$9b early years overhaul

An early childhood education and care overhaul will roll out in Victoria over the next decade, designed to save families money and help women return to the workforce.

Premier Daniel Andrews labeled the $9 billion Best Start, Best Life program expansion – a joint initiative with New South Wales – “the greatest transformation of early education in a generation”.

Firstly, from next year kinder will be free, saving up to $2500 per child every year.

Secondly, over the next decade, four-year-old kinder will transition to Pre-Prep – a universal 30-hour a week program of play-based learning for every four-year-old child in Victoria, delivered through kinders and long day care centres.

“A year dedicated to growing and learning, new friends and new experiences. A year devoted to helping our kids be the very best they can be,” Premier Andrews said.

“Giving them the skills they need for school, but just as importantly, the skills they need for life.

“At the same time, it will benefit hundreds of thousands of working families. Helping more mums and dads return to work on terms that work for them.”

Thirdly, the State Government will establish 50 government-owned and affordable integrated childcare centres in areas with the greatest unmet demand, with the first to open in 2025.

Where possible, they’ll be co-located with schools to avoid the double-drop off, and alongside hospitals, TAFEs and major employers to create convenient access for working parents.

Where there is demand, centres will operate extended hours and on weekends so parents working in industries like hospitality and healthcare have more support and more options.

“Our childcare system isn’t working for women – in fact, it’s holding them back,” Minister for Women Gabrielle Williams said.

“Affordable and accessible childcare is vital to giving women more options – meaning they have more economic power and driving gender equality across every aspect of work and life.”

The typical household is spending 20 per cent of its income on childcare fees, and some women who want to return to work are staying home because of this cost.

Premier Andrews said being a stay-at-home parent was a legitimate choice – but it should be based on what works for individual families, not forced by the limitations of the childcare system.

He said our economy missed out on their skills and experience.

“This won’t be a short-term fix, or a temporary solution. Instead, it will take years of collaborative, hard work to get it right,” he said.

“We begin today by planting the seeds, knowing the benefits won’t be known for years to come. But knowing they’ll be shared by everyone.”

The Victorian Liberals and Nationals welcomed the announcement.

Shadow Minister for Early Childhood and Children David Hodgett said the Victorian Liberals and Nationals were fully committed to getting our children’s education and social development back on track.

He said the announcement was an important step forward but more work remained to be done.

“Children and students bore the brunt of the world’s longest lockdown and deserve better support and a real plan to catch up on lost learning,” he said.

“A Matthew Guy Liberals and Nationals Government will support and implement these reforms as part of our plan to get our children’s development back on track.”