Early Childhood Legislation Amendment (Premises Approval in Principle) Bill 2023 – Second Reading Debate
Juliana ADDISON (Wendouree) (12:31): I am so delighted to make a contribution today about the Early Childhood Legislation Amendment (Premises Approval in Principle) Bill 2023 – and that is principle with an L-E, so I will not be talking about schools. This is all about ensuring continued quality and safety of multistorey early education services.
We are talking about the infrastructure and the premises approval for this infrastructure by making an approval in principle process available during the planning and design stages. That is what I am going to talk about. But I am also going to use the wideranging nature, the width and the breadth, of the debate to have a bit of a chat about some of my favourite childcare services and kindergartens, because I think there is precedent to allow me to have a bit of a chat.
Juliana ADDISON: They are in regional Victoria. I really do want to thank the member for Ripon, our Minister for Local Government, the member for Preston and the member for Thomastown, who preceded me, for their outstanding contributions.
Importantly, I would really like to congratulate Minister Blandthorn in the other place on her appointment as Victoria’s new Minister for Children. I welcome the Premier’s commitment to the wellbeing of our state’s children and families and creating the children portfolio.
The Allan Labor government’s focus on child development and wellbeing, as well as improvements to child protection and our pioneering Best Start, Best Life early education reforms, will deliver better outcomes for all young Victorians, as will this bill, which is about premises approvals in principle, which I am looking forward to talking about too.
But before I talk about the importance of this bill, I would like to acknowledge and thank everyone who works in early education in Victoria. I truly believe that being an educator, and an early educator particularly, is more than a job. It is an opportunity to shape the lives of our littlest learners, to introduce them to ideas and experiences that are unknown, to develop their curiosity and love of learning and to allow them to discover their creativity, to take risks and to make mistakes in a safe space.
As a former schoolteacher I know that accessible and high-quality early education services are essential to ensuring positive outcomes for children. Research shows that play-based learning is a powerful way to support children’s development.
Our daughters had such positive experiences with their early educators at Lake Gardens Children’s Centre in my electorate, as well as the most beautiful kindergarten, Fidelity kindergarten, in central Ballarat. Mike and I are forever grateful for the care and support that our children were given by early educators every day, the interest they had in their progress and the commitment to ensuring that they were school ready. So to Vicky, Brooke, Renee, Karen, Nikki, Heather, Mary, Kate, Mandy and so many others: thank you for being amazing early educators.
I would also like to acknowledge the great work of ECKA, the Eureka Community Kindergarten Association, across Ballarat for their approach to enriching children’s lives in learning environments that are safe, welcome and inclusive.
Emma Kealy: On a point of order, Deputy Speaker, on relevance, and this is a similar point of order that was raised by the member for Wendouree with the previous speaker, whilst there is absolutely an opportunity to recognise and thank our childcare workers, I ask you to bring her back to the bill.
The DEPUTY SPEAKER: I think I understand your point. It has been a very wideranging debate, and I was here 5 minutes ago.
Juliana ADDISON: I have said it before, and I will say it again. My dad’s saying is ‘Double standards are better than none’, so thank you very, very much.
The DEPUTY SPEAKER: The member would not be reflecting on the Chair with that remark, I would hope.
Juliana ADDISON: The Education and Care Services National Law Act 2010 regulates most early childhood education and care sectors is in Australia. The national law – we can talk about the national law – in conjunction with the national regulations forms the national quality framework, which applies to a variety of services, including kinders, long day cares, family day care centres and outside school hours care. The framework is central to ensuring safe, quality care across 4740 such services in Victoria.
The national law is hosted by Victoria, meaning that the agreement of other states and territories and the Commonwealth changes to the Education and Care Services National Law Act here are applied around the nation. So while the national law applies to most children’s services in our state, it does not extend to the 210 occasional care and limited hours care services. These types of services are regulated instead in Victoria by the Children’s Services Act 1996 and regulation.
The bill before us today, for those who have not read it or are yet to read it, seeks to make regulatory improvements to both key acts. Amendments are proposed to the national law within the Education and Care Services National Law Act 2010 in response to the 2019 national quality framework review and subsequent education ministers meeting. These will establish an approval in-principle process for certain multistorey premises so that official guidance can be made available prior to the construction commencing.
Amendments to the Children’s Services Act 1996 will extend this approval in-principle process with services not covered by the national law still able to benefit. Separate amendments which designate certain offences and infringement offences will also align the Children’s Services Act with the national law.
As an overview of the bill, what we are doing is improving the processes involved in regulating early childhood services – that is the primary purpose of this bill. In particular it seeks to adjust the approval process for multistorey three-plus level services by making approval in principle available during the preconstruction stage. It is worth noting that less than 1 per cent of early childhood services are located within multistorey buildings, but this number is expected to grow.
Multistorey childcare centres can face unique challenges concerning outdoor space, natural light, ventilation and more – importantly, including emergency evacuation. I note the member for Kew talked about that in her contribution as well. As such, there are relevant requirements that these centres must comply with under the national quality framework in order to receive service approval and begin operating.
The 2019 review identified, however, that multistorey premises in some cases may inadvertently be built in compliance with local planning laws but not in compliance with the national quality framework. If such discrepancies are not discovered until the end of construction, when providers seek regulatory approval as an early childhood service, then the necessary rectification works can be costly in terms of both time and money. The amendments that are being put forward in this bill will address this by facilitating planning stage in-principle approvals under national law for buildings of three storeys or more.
In Victoria this is proposed as a voluntary process which will encourage builders, designers and providers to seek regulatory guidance and assurance before starting construction on a new build or a renovated multistorey childcare centre. The new approval in principle process will promote awareness of early childhood services, safe practices and quality standards. This will further ensure that new childcare centres are designed as high-quality environments for our youngest Victorians. Whilst we may have some disagreements in this place, that would not be one of them, I am sure.
These amendments to the Education and Care Services National Law Act relate specifically to regular services which cover most children’s services in Victoria. However, amendments are also proposed to the Children’s Services Act to make an approval in principle process available for properties that are intended for occasional or limited hours care.
On another matter – and I will be brief – additional elements of the act concerning infringement notices will better align with the regulatory framework across early childhood services. Infringements are an enforcement tool currently available under the national law in response to certain substantive conduct as a part of a broader array of regulatory powers that includes compliance notices, conditions and suspension.
I could talk a lot more about the wonderful technicalities of this very significant bill and about the approvals process, but I will just say that we know that kinder and play-based learning are incredibly important parts of a child’s lifelong education.
Our reforms are about giving Victorian kids the best start in life, with two years of early learning shown to provide extra academic and social benefits – benefits that continue throughout the school years. I welcome the introduction of the Early Childhood Legislation Amendment (Premises Approval in Principle) Bill 2023, and I commend the bill to the house.