Kingston South East community pushes to fix a 30-year shortage of childcare places

The Kingston South East community, 300 kilometres south-east of Adelaide, has renewed a push to resolve a shortage of childcare in the coastal town it has endured for more than 30 years.

Kingston Childcare Working Group spokesperson Kirsty Starling said 46 children were currently on the waitlist for early learning and childcare places.

“There might only be somewhere between 10 and 15 places that actually become available [each year],” she said.

According to a survey conducted by the independent group last year, 62 per cent of businesses said employees have had to resign or reduce their hours because of limited or no access to childcare.

Ms Starling said the issue was preventing young families from moving to the region and was restricting the growth of the town.

Kingston South East is famously the home of Larry the Lobster.(ABC South East SA: Bec Whetham)

Ms Starling said she had to take steps to keep her own job as a nurse at the local hospital.

“I don’t think any of my friends living in Adelaide could say that they’ve had parents drive three hours to come and care for their child for a day so you could keep your position at work — which is what my mum used to do for me on a Friday,” she said.

Local state Member for MacKillop Nick McBride said the need for childcare was “quite immense” and the issue was “coming to a crunch”.

A man in a checked shirt leans on a farm gate
MP Nick McBride says fixing the childcare issue will require all levels of government to work together.(Supplied: Nick McBride)

He said improving access to childcare would help more than parents wanting to work.

“There’s also another cohort of children that are perhaps on the slightly disadvantaged side that would be benefited by an early learning centre there to get them ready for school,” Mr McBride said.

Long-term solution needed

The Working Group has decided the only way to expand the town’s childcare service is to build a new facility.

“So we probably need a new build, we need some kind of commitment there, financially, from all levels of government, or in-kind work from the community, so we can move forward.”

Ms Starling said the progress toward a new facility had been “extremely slow and frustrating”.

“We want some support in [order] for us to develop plans, a business plan, and then we can maybe attract some funding,” she said.

South Australian Education Minister John Gardner said he is aware of the current waiting list for childcare and the community’s interest in building a childcare centre.

“The State Government is continuing their commitment to provide childcare at the Kingston Early Learning Centre based on its rural care model while the community explores options that meet their longer-term childcare demands,” Mr Gardner said.

The Federal Member for Barker, Tony Pasin, said the State Government is responsible for infrastructure that supports childcare facilities.

But he said once a shovel-ready proposal was ready, it was the kind of project targeted by the Building Better Regions Fund.

“But it really needs to be, as everyone has been saying, in partnership with the State Government and local community.”

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Southern right whale 30-year study reveals whether they’ve recovered from commercial whaling

The findings of a 30-year study into how southern right whales have responded to commercial whaling practices in Australia have been released.

Curtin University researcher Claire Charlton, from the Great Australian Bight Right Whale Study project, said their research group could report some positive findings.

“The south-western population of southern right whales in Australia is increasing at or near the maximum biological rate of increase, which is about 6 per cent per year, showing good signs for recovery of the population,” Dr Charlton said.

“Southern right whales have a calf every three to four years on average, and there are natural peaks and troughs in the number of whales that visit our coast each year.”

Despite the overall increase, the research group recorded lower numbers than expected over the past two years.

The Western Australian Museum also conducted an annual aerial survey between Perth and Head of Bight recently, confirming southern right whale numbers were lower than expected for the entire south west Australian population.

Despite the overall increase in right whale populations, researchers recorded lower numbers than expected in the last two years.(Supplied: GABRWS Project)

Boats, lines and climate change

Stephen Burnell, who founded the study in 1990, said several factors, including climate change, contributed to the recent figures.

“Productivity of the ocean, the warming temperatures of the planet, less krill available, which is almost all that they feed on — all of those things have a big effect,” he said.

“Not just on right whales, but all marine species globally and ultimately all of us.”

Dr Burnell said other threats to the species included boat strikes, entanglement in fishing gear and noise pollution.

“It’s critical that we continue to monitor each annual breeding cohort, as the interval between calving is getting longer at Head of Bight and around the world,” he said.

A woman and a man stand on a spectacular cliff, a deep blue ocean behind them, on a stunning day.
Doctors Charlton and Burnell at the Head of the Bight.(Supplied: GABRWS Project)

‘The right whale to hunt’

Dr Burnell established the project when not much was known about the endangered species.

“They were called right whales because they were the right whale to hunt,” he said.

“They came very close to extinction, essentially I think in Australia, we would have been down to under 100 individuals.

“Then we started getting reports in the late 1980s – particularly from remote places like the Head of the Great Australian Bight – that there were some whales very close to shore.

“So in 1990, when I visited the Bight and found seven calving females, it was a great event.”

A man stands on what appears to be the top of a cliff, looking through a pair of binoculars.
Dr Stephen Burnell founded the study in 1990.(Supplied: Banksia Entertainment)

Since then Dr Burnell and research associates have monitored numbers, distribution, movement, life histories and health of the whales using drones, cameras and underwater acoustics.

The researchers said they would continue the study in a bid to understand the recent lower birth rates.

“If [birth rates] slow down, I think that’s a warning sign that we have to monitor and watch,” Dr Burnell said.

“I’m very committed to keeping the data set going for another 30 years — it really does increase in value for every year that we add to it.”

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30-year mortgage rates just hit record lows

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Long-term U.S. mortgage rates fell this week with the benchmark 30-year home loan hitting its lowest level ever.

Mortgage buyer Freddie Mac reported Thursday that the average rate on the key 30-year fixed-rate mortgage fell to 3.07%, down from last week’s 3.13%. For the second week in a row, it is the lowest level since Freddie began tracking average rates in 1971. A year ago, the rate stood at 3.75%.

The average rate on the 15-year fixed-rate mortgage also fell slightly to 2.56% from 2.59% last week, but it is down from 3.18% a year ago.

The historically low interest rates come as the U.S. housing market appears to be rebounding somewhat from a coronavirus-caused spring freeze. Sales of new homes rose a surprisingly strong 16.6% in May as major parts of the country reopened, though sales of existing homes struggled through the month with a 9.7% decline.

A report on pending home sales last week offered some optimism, with the number of Americans signing contracts to purchase homes jumping 44.3% in May after a record-breaking April decline. Those contract signings are a barometer of finalized purchases over the next two months.

The impact of the coronavirus pandemic sidelined both buyers and sellers in March and April, so there remains a tight supply of homes available for sale, running up against high demand.

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