Legislative Council: Thursday, February 09, 2023


Regional Childcare Services

The Hon. S.L. GAME (14:30): I seek leave to make a brief explanation prior to addressing a question to the Minister for Primary Industries and Regional Development on a lack of childcare facilities in rural and regional South Australia.

Leave granted.

The Hon. S.L. GAME: Attracting both skilled and unskilled labour in rural and regional South Australia is a significant challenge, and the lack of child care is a significant contributing factor. The Yorke Peninsula Council have informed me that there is not one childcare facility in their entire local government area, and the Ardrossan Childcare Committee conducted a survey, which found that 99 per cent of residents agree that a lack of child care was an issue for them, and that 120 children would utilise a service if one was established in the town.

In Port Lincoln I was told of significant issues with both childcare quality and availability, with one community childcare facility there already reaching capacity despite only just increasing placements by about 50 per cent. They are faced with a two-year waiting list of at least 70 children under the age of two.

I understand that Regional Development SA chair and former Premier Rob Kerin has stated that only one in nine children in the Mid North can access child care, which has significant flow on effects to all aspects of our regional communities. I have also heard firsthand about a desperate need for childcare services in Kingston South-East. The Early Learning and Childcare Services Working Group there is hopeful of establishing a centre and being a pilot for other towns to follow.

Without better access to childcare services our regions will continue to struggle to attract and retain high-quality staff to fill shortages that are being experienced across almost every industry in the state. My question to the minister is: given the centrality of early childhood education and care to this government's pre-election platform, what immediate actions is the state government taking in the short term to assist our regional constituents to overcome the disparity in access to childcare services?

The Hon. C.M. SCRIVEN (Minister for Primary Industries and Regional Development, Minister for Forest Industries) (14:32): I thank the Hon. Ms Game for her question. Child care certainly is something that is raised with me quite frequently in my many regional visits, and I in fact remember being at the Jamestown Show last year, which I think is where the former Premier Rob Kerin made that statement. It is certainly a very challenging environment for parents who are seeking child care in regional areas, and it is something that is certainly raised with me very frequently. Of course, there have been some positive changes made by the federal government, which will assist in general in child care, and one of the Malinauskas Labor government's commitments is to three-year-old preschool.

It is I think probably obvious to all that it is very difficult to get short-term fixes to what are long-term entrenched issues, both in terms of attracting skilled workforce but also the establishment of new facilities, which can sometimes be bound by not only workforce but also facilities available and an appropriate model. It is something that is certainly a part of the overall considerations. One of the terms of reference for our Royal Commission into Early Childhood Education and Care includes looking at access issues, equity issues, and specifically refers to regional areas.