Victoria will create an extra year of play-based learning for children before primary school, in sweeping reforms touted to promote kids' development and get women back to work quicker.
The $9 billion package, a tandem announcement with NSW, will transition four-year-old kinder to "pre-prep" from 2025, in what Premier Daniel Andrews dubbed the "biggest economic and social reform" in his 20 years in Victorian parliament.
"Childcare is broken. It doesn't work for working people, particularly working women," Mr Andrews told reporters at a Fairfield kindergarten on Thursday.
From the first day of term next year, kinder will be made free for three and four-year-olds in Victoria - saving families up to $2500 per child each year.
Victoria will then begin to offer 30 free hours of play-based learning a week from 2025, up from the 15 hours a week subsidised at present.
It will be known as pre-prep and parents will still have to pay for any care beyond those hours.
The program will be delivered through kinder and day care and is not mandatory, although Mr Andrews is confident of strong take-up given the state's current 92 per cent enrolment rate in four-year-old kinder.
To cater for pre-prep, the Victorian government will embark on an employment drive to attract and retain staff in Australia's tight labour market.
"On top of the 6000 new teachers and educators that we need for the three-year-old reforms, we will need at least another 5000 teachers on top of that again," Early Childhood Minister Ingrid Stitt said.
In addition, 50 government-operated childcare centres will be set up from 2025 to counteract "childcare deserts" in outer Melbourne and regional Victoria.
They will be zoned, accommodate 100 children on average, deliver childcare, kinder and pre-prep, and be located at schools or with other public services, where possible.
The facilities are expected to increase the overall supply of childcare places in the state by three to five per cent.
"We've got so many mums and indeed mums-to-be ... not long after becoming pregnant having to enrol (their) child," Mr Andrews said.
"I can't guarantee that won't still be an important part of pregnancy but what mums and families across the state will know is there is a low-fee, high-quality offering in their local community."
A taskforce will manage the rollout of the program, which will be fully established statewide by 2032.
Mum Phuong Phan said the 15 free hours of three and four-year-old kinder currently on offer was instrumental in returning to her job as a health worker during the COVID-19 pandemic.
"I don't have that juggle of work versus childcare," she said.
Although she and fellow mum Renee Crea won't fully benefit from the expanded program, both believe it will allow more women to re-enter the workforce by removing the impost of childcare fees.
"I know so many women as well who are just working to pay childcare fees ... just to keep their careers going," Ms Crea said.
The Victorian coalition has pledged to implement the program if it wins the November state election.
"It's about time that children were made the priority after being locked down for the best part of two years," opposition early childhood spokesman David Hodgett said.
Early learning bodies, peak business groups, social advocates and unions have backed the Victorian and NSW initiatives.
Australian Associated Press
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