PARLIAMENT, CANBERRA: I would like to raise an important issue that is affecting thousands of young families in our community, and that is the progressive destruction of three-year-old kindergartens which is occurring in Victoria and possibly in other states.
It is occurring because of a policy of the Gillard government, which like so many other government policies, has not had its implications properly thought through. The particular policy in question is the government’s decision to mandate that, by 2013, all four-year-olds must be offered 15 hours of kinder by university trained staff. Presently, most kinders only offer 10 hours.
In practice, kinders that are forced to increase the hours of their four-year-old classes by 50 per cent are finding that they will not have the physical or staffing capacity to run their three-year-old kinder. The result, according to the President of the Municipal Association of Victoria, Councillor Bill McArthur, is that we will have a potential crisis in three-year-old kinder by 2013.
The situation is exacerbated by the mini baby boom from a few years ago, which is already putting pressure on four-year-old kinders. Two-thirds of kinder facilities are owned by councils, and the majority are community run. There are 1,200 in Victoria alone.
In my own electorate, I know that that the Knox City Council, which owns all the kinder facilities, is working through the potential crisis in three-year-old kinder. It predicts that it will not have the capacity to meet the federal government’s requirements by 2013. So it is left with a choice: it either breaks the law or it axes three-year-old kinder to cater for the extra hours for the four-year-olds. Some choice!
You would think the Prime Minister would be aware of this pending crisis. After all, she has been directly advised by the Municipal Association of Victoria that her electorate is one of the most at-risk regions for children to miss out. It is time she acted to fix this mess. So what needs to be done? If the government is to continue with this policy and force the hands of kinders then it needs to do two things: firstly, it should offer infrastructure assistance so that kindergartens can physically cope with the extra demands; secondly, it should defer the 2013 start date so that there is adequate time for extra trained staff to come through the pipeline.
Longer term, these small parent-run kinders should be given the opportunity to affiliate with local schools to assist them with their administrative burdens. I know that many of them, understandably, struggle with the financial reporting, the payroll, the legal responsibilities et cetera. They should be given the option of being an independent autonomous entity within the school legal structure so that they can get support for the administrative functions, which would enable them to focus on their core work.
This government has overseen too many program failures: pink batts, Green Loans and border protection policies, amongst others. I fear that its kindergarten policy will be added to the list. There are thousands of young families who are counting on the government to lift its game in this area before it is too late.