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I rise this evening to speak on a variety of matters in the education and early childhood area. As you may be aware, my electorate of Lalor has over 10,000 families that access early childhood support and out-of-school-hours services. Most of my electorate would be classified as urban growth; however, I also represent small pockets of quite isolated rural areas. One such area is Little River. The population of Little River is around 750 people. It is served by a combined shop and service station, which, like in many small communities, doubles as a post office. It has a hotel, a kindergarten and a small primary school.
The primary school is aptly named the Little River Primary School. It currently has 114 students from 77 families. It is ably led by Principal Pamela Heane and School Council President Gillian Caldwell. It has only in recent years been rebuilt by the state Labor government. It is a school that is providing a great education and it is a focus of the local community. Two weeks ago the school contacted me, shocked to discover that, due to a change in classification, it is now regarded as an urban city school.
This school has out-of-school-hours care that operates from seven to 8.45 am and from 3.30 to 6.30 pm Monday to Friday. Fifty-seven students from 39 families access before-school or after-school care out of the 77 families that use the school. Imagine their dismay in discovering this reclassification means the service will lose $16,000 in funding, basically making it unviable.
The ramifications for these families are very real. There are no public busses in Little River. The children who use this service would be left to walk home to an empty home in a town that has no footpaths. On one side of Little River children would need to cross a bridge with no room for pedestrians—only just enough room for passing cars. On the other side of the town they would need to cross an unmanned railway line.
If the school were to lose their out-of-school-hours care program, they would be likely to lose approximately a third of their families. To lose this program would be crippling for Little River Primary School and for the Little River community. The reality is that if parents in this community cannot access out-of-school-hours care, they may be forced to change schools, to have their children attend a school closer to where they work, out of their local area. This could leave the school less viable and the downward cycle of local service access would begin.
This is not a service at the edges. There is no alternative for these families. There is no neighbouring school to combine with. There is no private provider. This is a vital service that has been supported to date by the Commonwealth government. This seems a short-sighted decision. I call on the government to reverse it for Little River Primary School and for other schools similarly affected.
I would also like to speak on other matters around education and early childhood. I mention the impact of the cuts to kindergarten funding, dropping the guaranteed 15 hours of kindergarten and the huge effect this will have on our community. The minister may think this has gone away because of the promised announcement for 2015, but she is very wrong if she believes that. In my community, with high numbers of low-SES households and high numbers of families from non-English-speaking backgrounds, approximately only 80 per cent of children are enrolled in kindergarten. With a potential increase in fees, the number of children not attending kindergarten would only grow. Those children who would benefit the most would be the most likely to not access the important early education programs they need. The minister needs to know that this will not go away in our community, that the community are campaigning and will continue to campaign until that 15 hours is guaranteed beyond 2015.
Further, my community has the highest number of registered family day care services in Australia. There are 44 services in Lalor that are set to lose funding due to the cuts to family day care funding. I would implore the minister to relook at these two issues and to think of the people of Lalor while she does.
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