I rise to speak this afternoon about the importance of early childhood education and care to our community. I recently had the pleasure of officially opening two new services in the Gungahlin region: the YMCA Gungahlin Early Learning Centre and the YWCA Winyu Early Childhood Service. As we know, early childhood education and care is so important. Not only does it provide children with an opportunity to learn, socialise and play, but it also provides parents—mostly mothers—with an opportunity to return to the workforce.
As the mother of three young children who have all spent varying amounts of time in child care, I know just how important it has been to our family. I know how important it is to know that your children are being looked after by qualified, caring staff in a stimulating and warm environment.
That is why it is so wonderful to see what our newest childcare services are doing. On 27 March I officially opened the YMCA Gungahlin Early Learning Centre. The centre started operating last November, but it was wonderful to be able to unveil a plaque and special artwork that had been selected for the centre. The new centre really was a labour of love for the people involved—from the YMCA to the architects and builders.
Some of the features include windows at little person eye level so they can see what is happening in other areas of the centre; a lovely open-plan kitchen that allows kids to grab their own plates, cups and mix together; a beautiful centre courtyard for the children to play; and a range of pets to keep the children company. I thank Jenny McCombe, Jodie Ledbrook, Ashleigh Daly and Jessica Smith from the YMCA and congratulate them on this wonderful new centre.
I also had the pleasure of officially opening the new YWCA Early Childhood Service at Winyu House in the Gungahlin town centre on 30 April. This will be the first childcare centre in an ACT government building, with more than 600 public servants set to move in later this month. The centre opened on Monday, 4 May. It has been purpose built to test innovative new theories and early childhood education and care, and it is clear the staff are very passionate and committed to this. The centre features open plan spaces, state-of-the-art facilities, and a gender neutral approach.
I commend the YWCA for their contribution to the innovative design and fit-out of the service. Congratulations to Frances Crimmins, Louise Billman, Sarah Doherty and the rest of the staff, who I have no doubt will enjoy working at Winyu House.
It is clear the ACT childcare market is continuing to grow significantly to meet the needs of our community. Under Labor, childcare places have more than doubled since 2001 to more than 10,000 places. The ACT government supports the sector through initiatives that help to upskill and grow the early childhood workforce and meet the requirements of the national quality framework. This includes funding for the early childhood certificate III scholarship, with an additional $500,000 allocated in last year’s budget. We continue to fund the early childhood degree scholarship program, which provides financial assistance up to $6,000 per year for four years to help students meet the costs associated with obtaining early childhood teaching qualifications. Applications for the 2015 round open this month, with 25 new places on offer.
Finally, I cannot talk about child care this evening without mentioning the importance of proper support for families who rely on child care. We do not want to see a childcare system in Australia where families are forced to meet an unrealistic activity test that requires them to work a certain number of hours each week. That only leads to children and parents falling further behind.
There is a whole range of reasons why parents need access to child care. They might only have a small amount of work, or they may be looking for work. I sincerely hope the federal government will take this into account when they deliver the budget next week. We do not want to see a situation where it is harder for families returning to work, which could potentially leave working parents, particularly those working casual or part time, with less or no support.