Motions: EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION

CARROLL (Niddrie—Minister for Crime Prevention, Minister for Corrections, Minister for Youth Justice, Minister for Victim Support) (17:43): It is my pleasure to rise and speak on the motion moved by the member for Carrum. Can I at the outset say I think the member for Carrum’s knowledge on the subject matter and background in this are so important, as was the member for Yan Yean’s contribution, particularly from a regional perspective. I know—and the shadow minister is at the table, too; we know—the importance of early childhood development and the importance of the first 1000 days of a person’s life. And it is why all the research comes out—whether it be from Tweddle, whether it be the Armytage-Ogloff review into youth justice, whether it be from the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute, the Royal Children’s Hospital or whether it be from UNICEF, we know the impact of family life, education, speech development and socialisation. The more that that can occur particularly up to the age of eight—international research shows that if you were to do one policy reform right here, right now, to improve education outcomes, it would be that you roll out three-year-old kinder. It has the weight of international research behind it, whether it be Canada, the United States or Europe.

And this is a signature policy of the Andrews Labor government. The Deputy Premier has overseen an incredible transformation in this state in building the Education State. But when you think about it, we often in youth justice talk about wraparound services from cradle to college—it really does begin with three-year-old kinder. But more than that, as the member for Yan Yean spoke about, we do know that people from vulnerable communities in particular can be developmentally vulnerable. If you can change the life trajectory of someone—Michelle Obama always used to speak about living a life of purpose. A book I read recently was by a gentleman called Geoffrey Canada, and the title was Fist Stick Knife Gun. Geoffrey Canada actually founded the Harlem Children’s Zone in New York. It was all about placed-based, targeted investment, particularly in the early years, and cradle-to-college education. That really does begin in the family home. But, more than that, it is about the community, it is about the education institutions, and it is really bringing those two things together.

I am very pleased to support the motion moved by the member for Carrum. I think the other aspect I would add to this is: it not only has benefits for the young person, the child, and their family, but there is an economic benefit too. In fact there is a cost-benefit ratio of four to one—that is, every dollar invested in three-year-old kindergarten and universal kinder returns about $4 to the community. From a taxpayer point of view, if you think about giving everyone the best start in life—the Premier spoke about incarceration rates and the cost of that. He may have mentioned it being about $250 000 or $300 000. It is about $220 000. It does continue to increase. This really does make a big difference. In the youth justice system it is higher. So we have to do everything we can do to support some of the most vulnerable communities that we have. If you think of the work of the Ombudsman, through her reporting, or the work of Jesuit Social Services, particularly the late Tony Vinson—if he were alive today, he would say, ‘Pick a vulnerable community and invest in it’. He would be advocating for investing in education and three-year-old kinder to really change the life trajectory of that young person.

So I am very proud to be part of a government that is making this investment. I think it is the signature social policy and reform that will show why the government is the most progressive government in the nation. But more than that, we can have the words, we can have the policy, but you have got to back it up with the funding. To be investing $5 billion into this initiative and if you think back to that cost-benefit ratio of returning $4 to the community for every dollar invested, it not only makes social policy sense but it also makes economic sense.

I spoke about the international research, but equally it is about making sure that this is delivered. But also, as the member for Yan Yean and the member for Carrum highlighted, there is something unique in that we are focusing on this in the regions to begin with. Essentially it will be as much an economic and social policy as a regional policy. If we are to ensure as a government that we leave no-one behind, it is critically important that we deliver this but also that we ensure that the full rollout, which will begin by 2029, will be across all of Victoria. Potentially around 90 000 children could benefit from this reform each year. The scale of this reform cannot be underestimated—$5 billion, beginning with $881.6 million to deliver two years of quality, subsidised kinder to all Victorian three-year-old children.

With a three-year-old at home myself, Speaker, who you have had the pleasure of meeting, I have a personal conflict of interest, I could say, in this reform. I am looking forward, when it is rolled out in Moonee Valley eventually, to taking it up. In fact my daughter might even go to the kindergarten that I went to, St Andrews in Aberfeldie, or the Airport West Kindergarten. We will wait for that to be decided.

But this is an important reform. I could not be more proud as the Minister for Youth Justice and also the Minister for Crime Prevention to see this sort of landmark investment take place. To think that in the future Victoria could be held up with other places across the US and Europe as a place that is rolling it out is critically important because we also know about the brain science. I was reflecting with a colleague the other day on my 25-year anniversary of finishing year 12, and there is no doubt there are people that I went to school with in year 12 about whom I always wondered where they were going to end up in life, and to see the crystal-clear maturity that comes about through becoming older, having different responsibilities in life—a job, employment, a mortgage, a family, whatever it may be—there is no doubt that if you give everyone the opportunity to succeed, you can do that. That is why this reform is so critically important.

If I could in my last remaining minutes, I want to congratulate the Deputy Premier and also his departments, his public servants. To get a reform of this size up and for it also to be an Australian first—it is not like you can just pick this off the shelf from any other state—Victoria is doing it right, we are doing it first and it will be Victoria that will be the beneficiary of it, because we know investment in human capital is arguably our greatest resource. If you are born today, your life expectancy is so much longer, and we are seeing more and more people live to 100. We are also seeing more and more people have so many different career paths and uncertainty in their time, but I know myself that I almost look at my daughter with a bit of envy. She has been born today and she will have opportunities. To be part of a government that is delivering these opportunities that she does not know about yet but will one day be able to reflect on I hope in a positive light means a lot to me as a minister in the Andrews government, but more than that, just being a member of this government that is so committed to doing everything it can to give young people, vulnerable people, the very best start in life.

On that note, can I again thank members of the Parliament in these unique circumstances that we are sitting back later tonight, but can I say we could not be talking about and discussing a more important reform into the evening on a Thursday night than three-year-old kinder. I thank the member for Carrum for moving this most important motion, and it has been an honour and a privilege to make a contribution.