Ordered that second-reading speech be incorporated into Hansard on motion of Ms TIERNEY (Minister for Training and Skills).
Ms TIERNEY (Minister for Training and Skills) — I move:
That the bill be now read a second time.
Incorporated speech as follows:
The bill proposes amendments to the Education and Care Services National Law (national law) in schedule 1 to the Education and Care Services National Law Act 2010 (national law act).
In December 2009, the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) agreed to the national partnership agreement on the national quality agenda for early childhood education and care (NP NQA). The NP NQA established a jointly governed, unified national quality framework (NQF) for long day care, family day care, preschool and outside school hours care services to raise quality and consistency in the education and care sector and improve outcomes for all Australian children.
Quality early childhood education and care plays a vital role in supporting the learning and development of Australian children in the early years and helps to lay the foundation for better health, education and employment outcomes later in life.
The establishment of the NQF was a significant milestone in implementing national standards for the provision of education and care. It strikes the right balance between quality and affordability, by focusing on improving the quality of services, providing access to information about the quality of services and reducing the regulatory burden on services.
The NQF consists of:
a national applied law scheme consisting of the national law and the Education and Care Services National Regulations (national regulations);
a national quality standard (NQS);
a national quality assessment and rating process;
regulatory authorities in each state and territory; and
a national body, the Australian Children’s Education and Care Quality Authority (ACECQA).
The NQF operates as an applied national law scheme. The national law is enacted by Victoria, as the host jurisdiction, in a schedule to the national law act and is applied in other jurisdictions as their own law or, in Western Australia, through corresponding legislation.
The NP NQA requires COAG to conduct a review every five years with regard to progress made by jurisdictions in achieving the agreed objectives and outcomes. A review commenced in 2014 (review) and resulted in a number of recommendations that were recently agreed to by national consensus through the Education Council.
Overall, the review found that the NQF is a significant achievement, and that considerable progress has been made in what are ambitious and groundbreaking reforms. However, the review also found that, while the NQF has been largely effective, after several years of operation it requires some technical and operational improvements. The nature of the education and care services sector itself has also created new challenges, particularly in relation to family day care services.
The review recommended amendments to both the national law and the national regulations. The bill seeks to implement the review’s recommendations for changes to the national law. The key features of the bill include:
strengthening the eligibility criteria for an application for the ‘Excellent’ rating as part of implementing the revised NQS;
improving oversight of, and support for educators engaged by, family day care services;
removing the supervisor certificate requirements and making approved providers responsible for ensuring that only fit and proper persons with suitable skills to perform the role are appointed nominated supervisors;
simplifying administrative and enforcement provisions; and
making other minor and technical improvements to the operation of the national law.
Strengthening eligibility requirements for ‘Excellent’ rating
The NQS is a core component of the NQF and sets a benchmark for assessing and rating the performance of education and care services. It is critical that ratings provide accurate and meaningful information about service quality and that the assessment and rating system is sustainable and comparable across services.
The review found that the NQS is contributing to an increase in the quality of service delivery across the sector. The NQS will be strengthened, streamlined and clarified through amendments to the national regulations, and operational improvements will be made to the quality assessment and rating process. The revised NQS will be complemented by the proposal in the bill to strengthen the eligibility requirements for the ‘Excellent’ rating.
The purpose of the ‘Excellent’ rating (the highest possible rating) is to celebrate highly accomplished practice, innovation and sector leadership in the delivery of education and care to children. ACECQA is responsible for administering the ‘Excellent’ rating under the national law which includes awarding the rating and determining the criteria which must be satisfied in order to be awarded the rating.
Currently, any service rated as ‘Exceeding the NQS’ is eligible to apply to ACECQA for the ‘Excellent’ rating. A service can be rated as ‘Exceeding the NQS’ overall if it has an ‘Exceeding the NQS’ rating for all seven quality areas, or if it has a specified combination of ratings of ‘Exceeding the NQS’ in four or more quality areas and ‘Meeting the NQS’ for the remaining areas.
To ensure that the ‘Excellent’ rating recognises consistent performance and to further differentiate the ‘Excellent’ rating, the bill proposes amendments to require a service to be rated as ‘Exceeding the NQS’ in all seven quality areas to be eligible to apply for the ‘Excellent’ rating.
