Mr GEPP (Northern Victoria): My adjournment matter is for the attention of the newly minted Minister for Early Childhood, and the action I seek is for her to do all in her power to convince Nillumbik shire that they must act to protect and retain the Panton Hill Preschool, which is currently under threat of closure from the 2021 preschool year. Panton Hill Preschool is a much-loved kindergarten in the lovely village of Panton Hill, right next door to the equally well loved and historic Panton Hill Primary School.
It is well known that one of the key commitments of the Andrews Labor government is to roll out three-year-old kinder to every child in the state. In the case of the shire of Nillumbik, the planning is happening right now for this to begin for the 2021 year. Nillumbik has contracted its kindergartens to a number of different providers. In the case of Panton Hill, the operator is Try Australia. Try Australia notified parents late last month that in its view it did not have enough four-year-old students enrolled to operate a viable service in 2021. Demographic data demonstrates that there are definitely enough potential students in the northern rural area of Nillumbik. It beggars belief that the shire is washing its hands of this issue. When the mayor, Karen Egan, was asked for help by parents, her response was, ‘Oh, well, it’s a business’. It is not a business. It is early learning. What Karen and the shire ought to know is that supporting this service and supporting our kids also makes economic sense. A recent study by PwC commissioned by our government concluded that every $1 spent on early learning for our children generates $2.
The evidence with our school enrolments is that parents may be delaying enrolments due to COVID-19, so it is quite likely this is also occurring with preschools. The shire needs to get out there. Use your networks to beat the drum, to attract the handful of students that are required. Council could reach out to the nearby shires and see if they have preschool students awaiting a place but cannot get one. Whittlesea is a rapidly growing council. Murrindindi, Yarra Ranges and Manningham boundaries are all nearby. The mayor is in caretaker mode now, so she cannot stop those officers having a crack at this.
I want to commend the parents who are not taking this news lying down. They are putting up a fight for what is right. They have got 1000 signatures on a petition, and they have approached my colleague Yan Yean MP Danielle Green and Steve Mullins, a candidate for council who really cares about this kinder and its retention. If council will not act, I am sure the new minister will act and have her department work with families and council to keep this preschool open. Please help save Panton Hill Preschool from closure. The Shire of Nillumbik must act to keep this valuable service remaining open for 2021. Council’s contracted operator is taking a short-sighted view of its closure. The preschool only needs three or four extra students for four-year-old classes in 2021.