On Monday, Kat Theophanous, the MP for Northcote, was at the Clifton Street Kindergarten Child Care Centre, Northcote, flanked by Victoria Premier Dan Andrews, his partner Cath, and Health Minister Mary-Anne Thomas to announce a $69 million program to help New Parents.
Part of the funding, $15 million, will be invested in an early childhood learning centre.
“Northcote has none, and indeed the interior north has no early parenting center,” Theophanous said.
She pointed out that it is “technically a public hospital that offers overnight residential accommodation, and they will be running day programs.”
The center will be for children aged zero to four and it is a “recognition that parenthood is difficult”.
Theophanous, a young mother herself, has a three-year-old and a five-year-old, and says she “knows what it’s like to be a new parent.” She entered Parliament as a new MP while pregnant. “I gave my first speech in Parliament, then I had a baby.”
“These early years are tumultuous, there are physical and mental changes that occur, and you may end up feeling isolated and overwhelmed easily.”
“So it’s about building supports around the whole family,” Theophanous said.
The center will help with sleep and breastfeeding and offer an “expanded offer to build resilience and support parents”.
It will look at the relationship between “Mom and Bub and Dad and Bub and the whole family unit together,” she said.
Theophanous said the Royal Commission on Victoria’s Mental Health System showed that “women are at greater risk of developing mental illness during the perinatal period than at any other time in their lives, dads also suffer from perinatal anxiety and depression, it is a question of developing an enveloping service.”
Learn Greek from an early age
Another announcement is the commitment of “$6 million to fund Multicultural Storytime for the zero to five age group”.
“The Multicultural Storytime will allow community organizations, councils and other groups to apply for grants to take place in the language storytime,” Theophanous said.
Kat Theophanous played a key role, along with the Greek community, the Archdiocese and the Greek media in saving Modern Greek at La Trobe University three years ago. The campaign was successful and the program is no longer alive and achieved a 20% increase in enrollment in Modern Greek.
The Cypriot Hellene says maintaining the language is essential.
“We’re building a pipeline for language learning from a young age, it’s important that kids have a solid foundation, as you get into those third and fourth generations it’s harder to retain the language,” said Theophanous.
Funding will go to libraries, community centers, councils and community groups that apply and languages will include Hindi, Punjabi, Mandarin, Arabic, Turkish, Vietnamese, Italian and Greek .
Theophanous is close to his constituents and knows that “there is a demand for Greek Storytime in the area.”
“Moms like me can take our kids there and relax, they can meet other kids and parents.”
“We have large Greek and Italian communities, and although the first generation migrants are older, the relevance and desire of the second and third generations to continue language learning is very strong.”
Beat the Greens
Kat Theophanous won Northcote from the Greens in 2018. She says the Greens do not engage with multicultural communities, especially older ones.
“I haven’t seen them truly engage with our multicultural communities in the past four years, or in the campaign more recently.”
Where the Greens have taken control of local government in Yarra, Moreland and Darebin, they have a “multicultural community funding record”.
Theophanous’ tiny figure and deliberately soft voice hide a formidable political agent.
Theophanous is of political pedigree; his father Theo Theophanous was a minister in various Labor governments.
At first, she rejected politics. “Politics was not something I wanted to get involved in.”
“Politics meant my dad wasn’t around and unavailable when I was growing up.”
She was a “college kid” and did an honors degree in philosophy as well as media communications.
After a stint like at SBS, she realized that it wasn’t enough for her. The epiphany came when she started working as an adviser to Fiona Richardson, the former MP for Northcote.
“As a ministerial adviser to Fiona Richardson, who at the time was Minister for Women and Family Violence Protection, I have seen unprecedented investment in mental health and family violence prevention programs” .
“I could see tangible changes happening in my community for the better, like making women and children safer and more equal. It showed me what is really possible when you get into politics.
Theophanous says parliament has adapted to benefit MPs with babies during the government’s last term.
“They didn’t have a feeding room before, now they’ve made one, they’ve never had stroller parking now, it’s a softer place for men and women, there’s a lot of dads who are now bringing their little babies and toddlers.”
When asked if she would seek a portfolio, Theophanous said it was “a complicated process”, but she is ambitious and has “a lot to offer the party and the government”.
She said the Andrews government had ‘not lost a day in the past four years and would not lose a day if re-elected’.
“We are not going to lose a single day in the next period of government if we are elected, whether it is rolling out our free kinder, setting up more free TAFE courses or expanding our network health.”