Early Childhood Legislation Amendment (Premises Approval in Principle) Bill 2023

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I do not know how I can follow that or top that in any way, shape or form. It is a deep honour to rise to speak –

Danny Pearson: Were you also an au pair in Sweden? Do you drive a Volvo?

John MULLAHY: Well, I’ll get to that, but no, I wasn’t. I want it on the record that, no, I was not an au pair in Sweden. But I am very much looking forward to meeting with the member for Albert Park to discuss her time in Sweden looking after the kids of Swedish parents. We will do that after this session is over.

I do rise to speak in favour of the Early Childhood Legislation Amendment (Premises Approval in Principle) Bill 2023, and I want to pay tribute to Minister Blandthorn in the other place and everyone involved in bringing this important piece of legislation to this house. I do want to acknowledge the member for Albert Park. You have been an early childhood educator –

Nina Taylor: A teacher.

John MULLAHY: A teacher, sorry. But I acknowledge that and that experience that you bring to this house when giving contributions on bills such as these.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: Through the Chair.

John MULLAHY: Early childhood education is a policy area which I have a strong passion for as the father of a five-year-old daughter. I want to make sure that along with her peers and every single Victorian she is given the best opportunity to grow and learn. My daughter has been very fortunate over the last two years to experience the three-year-old and four-year-old kinder program. Obviously we are just starting to roll that out, and she experienced the 5 hours of three-year-old kinder last year and also is currently just finishing her last term of the four-year-old program, doing 15 hours a week, and I am looking forward to that being expanded out over the next decade. Just noting the experience my daughter has had of going through early childhood education, I have noticed the change in her academic prowess, her picking up of the alphabet and numbers and her picking up on the social aspects of emotions and things like that. You just notice on a week-by-week basis the changes in a child’s development from this. We all know that 90 per cent of brain development is done before the age of five years old – and I want to wish a very happy birthday to my daughter for last week, when she turned five years of age – and that is why I am proud to be part of an Allan Labor government which invests in early childhood education, including our nation-leading free kinder policy. I will, however, return to that proud legacy in just a moment after I discuss the details of this bill.

In the 2019 review of the national quality framework, the framework regulating early childhood service provisions, quality and safety issues were detected in the design of multistorey early childhood service buildings. This bill seeks to directly address these concerns, and this bill will establish a process to obtain approval in principle for new early childhood service locations in multistorey buildings which are three storeys or more. It is important to note that the approval in principle will be in the planning and design stage in both a construction and an alteration of a building, and this means more time and money will be saved in the potential occurrence of an NQF non-compliance and overall transparency and certainty for involved parties. The premises approval in principle scheme is accessible on a voluntary basis, as the government wishes to assess the suitability and sustainability of multistorey premises for early childhood service delivery. The bill does include the ability to make this scheme mandatory in future if required.

This bill also amends the Children’s Services Act 1996 in order to ensure that the approval in principle process for multistorey premises is available for all early childhood services. Further, this amendment to the Children’s Services Act guarantees the quality and safety of any early childhood services by subjecting them to the same scrutiny of regulatory enforcement mechanisms. It is also important to note that targeted consultation with key stakeholders took place in the drafting process of this bill. No stakeholders raised any concerns with the proposed approach. These stakeholders include the Property Council of Australia, the Urban Development Institute of Australia and the Master Builders Association of Victoria, and the Department of Transport and Planning and the Department of Justice and Community Safety were also consulted. The extent of such consultative engagement demonstrates the soundness of this bill. These are quite straightforward and simple yet necessary changes to ensure the safety and quality of our early childhood services.

To understand the specific requirements of this bill, the uniqueness of the multistorey building as an early childhood service delivery site must be acknowledged. One clear example is the added complexity of evacuations. Careful site management and planning is required as young children take longer to evacuate than adults. The national quality framework guidelines state that buildings must include direct access to emergency exits and external muster points as well as utilisable building evacuation infrastructure. They also require a clear and appropriate building evacuation procedure, fit for purpose, with child safety in mind. There have been instances in Victoria when new buildings have complied with local planning laws, including the aforementioned safety regulations, but not with the NQF. This results in delays and additional cost pressures as additional works are required. The approval in principle scheme has the benefit of being able to identify any necessary improvements to the design, safety or mechanisms of buildings to be used for early childhood service delivery. This saves time and money as well as reducing risk to everyone involved.

The changes in this bill are also just one part of a large and ambitious agenda this government has for the early childhood sector. We understand that for every dollar we invest into early childhood education, two dollars of value will be returned to the Victorian community. However, numbers in an economical sense do not do justice to the profound impact good education has on the state and our people. You cannot put a monetary figure on the everlasting changes to a child’s life if they are given opportunities that they would not otherwise have had if it were not for the Allan Labor government’s investment. When you give every child, regardless of socio-economic background, the opportunity to rise up and grasp their potential through a world-class early education system, you are making a lifelong investment in their life.

We believe in investing in the power of people, the power of potential and the power of education, and our Best Start, Best Life reforms do just that. Starting this year, families all across Victoria are benefiting from the savings of up to $2500 per child per year, thanks to the free kinder program this government has introduced. Over the next decade we will be increasing the number of hours of free kinder to 15 hours per week for three-year-olds and 30 hours of universal pre-prep for four-year-olds. This will be saving families money, giving parents the freedom to return to work and contribute to our economy, and giving all children – the future of our state – a world-class start to their education. These reforms and changes will form a proud legacy of the Andrews–Allan Labor government that will be remembered.

Since being elected to represent the people of Glen Waverley last year, I have had the absolute pleasure of visiting many of the kindergartens in my area. I would like to acknowledge the work of early childhood educators, staff and parents for their incredible work at the Waverley Kidz Children’s Centre, Bambou Early Learning Centre, Syndal Preschool, Tally Ho Preschool, Barriburn Preschool, Burwood Heights kindergarten, Petit Early Learning Journey Forest Hill and many more. When I visit these kinders I am once again reminded of our once-in-a-generation reforms and the positive impact they will have on the next generation of Victorians. We lead the nation in our ubiquitous efforts of bold, positive reforms to make our education system better than it is today. We are the Education State for good reason. We are always striving to enshrine opportunities for all children and deliver the best results and outcomes whilst ensuring safety regulations are efficient and up to date. This bill does just that, addressing the design and safety concerns within the early childhood services premises. I commend the bill to the house.

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