Some residents in Melbourne’s Darebin area have raised concerns over a recent council proposal to cut childcare and kindergarten leases down to two years from five and the council’s consideration of moving to a plant-based municipality.

Childcare uncertainty

Early learning centres have, up until now, worked under five-year leases, with an option for an additional five. At the October 23 council meeting, a motion was put forward for a two-year term.

The proposal, which would affect 18 childcare centres, was to “enable them to continue providing services beyond the current lease term, which expires at the end of December.”

The Darebin mayor Cr Julie Williams, said that the two years align with implementing a new leasing and licensing policy, which the council is developing separately and is expected to be consulted on and finalised during the next 12 months.

Cr Emily Dimitriadis, a Labor councillor, told Neos Kosmos that there is “community outrage, with over 50 people attending” the October 23 meeting and “over 80 questions about the leases alone.”

With the area’s growing population, Cr Dimitriadis said additional kindergarten capacity is required over the next ten years to meet the community’s needs.

The councillor said there is an “overflow” of children waiting for childcare as one issue of new leases will worsen.

“It’s almost 18 months to get a child in, one centre told me; the lists are huge and will get even bigger because as families move into the area”.

Cr Dimitriadis worries that providers may be forced to increase costs as centres are now “scraping by with volunteers who put in money and donate.”

Short leases might force some providers to sell off centres, as occurred in Port Phillip, where a similar issue arose years ago.

Neos Kosmos spoke to Tara Winslow, director at Clifton St Children’s Centre in Northcote, who was in Port Phillip.

The director is fearful as “no one knows the exact details” of what will be in the draft “or the costs” under the new leases.

“Nobody knows what’s in this lease, not the councillors, not Darebin City – it’s still being drafted. It’s ridiculous that we’re looking at leases and changing them,” Winslow said.

“It’s scary because there is the option for three years with new conditions compared to what’s in that lease, and we don’t know what those changes are after the initial two years.”

She believes leases should stay the same until the new policy is out so families are prepared rather than waiting six months – leaving centres with only 18 months on the lease.

The mayor of Darebin, told Neos Kosmos that 18 council-owned and community-managed kindergartens and childcare centres’ leases are due to expire on December 31, 2023.

The council is consulting on a proposed 2+3-year lease renewal for these centres to provide certainty for the next five years, said Cr Williams.

“We develop a holistic Leasing and Licensing Policy to take to the community for feedback.”

She added that the council is “required to develop a Leasing Licence Policy because of an internal audit into our current practices”.

The draft policy ensures ” transparency” in reporting on the “community benefits derived from the significant investment in rental subsidies and other property costs.”

“The council pays on behalf of ratepayers each year to support valued services such as kindergarten and childcare services,” said Cr Williams.

The mayor wants to focus on “good governance practices for managing lease arrangements on council-owned assets or buildings.”

“These include those occupied by not-for-profit entities, community groups, First Nations groups, commercial businesses, and government agencies.”

Darebin Cr Emily Dimitriadis is concerned with Greens’ push to have a plant-based treaty as it may be culturally insensitive. Photo: Facebook

Cr Williams said that the “draft holistic Leasing and Licensing Policy will be presented to Council” and council will “proceed to community engagement.”

The mayor emphatically said: “The lease renewal is not about commercial gain or replacing community-managed kindergarten and childcare services with a privatised model.”

Council officers have contacted all providers, said Cr Williams, to provide reassurance of the council’s commitment to the sector.

No souvlaki for you!

In another development that may concern multicultural communities is whether they can eat meat at Darebin council venues. The council’s proposed report on a ‘plant-based treaty’ may block ratepayers from serving meat at events at all council venues.

A Greens’ motion was passed to commission a report considering a meat-free policy at council events and meetings and promotion of ‘meat-free Mondays and Fridays’ and forcing caterers to provide a minimum of 50 per cent plant-based food.

“The [plant-based treaty] report is a waste of money, we have so many other issues in the area and the initial motion was amended because it lacked “any cultural consideration,” Cr Dimitriadis said.

Neos Kosmos reached out to Greens councillor Cr Susanne Newton, the deputy mayor, who moved the motion; however, the councillor refrained from speaking on the record and referred the issue to the mayor.

Neos Kosmos asked Cr Williams if Orthodox Greek communities who hold faith-based dietary requirements, such as no meat or all animal products during lent for 40 days, or Catholics who refrain from eating meat on Fridays, would be engaged in the proposed awareness campaign for a ‘meat-free Monday and Friday”?

The proposed ‘plant-based treaty’ includes the promotion of home-based vegetable gardens. Neos Kosmos asked if, given that many immigrant communities have home-based gardens, they would be considered models in any future campaign if the treaty were passed.

If the treaty is accepted and venues stop or limit meat-based foods, would the council require multicultural communities not to have meat or use council venues for their events?

The mayor did not “want to presume or speak to an officer’s report which is still being formed.”

“I can assure the community that our reports and recommendations, and indeed all work at Council, is created in the full context of our diverse Darebin community,” added Cr Williams.

The mayor said Darebin council are committed to “celebrating our diverse, multicultural community wherever we can, and we know it’s this diversity that makes us stronger.”

Cr Williams said that only when the report has been tabled, debated, and voted on will the council “make further decisions based on its recommendations.”

“I don’t wish to speculate on the outcome of this process,” said the Darebin mayor.