Melina BATH (Eastern Victoria) (10:26): I am pleased to rise to make a contribution on the Education and Training Reform Amendment (Land Powers) Bill 2023 today and to provide some context in relation to my Eastern Victoria electorate.
There is a very interesting and good study produced by Victoria University, which was a nationwide research paper in 2022. That research paper looks into access to quality child care. We know that is very important. This is a universally agreed position: that quality child care, quality early intervention and quality early education can put our young people on the pathway to success and also enable parents who wish to return to the workforce, contribute to the economy and contribute to their region to access that to provide that flexibility and that choice. These are very important and really cornerstone services that need to be right across our nation and indeed Eastern Victoria Region.
The report identifies that 9 million Australians live in neighbourhoods that are classified as childcare deserts, defined as three children for every one childcare place. Unfortunately the Eastern Victoria Region is certainly part of that childcare desert landscape – three children for every one place. We are seeing there that demand is certainly outstripping supply. If you look at that, there is a scarcity that we want to drill down into.
There is not only desert but absolutely parched areas in Eastern Victoria Region. If I randomly look up some points of interest – some places of interest, some great towns – the places per child for Churchill in the Latrobe Valley is 0.131, so we are looking at almost 5 to 7 young children needing child care for every one childcare place. If we look at Orbost – this is from the report – it is 0.0, so there is such a dearth, such a lack of childcare places in the wonderful town of Orbost, which is going through such turmoil at the moment with the closure of the native timber industry. In terms of Wonthaggi, another great region that is a growth area, people are streaming to that area to live, work and raise a family, but you are looking at 0.275, so you have got four children for every one childcare place there. We need quality childcare education for our later success in life.
What does this mean in terms of the workforce in our regions? If you look at, for example, Orbost, they have fantastic schools and they have a hospital there. They desperately need to have professionals who are willing to go to the regions. In attracting those professionals, whatever their capacity, whether it be a nurse, doctor, teacher or the like, they look to what services are there, whether there is good health care but also whether there are childcare places. And you can see the lack in – and I am just using this as an example – Orbost, and Omeo also is in that very clear classification of a childcare desert.
That is an impediment for people to come to our regions and fill those positions – they want to see that their child will have great access to child care and a great pathway for life.
A Traralgon constituent came to me – I have raised this in the house on her behalf before, her frustration – who had a newborn baby. She put that newborn baby on waiting lists for six different childcare places in and around the Latrobe Valley. That child is now over 18 months old, and she is no nearer to getting that child into a childcare place. She herself, unfortunately, is part of the solution, because she is an early childhood educator who wants to go to work but cannot find access to a service that would enable her to be part of that solution of providing quality childhood education.
Out of the last 24 years we have had 20 years of Labor controlling the levers in this state – 24 years of Labor policy and 24 years of Labor at the helm. Now we see that if you look at great swathes of Victoria – I have spoken about just a couple in my Eastern Victoria Region – there are childcare deserts, not only in the city, in Melbourne, as was stated before, but across regional Victoria, and we need to do something about this. We need to be able to let those professionals and other parents have that access.
I raised a point in this debate, and I will go through it in greater detail shortly. But back in October 2022 the Victorian government announced 50 government-operated childcare centres would be ‘up and running by 2028’. Then there was a big list, and the locations were defined – 30 of them out of those 50. I will drill down into the contents of the bill shortly. Sometimes it feels like either the minister is not being well educated or the department is doing a random stab. What I would like is to have some clarification about this. They list ‘Yallourn North–Glengarry’. For those people who live in the area and know the area, they are 20 kilometres apart. They are not joint, sister towns. Are there going to be two childcare centres, one at Yallourn North and one at Glengarry, or is this just that the government has looked something up on a bit of a table and chucked it on there to make sure that there is something there for the Latrobe Valley?
I will endorse two childcare centres – one in Glengarry. We know that Glengarry is a wonderful little town, as is Yallourn North. Glengarry has had 100 residential blocks open up in recent times. It is certainly close, as both of them are, to major centres for shopping et cetera. It is a wonderful town and a fantastic local community. The progress association does an amazing job to care for their town. We see that it is a growing town, but is there going to be a childcare centre in Glengarry or is it going to be in Yallourn North? I would argue both.
There is an education inquiry happening in this place, in the upper house. The Yallourn North Primary School principal does an amazing job, and again Yallourn North is a wonderful town. There are complex issues around many of the students. It is a known low socio-economic town, and the principal there is doing a fantastic job with his staff and with the budget that he has, but access to a childcare centre early in Yallourn North is important. We have heard 2028 – unless the Andrews government has a defined time frame, there are concerns that that will blow out. I will let others give us an indication that it will not be blowing out any further than 2028.
Those are some of the issues that I would like clarified in the course of the committee of the whole. I know that there will be a number of questions.
The other point I would like to raise in relation to both public and private entities – and we need both; there needs to be that matrix – is that unfortunately in recent times we have seen the closure of a very dear and valuable service in the township of Moe. There was a childcare centre, the Moe childcare centre, that had been in operation for the last 30 years by Mr and Mrs Mason. I also note from speaking with them in detail that they accepted children who were in out-of-home care, who were on the protective services list, and when they had to close last year due to workforce shortages – and they had some very real and important comments around how some of those could be solved – they were absolutely concerned about what would happen to those very vulnerable children who were in kinship care or on that protective services list, under child protection. They were worried because they had known that they were a go-to location for the services of the Department of Families, Fairness and Housing, as it is now called in one iteration or another. They were the go-to place, and they were very worried about those children, as are many of us here. It is a shame when the marketplace is getting squeezed and indeed there are not those solutions there. They had many solutions, and they had asked to have conversations with government to sort out some of these issues around workforce shortages. The government can come in and say ‘Free TAFE’ and all of that, but there happen to be real channels of congestion, or lack thereof, and the importance of proper training. I feel sad for Mr and Mrs Mason, not just because they have lost their 30-year old industry but because it goes further to those childcare deserts that we see.
In relation to this bill, it amends the Education and Training Reform Act 2006 to extend the Victorian government’s current powers to acquire land, in addition to its operation of state schools, for state-owned kindergartens and childcare centres. We have heard some very valid comments from both Ms Crozier and Mrs Hermans, so I will not reiterate those, but I concur with the sentiments that they have. But I know from my own experience within my own family circle – that was the acquisition of land for the North East Link – that it can be very traumatic for people that have had to have their private land compulsorily acquired. The negotiations can be contracted and certainly create significant stress, and they can often feel that they have been ripped off in the process. I put on record that the government needs to ensure not only that compulsory acquisition will be fair and be expedited in a manner that serves those people from which land is going to be relinquished but also that it is done in the most minimal capacity. I know in speaking to some local CEOs of shires that there is often other public-owned Crown land that is available, and I would call on the government to certainly where possible, and I know it states ‘where possible’, go to accompanying school land – that can be squeezed sometimes – but also look at reprioritising public land and coordinate that with the shire council.
Finally, with my last few moments, we see that this government has a track record of overpromising and under delivering for Victorians. We see that with the Commonwealth Games, overpromising and now under delivering – no longer is it on the table. We also see that there is an ever growing list of burden and black holes in terms of the budget, and so we see those big budget blowouts.
This government needs to keep on task in this. I have clearly said that there are childcare deserts in my region, and I could go on and talk about a whole raft of others, but we will not oppose this bill because we know that there is a need for future childcare centres. I would like some clarification about, as stated, Glengarry and Yallourn North. I would like to see that the next report from Victoria University certainly has far more green, rather than the glaring red-parched childcare deserts for not only Eastern Victoria Region but all of Victoria.