I rise this evening to speak on two issues, both of which come within the purview of Minister Morrison in his new portfolio, being funding for kindergartens and out-of-school-hours care. Interestingly, these issues reflect the contrast that you find in the electorate of Lalor.People here have often heard me speak of Lalor as home to 20,000 young families. We average 70 to 80 babies being born each week, and have rapidly-expanding schools. Four new schools opened this year, and it is not uncommon for schools to have up to 12 new prep classes each year.
Many of those families are newly-arrived migrants and lower-middle-income families looking for an affordable lifestyle. Children of these families are the demographic that is shown to benefit the most from early childhood education. These children are less likely to have English as a first language, tertiary educated parents, homes full of books, pencils or paint or a regular bedtime story. That is why access to kindergarten is so vital in my community.
The local council has indicated that only around 80 per cent of local children attend kindergarten in the year before they go to school. This is something that the local community has been working to lift for some time. But it means that many children start formal schooling without that solid early childhood background that would give them a leg up.
My community needs more early childhood education access, not less, and the Abbott government is keeping our kinders on a knife edge about future provision. They gave a 12-month extension—before the Victorian state election—and so we have 15 hours running this year in the local kindergartens. But we need to know and have surety for our planning for what is going to happen next year.
My community wants to know: will the government commit to the ongoing funding of universal access to kindergarten for 15 hours a week? Will the almost-30 local kindergartens be able to continue next year as they are this year? Will the provision of kindergarten services be expanded to cope with our growing population?
This is critical for our community and it is critical for the broader community. Early education for the children of Lalor will impact on the economy over time. The Productivity Commission, as those in the chamber would be aware, has recommended that the federal government continue the national partnership funding. So I call on the government to make that commitment.
In contrast, an area in my electorate called Little River has a very small school of only 100 children. Little River is a small rural community; it has a shop, a pub, a kindergarten, a school and a community hall. No-one would call it a major city, and yet it has been classified as a major city and, as a consequence, Little River Primary School has had its out-of-school-hours care cut because of that classification. After lobbying last year on the grounds that it met the criteria for a waiver, then Minister Ley gave the school an extension to the end of this term. Now, clearly, that means the school met the criteria for the waiver. I am standing tonight to ask the new minister if he would relook at this decision.
There were some at the beginning of this process who wanted to call for a reclassification. Given that we met the criteria for a waiver, I thought that would be the more sensible route and would more likely get us a positive outcome—given that a reclassification was much more complicated. But now, given that the term is nearly over, I call on the minister to relook at Little River and its classification with regard to out-of-school-hours care; to reclassify Little River and to put this issue beyond doubt for that very small community—for that school of 100 students—which is at risk without that out-of-school-hours program. It is at risk that families will move their children to Werribee, to Lara or to Geelong and take their children to a before-school-hours program on their way to work, kilometres away from their homes.
Little River needs its school. It is a school that has been rebuilt in recent years, and I ask the minister to look at this issue.