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Wednesday, 15 May 2013
Page: 3359

Ms O'DWYER (Higgins) (09:48): The electorate of Higgins has a longstanding and deserved reputation as a wonderful place to raise children. As such, since becoming the member for Higgins, I have made it a priority to visit numerous kindergartens and childcare centres across my electorate. I have also done this in my capacity as deputy chair of the coalition's deregulation task force. During these visits I have had regular discussions on the progress and impact of the government's significant regulatory changes, notably the introduction of universal access in kindergartens and the introduction of the National Quality Framework across the sector.

It is clear that the Rudd and Gillard governments' increases in regulation are leading to reductions in places, higher fees, decreased accessibility, capital expenditure in order to alter existing infrastructure, and significant allocation of paid and voluntary work and associated increases in stress. The mandatory introduction of many of these changes brought about by universal access in the National Quality Framework is a classic case of 'government knows best', whereby it is assumed that more regulation will lead to better outcomes. This is not necessarily the case.

I am particularly grateful to my colleague the member for Mayo and shadow parliamentary secretary Jamie Briggs for joining me in two round tables in April with three of my local councils—Boroondara, Stonnington and Glen Eira—and 18 representatives from kindergartens and childcare providers in my electorate. There were three key concerns raised, and I will cover them very briefly in the time available.

First is the loss of kindergarten and long daycare places.

Within the City of Boroondara, in order for kindergartens to provide the mandatory 15 hours a week for four-year- olds, one kindergarten has reduced its three-year-old intake by 17 places. This represents a significant diminution of service to the local community and a significant loss of income to the community-run kindergarten. The changes of staff-to-child ratios in 2016 from one to 15 to one to 11 will see either a reduction in class size or an increase in fees—or of course a combination of both.

The City of Boroondara has provided advice that, if kindergartens in the suburbs of Ashburton and Glen Iris choose to decrease their group sizes to 22, thereby maintaining current staff levels of two staff per room, there will be a total loss of 32 four-year-old kindergarten places in these two suburbs alone. It is unlikely that the kindergartens will consider the alternative—that is, to pass on the increased costs—because typically fees at these kindergartens are already in the order of $2,000 a year. This is more than three times the cost of the local government primary school for just 15 hours per week.

There are also significant costs of infrastructure upgrades. The City of Glen Iris has spent more than $1.5 million altering the physical layouts according to regulations, and there has been a significant increase in childcare costs. The government promised there would only be an increase of 57c per week; yet we have seen more than $100 per week added to the bills of parents. This is simply not good enough and makes it more difficult for families in Higgins.