Tuesday, 21 June 2022

Questions without notice and ministers statements

Panton Hill Preschool


Panton Hill Preschool

Ms LOVELL (Northern Victoria) (11:59): My question is for the Minister for Early Childhood. Minister, the Panton Hill kindergarten is without a cluster manager for next year and is facing closure unless a management structure can be put in place immediately. The kindergarten is the feeder for students who go on to attend Panton Hill Primary School, and if children are forced to attend kindergarten in Hurstbridge it is likely that student numbers at Panton Hill Primary will decline. The Nillumbik shire has asked the government for assistance, but so far nothing constructive has been forthcoming. Minister, what assistance will you commit to providing to the Nillumbik shire to ensure they can secure a manager for Panton Hill kindergarten so this service can remain operational?

Ms STITT (Western Metropolitan—Minister for Workplace Safety, Minister for Early Childhood) (12:00): I thank Ms Lovell for her question regarding Panton Hill Preschool and for her interest in Victorian kindergartens. I am sure she would join in applauding the unprecedented investment that our government is making in early childhood education, including $9 billion worth of investment, a commitment that will change lives for families and also have a very positive impact on the viability of our kindergartens, particularly our sessional kindergartens.

In terms of Panton Hill Preschool, I am obviously aware of these issues. The Department of Education and Training has been working closely with the shire council to identify options for management for the preschool from 2023. It is a small kindergarten, as you are aware. It has had viability concerns in the past, and the government took steps to make sure that the preschool was supported and was able to continue to operate. In terms of last year’s budget, we also included in last year’s budget $31.2 million to support all early years managers to improve viability, access and quality.

It is not an unusual circumstance, Ms Lovell, for some early years managers or individual kindergarten services or operators to divest or indicate their intention to divest of a particular service. I know that it is a much-loved local kindergarten, and I am committed to making sure that the department continues to work closely with the current operator, the local council and the preschool community to make sure that there is a solution found well ahead of next year’s kindergarten year.

Ms LOVELL (Northern Victoria) (12:02): Minister, as I said in my substantive question, nothing constructive has come of talks between the Nillumbik shire and the government. Also this kindergarten will close unless a manager is appointed immediately. It will close before your unbudgeted announcements have any effect. Minister, are you prepared to provide additional funding for a new manager to ensure the service becomes financially stable and save this kindergarten from closure?

Ms STITT (Western Metropolitan—Minister for Workplace Safety, Minister for Early Childhood) (12:03): Ms Lovell, I think that trying to scare the local community about the closure of a much-loved kindergarten is a pretty low road to go down, to be frank, because you know very well that when local members both in the other place and in this place have approached me about the future of particularly smaller kindergartners in rural and regional and peri-urban areas the government has stepped in to assist. So I can assure you that you might like to characterise the constructive conversations that are going on at the local level as meaningless, but I do not and I know that a solution will be found. I look forward to updating the house when that is the case.