PARLIAMENT HOUSE, CANBERRA: This evening I would like to raise two issues which concern young families. The first is the policies relating to preschools, which are causing three-year-old preschools across Victoria to close down as we speak. The second is childcare centre policies, which are putting up the costs of child care right across Australia.
I have raised before in this parliament the issue of the Universal Access Policy for preschools. This policy mandates 15 hours per week for four-year-old preschools. In Victoria that is squeezing out the three-year-old preschool programs because there is simply not enough space—they often use the same facilities—and there are not enough teachers. Time and time again we warned the Government that if they did not change this policy rapidly three-year-old preschools would be forced to close. It gives me no joy to inform the House that Templeton Orchards Preschool in my electorate has indeed announced that it will no longer be taking three-year-old children. This is a preschool that has been going for 30 years. It does not receive a cent of government funding, yet a policy of this government, which has not thought through its consequences, is forcing this preschool to close, and dozens of families will now miss out on receiving three-year-old preschool. Another preschool, West Gully kindergarten, was in my local paper today, and they too are talking about the difficulties which they are having with their three-year-old program due to the Universal Access Policy.
I have surveyed the preschools in my electorate. There are another seven preschools saying they will have to close or reduce their hours if the policy is not changed. Once again, I call on the government to change this policy. All I am asking the Minister for School Education, Early Childhood and Youth to do is provide some flexibility in the Universal Access Policy so that those kindergartens that are ready and able to go to 15 hours immediately can do so but those that are not will have the flexibility not to. That is all we are asking for.
The second issue I would like to raise, child care, also concerns young families. As you may appreciate, Mr Deputy Speaker, child care costs across the nation have been going up dramatically this year, and that is purely related to the Government’s policy which has mandated a change in the staff to child ratio from five to one to four to one. As anyone can imagine, if all of a sudden you have to have only four children for every staff member, instead of five, that puts up the costs quite considerably and just flows on into fees. Mr Deputy Speaker—
The SPEAKER: The honourable member should be aware that I have been appointed Speaker. He has been referring to me as ‘Deputy Speaker’ in his contribution.
Mr TUDGE: I apologise, Mr Speaker. There is no research which says that four to one is better than five to one. Even if there was research, why does the federal government have to mandate to these childcare centres that it must be four to one and not five to one? Why can it not simply be up to parents and childcare operators to determine what the appropriate level of quality is? At the end of the day, the parents are the people who have the most concern for their child, and if the parents think that five to one is okay for their child what is wrong with that? Why do we need the big arm of a Labor government to tell the preschools in my electorate and across the country what the ratio needs to be?
I have a letter here from a constituent. She says that the preschool fees at the Magic Garden Childcare Centre have gone up by 21 per cent this year. She says, ‘All of us were very happy with the care being provided before.’ So why the change? This government just want to mandate things without any evidence. They have to be the big arm of government, impacting on everyday families, putting prices up and causing three-year-old kinders to close. It is time they had a good hard think about these policies and changed them. (Time expired)