Tuesday, November 18, 2008

An historic day for Councils, but what about ABC Learning?

Last night's Darebin Council meeting - the last before a new Council is elected - started with Darebin CEO, Michael Ulbrick, rightly noting the historic occasion of today's inaugural Australian Council of Local Governments meeting in Canberra.

With 80% of Australia's Mayors today meeting with Prime Minister Rudd and Deputy Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, Councils are asking for $1 billion additional infrastructure funding. According to ABC Radio National this morning, they are likely to get a much more modest $300 million to share.

Darebin Mayor, Peter Stephenson, will be there today and last night I asked during public question time what specific proposals he would be making to our nation's leaders regarding the transfer of Darebin's at-risk ABC Learning centres to community or Council control.

Despite an informative account of the complexities of the situation by Council staff, not only could our Councillors not give a specific picture of the representations Mayor Stephenson would be making, they could give no picture of the in principle position our Mayor would be taking to advocate for Darebin's children, more than 1000 of whom are currently on waiting lists for child-care. Those lists is set to grow if an effective solution to the ABC Learning issue is not quickly found.

Yes, today certainly is an historic occasion for our Councils, but it's a pity the Council could last night give no convincing picture of how it would benefit the residents of Darebin. Let us hope Mayor Stephenson does not waste this opportunity, and we will hear more sooner rather than later - hopefully before the election of the new Council is decided.


  1. Has this position developed at all? Will the NEW council be making strong actions to acquire the defunct ABC Centres and/or build new ones to service the baby boom?

  2. Thanks for your comment, Craig. There has been no response from Council regarding my question at the Council meeting about Darebin's ABC Learning centres, so I guess we won't find out before the election what position, if any, Mayor Stephenson took to the Australian Council of Local Government meeting to argue for our child-care.

    Darebin did get some funds from the meeting, as announced on the Darebin website, but $681,000 is peanuts both in terms of infrastructure, and in terms of the ABC Learning issue, to which it has so far not been related.

    If elected to Council, I would strongly advocate for community/Council control of these centres, and additional care to meet the needs of Darebin. Generally speaking, I support such essential services being in public hands, so they are less prone to the financial risks of the commercial market. I don't believe child-care should be a business anyway.

  3. Darren

    Just a few things.
    1. I agree with you that child care is better placed as not for profit/not for loss. ABC learning centres were built on straw. If you are elected and can find a way to make them community run, I'll take my hat off to you.
    2. The Canberra agenda was tight and tightly controlled-there were a number of sessions in the a.m. and p.m. and delegates had to choose the sessions before hand. I chose affordable housing in the a.m. and community wellbeing in the p.m. but did not get my first choice in the p.m. ( nor it appeared did many). Little option existed to canvas other issues properly.
    3. The MAV as the peak body of Councils in Victoria has commenced discussions with Canberra re the childcare issue on behalf of all Victorian Councils.
    4. Don't expect a formal council response too soon as our last meeting for the year was, as you know, the night when I went to Canberra and therefore has not been a formal response back to Council. Perhaps you can take this as that response.

    Cr Peter Stephenson
    Darebin City Council (until Saturday at six a.m.)

  4. Mayor Stephenson, we are honoured.

    No doubt the agenda was a busy one, and we are probably very close in our views on child-care. However, what I wanted from Council at its last meeting - held on the eve of the historic ACLG meeting you attended in Canberra - was an indication of the position you were taking to that meeting, including what steps you were taking to advocate on behalf of the child-care needs of Darebin residents. If they couldn't tell me the specific proposals, then at least the in principle position would have been nice. I didn't get it, which is a bit of a common outcome for public question time at Council meetings, though I do appreciate your response here.

    What I'd like to see more of is Council openly standing up for residents even where that might raise the ire of State and Federal Labor governments. Whatmore socially appropriate 'bail-out' could there be than one which keeps the ABC Centres running, their workers employed, and child-care places protected? Ultimately, the $300 million package announced at the ACLG was pretty modest, and any ABC measures should be additional to that.

    Anyway, we'll soon know the composition of the new Council and we'll have to see how things go.

    Further comments are of course welcome, but, in the meantime, all the best, Peter!


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