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

01 November 2023

It is a great pleasure to speak on the Early Childhood Legislation Amendment (Premises Approval in Principle) Bill 2023. Being a new member in this place means I might not have the whole background to some of these bills, but I do know that this is a government that is absolutely committed to ensuring that we have quality childhood education and care in this state. It plays a vital role in supporting our youngest children. Also, being a former primary school teacher, I absolutely understand that early education is laying the foundations for our youngest learners. It lays foundations for better health care, education and employment opportunities later in life. This is a government that also has not stopped investing in education centres. Whether it be our centres, our schools, our TAFEs or our educators, we make significant investment in education because it is part of our government and what we do; it is in our DNA. We have seen a big investment here in this state in early childhood with Best Start, Best Life – free three-year-old and four-year-old kinder – a nation-leading reform, and now we are working towards pre-prep.

With a bit of indulgence, here is a small history lesson. In 2012, just over a decade ago, there were reforms at a national level. We had landmark reforms from the Gillard government, a Labor government. They introduced the national quality framework and national quality standards. These were major reforms that set the standard for early childhood education. I think there might be a bit of a pattern here – education is in Labor’s DNA. We are a party that is committed to education. Speaking of history in this debate, we always look to reform. We look to do better and we look to improve, and that is what this bill is about. It is ensuring that we are futureproofing our legislation and also modernising it for the growth that we are seeing in our state. The national quality framework and national quality standards aim to raise that bar, and they certainly have done that.

Since then, we have seen remarkable outcomes for our youngest children, and there is still more to be done. Former Prime Minister Julia Gillard is now a royal commissioner in South Australia. They are holding a Royal Commission into Early Childhood Education and Care in the state of South Australia. She recently said:

Each child has the right to grow, learn and thrive.

That is exactly what this reform is about and what we do here in Victoria. I have two children myself, and both have loved going to kindergarten. I will take this opportunity to thank all of our early childhood educators. They do an incredible job supporting our families. They are integral to family life. They get to see the ups and downs. They probably get to hear about a lot of things in show-and-tell when children come to kinder. I would like to give a shout-out to Nicole and Jocelyn, who were very much integral to our children’s kindergarten experience and took wonderful care of them.

In the last term this government enacted the Early Childhood Legislation Amendment Act 2022 to implement most of the findings and recommendations of the 2019 national quality framework review, and that was approved by all states and territories and the Commonwealth through the education ministers meeting. This bill seeks to enhance that act and the regulatory system for early childhood education in Victoria and nationally in the following ways. The bill amends the Education and Care Services National Law to establish a scheme that allows developers, builders or education and care service providers to obtain approval in principle from the regulatory authority in relation to a premises for a centre-based service proposed to be built or renovated in a multistorey building, which in this case is three storeys or more. It will also amend the Education and Care Services National Law Act 2010 to declare that the premises approval in principle scheme applies in Victoria as a voluntary application process. This is about giving some certainty.

The bill amends the Children’s Services Act 1996 to mirror the infringeable offences in the national law to ensure that all early childhood services in Victoria are subject to the same regulatory enforcement mechanisms. Making this amendment to provide approval in principle ensures that applicants have assurance that their proposed premises designs meet the physical requirements in the regulatory scheme. Importantly, any changes needed can happen before the commencement of construction work, avoiding the time and cost of rectification works once the premises are completed. With the changes and what we are seeing with the growth in Victoria and modern facilities, which may mean multistorey complexes will be built, this amendment will ensure that we keep pace as we evolve and grow.

The science is pretty clear. We know that the first five years of a child’s development see rapid growth. We know that 85 to 90 per cent of brain development happens in that time. They learn from birth – the science is there to say they learn before birth. Having that quality early education setting really does influence a child’s trajectory for the rest of their life. Providing that rich environment, which can happen in a home but also in an educational setting, where you have that nurturing environment, language opportunities, learning with positive interactions and giving children that social and emotional wellbeing structure, that eagerness to learn – all the things we want to see our youngest develop – can give them those lasting benefits. Formal education – child care, kindergarten settings –is part of a child’s journey and part of a family’s journey. A quality education system is one that supports families, But when families may be at risk or there may be factors of disadvantage, research shows that children can be developmentally vulnerable.

I mentioned that I used to be a primary school teacher. I never taught prep, or foundation as it is known – those teachers do a wonderful job – but prep teachers would say to me that you could tell the children who had had some formal kindergarten or day care experience. They could sit on the floor and focus on tasks. They had social and emotional wellbeing and got along with others. You could tell the kids who had had that experience; that is the difference that it makes. You can see it. And they adjust so much better to school.

Obviously, having been a teacher, this is a topic that is of interest to me, and I am passionate about this. Recently I was able to take part in the Victorian parliamentary internship program, where an MP can have an intern hosted by their electorate office. I was able to have a report prepared on socio-economic and geographic inequality. It is a great report that we can view online.