Strengthening family day care service provisions
The national law has adopted a co-regulatory model for the family day care sector whereby approved providers of family day care services have primary responsibility for ensuring compliance by family day care educators. Regulatory authorities of participating jurisdictions work with approved providers to ensure that they fulfil their responsibilities for each service they operate.
Since the introduction of the national law, there has been sustained growth in the number of family day care services. The review identified areas where the regulatory requirements can be strengthened to increase compliance with the NQF by improving the support provided by approved services to family day care educators and by allowing regulatory authorities to better monitor family day care services in their respective jurisdictions.
The key changes to the family day care service provisions in the national law include:
requiring approved providers of family day care services to only operate from a jurisdiction where they hold a service approval and to have a principal office in each jurisdiction in which they operate;
ensuring approved family day care services engage a minimum number of family day care coordinators based on the number of family day care educators at the service;
clarifying that a family day care service can only operate from an approved family day care venue in exceptional circumstances and where the regulatory authority has given approval;
requiring approved providers of family day care services to notify the regulatory authority of a change in the location of its principal office prior to the change and provide proof of occupancy of the new premises;
requiring family day care educators to notify approved providers of changes to the circumstances at the educator’s residence and of other information such as serious incidents and complaints alleging serious incidents or breaches of the national law;
clarifying the provisions regarding the role and use of family day care educator assistants;
allowing authorised officers to enter a family day care residence to investigate an offence if there is a reasonable belief that a service is operating at the time of entry.
Removal of supervisor certificates
The bill will repeal the supervisor certificate requirements in the national law.
Supervisor certificates are granted to applicants where the regulatory authority is satisfied that they have adequate knowledge, skills and qualifications and are fit and proper to supervise an education and care service. Supervisor certificates are a prerequisite for approved providers or other persons to act in the roles of nominated supervisor or a person in day-to-day charge of a service.
Certifying supervisors was intended to ensure that a person with the appropriate skills, experience and character for supervising a service is always present while education and care is being provided to children to ensure their safety and wellbeing.
The supervisor certificate application process is considered unnecessarily burdensome on approved providers and to be of limited benefit to the regulatory authority in ensuring quality and compliance. The review has identified a more efficient way of ensuring only suitable persons oversee the operation of a service.
The bill contains amendments which do this by making approved providers responsible for assessing the suitability of the service’s nominated supervisors or persons in day-to-day charge when appointing people to those positions.
Simplifying administrative and enforcement provisions
The regulatory authority may accept an ‘enforceable undertaking’ from a person that has contravened the national law. An undertaking represents an alternative to the ordinary disciplinary measures in the national law and provides the regulatory authority with flexibility to deal with instances of non-compliance on a case-by-case basis.
In some cases, the regulatory authority is required to suspend an approval or issue a prohibition notice which prevents a person from remaining at a service premises or providing education and care.
State and territory regulators have requested some flexibility in being able to agree to an enforceable undertaking instead of suspending an approval or issuing a prohibition notice, particularly where a suspension or prohibition notice may be disproportionate to the non-compliance.
The proposed amendments expand the grounds on which the regulatory authority may accept enforceable undertakings to include certain grounds which currently force the regulatory authority to suspend an approval or issue a prohibition notice.
Other technical amendments in the bill seek to improve and simplify the administrative provisions in relation to:
the approvals processes;
service waivers and temporary waivers;
the operational requirements of education and care services;
the investigative and enforcement powers of regulatory authorities; and
information sharing between regulatory authorities, the national authority, state and territory governments and the commonwealth.
In Victoria, we are committed to and have a proud record of high-quality, safe and affordable education and care services for children. We are also strongly committed to improving children’s educational and developmental outcomes.
This bill gives effect to changes agreed by national consensus. In introducing this bill, as the host jurisdiction for the national law, we are honouring our shared commitment to ensuring children and families benefit from this important national framework.
I commend the bill to the house.
Debate adjourned for Ms CROZIER (Southern Metropolitan) on motion of Mr Ondarchie.
Debate adjourned until Thursday, 16 March.