Ms PATTEN (Northern Metropolitan) (14:16): My question is for the minister for early childhood and relates to kindergarten. Back in June with some fanfare the minister announced free three- and four-year-old kinder for Victorian families, but I would have to say even a cursory look at the detail suggests that kindergarten will not be free or even low fee for most families, who will receive a $2500 subsidy for sessional kinder or a $2000 fee reduction for funded kindergarten in long day care settings. So my question is: can the minister please tell me how many families will actually receive free kindergarten?
Ms STITT (Western Metropolitan—Minister for Workplace Safety, Minister for Early Childhood and Pre-Prep) (14:17): I am very, very happy to take that question, Ms Patten, and I thank you for your interest in early childhood education. Of course you would be aware that kindergarten programs are delivered in a range of different provider settings. In the long day care centres it is predominantly the responsibility of the federal government and the subject of childcare subsidy arrangements.
You will recall that in 2021 the government provided free kinder that year as part of our COVID recovery response, and we were able to reach agreement with the previous federal government to ensure that with the free kinder component of long day care—because of course kinder programs are embedded in long day care services—the full benefit of that free program was passed on to parents, and we are again in discussions with the new federal government about a similar arrangement this time when we introduce free kinder next year.
For our sessional kinders we have made a couple of different commitments. There is free kinder for three- and four-year-old kindergarten next year, and of course you would be aware that we are in the process of scaling up the hours that are funded for three-year-olds across the state, and that will mean that there will be different arrangements depending on what location you are in, because of the staged way in which we have been rolling out three-year-old.
In some regional parts of Victoria they are already up to 15 hours of three-year-old, and in some metropolitan areas we are still in the process of building up towards 15 by 2029. The commitment that the government has made in respect of free kinder is that all the funded hours will be free for parents. That includes four-year-old kindergarten as well, which is currently at 15 hours, and over the next few years from 2025 to 2032 we will essentially build up to 30 hours for every four-year-old and the creation of that pre-prep year.
We are in the process of detailed consultation with the sector about the policy settings for free kinder next year. They have been pretty constructive discussions with the sector. I know the sector are very keen on the detail of this, because enrolment season for next year is almost upon us, and we will be in a position to be announcing those policy settings in the not-too-distant future.
Ms PATTEN (Northern Metropolitan) (14:20): Thanks, Minister. I think probably the headline should have been ‘Subsidised kinder’, maybe not ‘Free kinder’. However, by way of supplementary—and I thank you for your response, because it really was good and provided some good information—bearing in mind, as you said, that early education in Victoria takes place very often in long day care and that unmet demand has been incredibly hard for some families to even find a place in long day care at the moment, let alone a choice of provider, can the minister guarantee that that full $2000 reduction will be passed on to families by long day care kindergarten services?
Ms STITT (Western Metropolitan—Minister for Workplace Safety, Minister for Early Childhood and Pre-Prep) (14:20): What I can say, Ms Patten, is that that was definitely the arrangement that we arrived at in 2021 through our free kinder program and making sure that, regardless of what setting parents choose to have their children receive kindergarten programs in, they get the benefit of the government’s policy intent. We are in positive discussions with the commonwealth.
We have not quite landed all the details yet, but I have got no reason to believe that we will not be able to land those arrangements. In 2021, for example, it was absolutely the case that it was a requirement of the funding arrangement that was arrived at that the full $2000 was passed on to families.
I have got no reason to believe that we will not be able to arrive at a similar arrangement, because we have been very clear about our $9 billion commitment to early childhood education and care and the importance of the early years in Victoria
Fiona Patten MP
Leader of Reason
Member for Northern Metropolitan Region
Question without notice 2/8/22