I also rise to make some comments in support of the Education and Care Services National Law Bill. Ms Huppert has taken the chamber through a number of points that were raised by the opposition, so I will take this opportunity to go back over the actual intent of the legislation prior to the chamber going into the committee stage.
The first point I want to make is the importance of child care and the need for this bill. Essentially this bill aims to ensure consistent quality child care and early education across the country and, in the context of Victoria, the state. We are all aware of the need to have quality child care, particularly given that there has been a substantial increase in the number of children in formal child care.
Statistics show that in 1996, 14 per cent of children were in formal child care. As recently as 2009 that number had risen to 23 per cent. We have also seen a dramatic rise in the number of women who have dependent children participating in the workforce. In 1985 that figure was around 40 per cent; now it is over 60 per cent.
It is important to ensure not only that we have services in place that reflect the modern workforce and changed family circumstances but that the quality of the services is there. We know through academic research, and also in terms of what we have seen in a range of communities, that early childhood development is absolutely critical when it comes to ensuring that children are able to explore their maximum potential. We know early childhood development improves not just access to a variety of opportunities for young children but also the circumstances for the wider family from which that child comes. Early childhood development also builds more resilient communities because we have communities and community members interacting with each other at a very early stage. This is unlike many years ago when we had a situation where even though children might not have had parents in the workforce there was isolation.
There has been an expansion of bipartisan knowledge and a growing acceptance that we need good quality child care — child care that engages not just the child but the community in a wider sense. Since 1999 this government has invested $134 million in early childhood education and care facilities across the state. This reflects the importance that this government places on early childhood development and on our partnerships with local government, the community sector and parents in supporting children to get the best possible start in life.
This bill will enact the national quality framework for early education and care and school-aged care. It is about integrating education and care into early childhood services. The legislation will establish a national approach to regulation, assessment and quality improvement and will replace the existing licensing and quality assurance processes.
Initially the changes will be restricted to long day care, family day care and preschool, kindergarten and outside-school-hours care services. These services will no longer be regulated under the Children’s Services Act 1996.
There are a number of major aspects to this framework. Firstly, there is an agreed quality standard for early childhood outside-school-hours care services, including prescribed educator-to-child ratios and staff qualifications. The bill introduces a ratings and assessment system which is based on the national quality standard, and it also streamlines the regulatory regime. The legislation also sets up the Australian Children Education and Care Quality Authority, a national authority that will oversee the system and report to the Ministerial Council for Education, Early Childhood Development and Youth Affairs.
Under the ratings and assessment system all services will be assessed against seven quality areas, and those quality areas were spelt out by Minister Morand when she introduced the bill in the Assembly. Those standards go firstly to the educational program and practice, including the development of programs based on the approved learning framework, taking into account each child’s strengths, capabilities, culture, interests and experiences, as well as the child’s health and safety. The bill also deals with staffing arrangements, including mandated educator-to-child ratios and qualifications. There are provisions relating to leadership and service management, collaboration partnerships with families and communities, relationships with the children involved and the physical environment. There are seven quality areas. Each area is given a rating and then there is an overall rating. These ratings will be published and will provide parents and the community with more information on the quality of service. The national approval and certification system will also mean a significant reduction in the regulatory burden for service providers.
The bill provides for national consistency and will stamp out duplication that exists in other states and territories.
The bill has been developed in consultation, and I am heartened by the comments made by Ms Hartland in relation to that consultation. Ms Hartland is aware that extensive consultation has been undertaken. I have been furnished with a timetable of consultations that have occurred, and I also have copies of correspondence provided by such organisations as Kindergarten Parents Victoria, the Community Child Care Association and Early Childhood Australia, who are all supportive and in correspondence to the minister they have indicated their support for this bill.
In conclusion, in many ways Victoria has led the way in recognising the importance of early childhood development.
In fact many of the elements that are contained in the bill before us are the result of work that has been done in Victoria. Not only will the bill provide a national approach and a clear national framework that will enable standards to be applied and tested and will build upon work already undertaken, it will also build on ensuring that our children and their families can rest assured that their care, safety and development will continue to be a priority of this government.
In the debate this morning there has been some mention of the coalition’s position on this issue, which at the last federal election was:
We will not proceed with Labor’s new national rating system for child care and early childhood education services.
After listening closely to the comments made by Ms Lovell for something like 43 or 44 minutes I would say the coalition has been quite disingenuous in the way it has treated this issue before us today. I call on her to indicate whether the Victorian Liberal Party has a different policy position to the federal coalition or whether she is essentially being a bit disingenuous on this whole issue this morning. I look forward to her response on that.
Leaving that to one side for the moment, it is important for this chamber to provide ease of passage for this bill. It is a very important bill. There has been a lot of work done on it and there has been a lot of consultation. It is now just a matter of getting on with it. I commend the bill to the house.