Education and Training Reform Amendment (Land Powers) Bill 2023

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It is a pleasure to rise in favour of the Education and Training Reform Amendment (Land Powers) Bill 2023, a key piece of legislation as we continue in our mission to ensure Victoria is the Education State. It is more than just a slogan; it is a statement of fact backed by NAPLAN and VCE statistics. From our youngest Victorians in kinder through to students and apprentices at TAFE, I am proud to be a member of the Allan Labor government that is making the bold policy choices that are setting our state up for success.

As a government we know that great futures for Victorians start with world-class early education. It is not just our political belief, it is the science, because we know that 90 per cent of a child’s brain development takes place before they turn five. On that, I would just like to wish my little one a happy fifth birthday tomorrow. It absolutely makes sense to invest in our youngest Victorians, setting them up not just for academic success but success in life more broadly. It is not just the science that tells us this, it is also the economics. For every dollar the Victorian government invests in early childhood education, $2 of value will be returned to the Victorian community in productivity benefits over that child’s life. Investing in early childhood education stacks up financially and scientifically, so the Allan Labor government is committed to doing it well with our bold $14 billion Best Start, Best Life kindergarten reforms. Because when the Allan Labor government wants to make meaningful policy change in the state, we are bold and gutsy, not just in the space of education but across climate, transport, housing, energy, health, social justice and so much more.

Our Best Start, Best Life reforms are truly game changing. Firstly, we are making kinder free for three- and four-year-olds in Victoria. Starting this year, families across the state are benefiting from savings of up to $2500 per child per year thanks to the Allan Labor government, and their young ones are getting a world-class education. With my young daughter in free kinder this year I can see firsthand the benefit of our Best Start, Best Life reforms. Families are saving money and kids are getting a great start to their education, and it allows parents across the state to have the freedom to return to work should they choose. But we are not stopping there. Over the next decade we are steadily increasing the number of hours of free kinder, transitioning to 15 hours a week for three-year-old kinder statewide by 2029. And by 2032, four-year-old kinder will transition to 30 hours per week of universal pre-prep. It is a hard to oversell the positive impact this has on our kids’ learning, on Victorian household budgets and on the journey towards gender equity, when no Victorian will be forced to stay out of the workforce against their will because they have to provide child care. It truly is a win–win, and the Allan Labor government is proud to be getting on and making it a reality under the leadership of the newly minted Minister for Children in the other place. I would like to take this opportunity to wish her the very best in this exciting new role.

Reforming a system from the ground up also means growing the workforce from the ground up, and that workforce component is a critical element of our Best Start, Best Life reforms, because our vision of a Victoria where the next generation gets a great kindergarten and pre-prep education will only come about if there are even more world-class educators. That is why I am proud to say the Allan Labor government is investing $370 million in this space, attracting and retaining an early childhood workforce that is truly world class, because we know our youngest Victorians deserve nothing less. We know that with anything in this state it is not just about a quality education and recruitment but also about supporting the workforce development and retention once educators begin their careers. It is the reason why we are removing the once-in-a-lifetime limit on our flagship free TAFE courses, and we are extending these efforts with new early years learning networks, coaching and mentoring experiences, establishing communities of practice and running conferences for our first-year educators.

To make all that possible – the free kinder, pre-prep and workforce development – we need to invest in the physical infrastructure. Across Victoria dozens and dozens of kindergartens are being upgraded with major capacity expansions across the city, the suburbs and the regions. Take, for example, Bambou Early Learning Centre in Glen Waverley. It is a terrific kinder providing great local education, so I am thrilled to see it being expanded when I drive past it every day.

It is not just about upgrading existing kinders, because we need to build brand new kindergartens too. That is exactly where the Education and Training Reform Amendment (Land Powers) Bill comes into the picture. Currently under the Education and Training Reform Act 2006 the Victorian government has a range of powers to acquire land for the purposes of creating educational facilities for school-age Victorians and older. While those opposite did not use those powers too often, on this side of the house the Allan Labor government is getting on and building new schools at a cracking pace. One hundred new schools will be done by 2026, with 84 new schools already open or funded and another 12 coming online in 2024. In fact we have used our time in government to invest $1 billion to acquire land for new world-class schools. The scale of it is truly impressive.

While these powers have been well used to establish new schools, the current version of the act does not give the Minister for Children the powers to acquire land for new kindergartens, and that needs to change. We are not just making kindergartens free, we are investing in the world-class facilities our students deserve, which matches the quality of teaching early childhood educators deliver every single day. That is why the Allan Labor government is building 50 new state government-run kinders across the state where they are needed most: in areas with low access to existing kindergarten facilities and where possible co-located with schools, TAFEs and major employment centres to end the tedious double drop-off.

To get on and make these 50 government owned and operated centres a reality, the minister requires a suite of legislative powers to acquire land for the purposes of early childhood education. That is exactly what this bill is about: getting on and doing. It takes the efficient and effective acquisition powers from the existing Education and Training Reform Act and extends them to the Minister for Children. How do we know that they are efficient and effective? Well, one only has to look at our bold school building agenda to see the outcomes firsthand. The impacts of these 100 new schools are nothing short of delightful for students and families. I am sure that is especially the case for members in this place who represent the growing communities in our outer suburbs and beautiful regions. I am excited because the benefits of the government’s Best Start, Best Life reforms will be on a whole new level. I have seen it myself with my daughter, one of the many Victorian kids enjoying free kinder, and I know I am not the only member of this place with a kinder-age child benefiting from free kinder.

Since being elected as the Labor member for Glen Waverley last year, I have also had the great privilege of visiting our terrific local kinders to meet with our educators and their students. A shout-out to the Waverley Kidz Children’s Centre, Bambou Early Learning Centre, Syndal Preschool, Tally Ho Preschool, Barriburn Preschool, Petit early learning centre Forest Hill and Burwood Heights kindergarten. I have not just met with them onsite at their kinders, I owe a shout-out to the terrific Birralee Preschool community in particular, who I joined at a sausage sizzle at Vermont South Bunnings recently too. At all of these great kinders across my electorate the impact of our government’s Best Start, Best Life reforms are clear to see. This government’s policy is truly a once-in-a-generation reform, but I think Best Start, Best Life and indeed the education and training reform amendment bill before us today speak to something greater about this government, because when we get on and do something we are not just about tinkering around the edges, it is about bold and gutsy reform. Whether it is health, education, public transport, climate change or energy policy, we have the guts to do what matters.

On the theme of today’s bill, education, we are committed to positive reform across the entire system, and the Education and Training Reform Amendment (Land Powers) Bill 2023 goes a long way to achieving and putting our Best Start, Best Life reforms into motion. But make no mistake, our Best Start, Best Life reforms are just one part of our sweeping reforms to make Victoria the Education State – multibillion dollar investments in school upgrades, transforming our specialist schools, the expansion of our free TAFE program, co-locating early childhood facilities at new schools and making it free to study nursing and secondary teaching. By making these investments we are putting our money where our mouth is and ensuring the quality of our school buildings and programs matches the quality in teaching our educators deliver every single day. When combined with the Best Start, Best Life reforms that this bill helps usher in, Victoria is absolutely a nation leader, because in Victoria we are proudly the public education state. In the name of my daughter and every other young Victorian who will benefit from free kinder, I am thrilled to commend this bill to the house.

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