Ms Armitage (Launceston) - Madam Acting President, I thank the Government for the briefing this morning and the opportunity to speak to members of the department over the last few months and for their continued availability. It has been very good. They have been available all the time and we could go to them with any questions we had. They were always willing to be there, either on the other end of the phone or in person.
I do not believe anyone can question the minister's belief that he was doing the right thing for young children. It is therefore very heartening to see that the Government has listened to the community and childcare centres, and is now willing to genuinely consult with the sector in the best interests of children and their families.
This appears to be a good compromise. While I appreciate the good intention of the Government in allowing all children from an early age to have the opportunity to access play‑based education if they wished, and I appreciate that the intent of the Government was to make it optional, the apparent impacts, particularly on the childcare centres and probably more so in remote areas, were quite great.
This has been a very difficult time for many people, especially those in the childcare sector. I have been advised on many occasions that people in that sector have had numerous sleepless nights worrying about not only their own businesses but also about the children they care for and the people they employ. I have visited many childcare centres as well as primary schools, as I am sure other members have. I am pleased to say that children in Tasmania are afforded a very good start with the play‑based learning they are provided with. Losing a large group of children, possibly most of their three-and-a-half to five-year-olds, would make many of these centres not viable so the changes to this bill are a great relief to many.
There are still some concerns from the childcare sector, particularly about accreditation and whether staff within the very rigorous National Quality Framework still have to meet Tasmanian qualifications. It would seem a bit of a double up if they already have a national qualification in early childhood education and care.
Most of the issues raised with me have been covered by other members, particularly the member for McIntyre, Ms Rattray; however, concerns were also raised about mainland childcare centres that may now find it desirable to commence operating in Tasmania given the level of funding. The question asked was whether Tasmanian childcare centres currently operating would be given preference over these mainland companies.
One of the issues raised was: if a couple of centres were operating in an area, who would determine where the funding goes, particularly if a mainland company was involved? I wonder whether the National Competition Policy would come into this or whether we would look at it differently and could favour Tasmania's centres as the Government is, in some ways, purchasing a service. It could be seen as buying Tasmanian. I recall hearing recently that part of the Government's policy is to try to buy Tasmanian.
Mrs Hiscutt - Buy local.
Ms ARMITAGE - Buy local, so would it be seen as buying local or would it be seen as coming under the National Competition Policy? It was raised with me that while we have not had an influx of mainland centres to date, with funding available we may have that. Would the local centres have an advantage or would they come against the National Competition Policy? It could be either way. The Government is buying a service so is it buying local? That is something that was raised and I can understand their concern.
I congratulate the Government on agreeing that changes needed to be made to this bill. Even more so, I congratulate childcare centres on the huge amount of consultation and engagement work they have done in putting their case forward. Their passionate pleas for people to listen to their concerns have fortunately been taken on board. I have no doubt the Government will, as I mentioned previously, consult with the centres on the appropriate way forward.
I am also pleased to see that in areas where there are no early childhood education centres that government schools will work with an ECEC service to deliver it at the school site. We need to appreciate that not all parents have the ability or the resources to get their children to centres that may be some distance away.
In closing, I will read a letter I just received from the Australian Childcare Alliance. It came in through email, so I am sure other honourable members have received it. It says -
As a national peak body in the Australian Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC) sector, the Australian Childcare Alliance (ACA) represents more than 2,500 members (long day care service providers) and approximately 360,000 families throughout Australia.
I am writing today to acknowledge and thank the Government for listening and responding to Tasmanian ECEC sector, families and associated stakeholders. We commend the decision to maintain the existing school starting age, and your recognition of the importance of quality play-based ECEC, in giving children the best possible start in life.
We were also pleased to hear the Tasmanian Government announcement that the funding previously dedicated to this planned initiative will be reallocated. The decision to provide an additional year of free preschool education to Tasmania's 3 year old children from disadvantaged and vulnerable backgrounds within the current ECEC system is to be applauded.
ACA Tasmania is supportive of the legislation being passed by the Tasmanian Legislative Council.
We expressly thank all Members of the Legislative Council for their support on this matter.
Once enacted in legislation, ACA Tasmania will continue to engage with the Tasmanian Government to understand the proposal in more detail and ensure that its implementation meets the government's stated objectives for all stakeholders.
It goes on about areas and people and provides contact details for them. I will not read that in. It is signed by Paul Mondo, President, Australian Childcare Alliance.
I thank the Government for the changes it has made to the bill, for the briefings and the availability of members, particularly Department of Education staff. I support the bill.