly, if you are not providing training opportunities and if you are not addressing the problems in regulation and legislation, which are not addressed in this bill at all, then we are going to continue to see these issues. As I said, in my electorate access to childcare services is far worse than it was five years ago. We are going backwards when it comes to child care in rural Victoria. My electorate is not the only electorate in country Victoria which is going backwards. This is part of a bigger issue when it comes to our region. If we refer to Edenhope, for example, it is the community that I grew up in. Before I was elected as the member for Lowan I was the CEO of Edenhope hospital and my child was in child care in Edenhope. In the lead-up to the election, in fact it was the month of the election, childcare services ceased in Edenhope. It facilitated, really, my decision to move to Horsham because there was access to child care at that time in Horsham. I simply could not continue to live in that town. If you look at Edenhope at the moment, there has been no access to childcare services for the past three months for families there. Can I emphasise that it is mostly women who live in Edenhope. This means that they have had to either give up work or call for help again and again and feel like they are burning out family members and friends because they are continually asking them favours to look after their children so they can hold down a job. This government have not provided any additional incentives or supports to continue child care. Ms Thomas interjected. Ms KEALY: I will take up the interjection from the member for Macedon. I know it is not parliamentary process to take up interjections; however, she asked me what I have done about it. Well, I have certainly raised it a number of times and I have written to the minister. And do you know what we got, member for Macedon? Absolutely zero support. In fact all we see from Labor is continued cuts from the Labor government when it comes to supporting rural and regional Victoria. The ACTING SPEAKER (Ms Blandthorn): Order! Member for Lowan, if you could direct your remarks through the Chair, please. Ms KEALY: Absolutely; thank you. If we look at the cuts to the region, we have had the regional development budget cut by $130 million just this year. The Regional Growth Fund: scrapped. The Minister for Regional Development still has not been appointed to the Regional Development Australia committee, so there is no one to advocate for our areas. There is the reported rejection of rate subsidies for drought-stricken farmers. You are not supporting them. Unless you provide key investments for our local areas, we are not going to meet the workforce needs, and by not providing child care in our rural and regional areas, you are also letting these businesses down. If you refer to Edenhope, you might think, 'Oh well, it’s only a small town—it’s only 1000 people’. This is a really important hub for that region in West Wimmera. It is home to a fantastic hospital, Edenhope and District Memorial Hospital—the hospital I was born in. West Wimmera Shire Council have one of their main offices there. There is a fantastic college, Edenhope College, which is the only secondary college in the region. It has got a Catholic primary school, St Malachy’s primary school. It is home to a number of small businesses, and it is an agricultural hub. The women and the families in that region, and particularly the children, deserve access to childcare services, and they are simply unable to access them at the moment. This is something that I absolutely urge the Labor government to address, because unless you offer full childcare services in our rural and regional towns, we will continue to see these towns die off under your city-centric agenda. We will continue to see Melbourne grow at an unprecedented rate where you cannot even move across the city. It is ridiculous now: I have to set aside four and a half hours to travel 315 kilometres to get to Melbourne because the traffic across the West Gate is horrific—absolutely horrific. It takes me an hour to get from one side of the West Gate to Parliament House. I would hate to live in Melbourne for many reasons, but the traffic is absolutely unbearable, and it is something I hear about in my electorate—how bad it is. Rupanyup is in exactly the same situation: they currently do not have access to childcare services. This is an important town. It is home to Dunmunkle Health Services. It is a community that needs to have access to child care so it can attract the workforce to make sure that it can get these services to continue. Rupanyup have also got a fantastic initiative called the Rupanyup Rural Migration Initiative, where the community are actually chipping in to upgrade housing because they cannot get any support from the Labor government. They are making sure that houses are available so they can attract families to the region to take up vacant jobs. That is the issue when it comes to employment in rural Victoria. It is about attracting the workforce to fill the jobs as opposed to unemployment. We do not have an unemployment issue; we have an employment issue where we have not got the people to fill those jobs. We need this investment in child care; otherwise we are going to see our towns continue to go backwards as we have seen over the past five years. There are other issues which have not been addressed in this legislation. For example, I recall going to Donald not very long ago—a couple of years ago now. It had a fantastic new facility for childcare services and kindergarten, but the problem was you cannot have two childcare services under the one roof line, so they had this fantastic new facility with side-by-side opportunities for family day care, and they could not do it. This bill does not fix those critical structural issues which are in place, which make it very, very difficult for operators and particularly for childcare educators. Their expertise and passion is around making sure we give young people the best possible start to life, but they are being bogged down in red tape and administration. It is very, very difficult for them because while they are focused during and paid for the hours that they are actually caring for and looking after children, so much of the administrative work that they do, which they sometimes get a small additional fee for, is done in their own spare time. You might get people who are not quite qualified. That is what often happens in rural communities—you recruit somebody who has not quite got their full qualification, so they finish their studies while they are providing that child care, just so we can continue a service in a rural or regional area. It means that they have to take a day off to go and do their studies or to meet their qualification requirements, in which case that is another day where families cannot get reliable access to child care. It is such a critical issue. While there are some steps in this legislation which are very positive, there are other things which have critically missed the mark when it comes to providing—and ensuring that people, and children particularly, have access to—good quality early childhood education in rural Victoria. This is simply missing the mark. We need to see a huge injection of funds, not just bits and pieces. We need to see a commitment to make sure that we have the childcare educators available to ensure all of our rural communities have access to childcare services. We need to do that. Ms Thomas interjected. Ms KEALY: Well, apparently the state is taking up the issue around talking to Canberra. This is a state issue. We have got the legislation front of us today. You are making all these other claims around childcare services. Put your money where your mouth is—invest in rural and regional families, because they deserve a commitment and access to childcare services as much as anybody else— (Time expired)

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