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Victorian budget offers positive developments, amid lost opportunities and risks for vulnerable Victorians

 Overview

The Victorian Budget included several welcome initiatives that will assist vulnerable and disadvantaged Victorians - More public housing, public school dental care, and focusing on men’s behaviour are among welcome steps - but there are some lost opportunities, and more work remains to ensure that the needs of those on the margins are at the heart of Government priorities.  As part of this, we urge Departments to ensure that ‘whole-of-government efficiencies’ do not include unexpected cuts in demand-driven funding that social service agencies can ill-afford.

The nature of Victorian budgets – a call for more transparency

Government budgets need to balance many items: the amount and the sources of revenue, against the unending demands for more investment and services in infrastructure, health, community wellbeing and safety, etc.  They need to build on current work, to address promises that have been made, and to be responsive to community developments.

The big-ticket items for the Victorian Budget are always going to be investment in infrastructure and the provision of services in health, education, transport and community safety.  However, that always needs to be balanced against the demands of building a more just and compassionate society - addressing the needs of those on the margins is core business for an inclusive economy.

The budget papers always emphasise the positive – what will be funded, rather than what will not be funded, or what will receive reduced funding.  That is the nature of the exercise.  Further, the complexity of the budget papers make it very challenging for a commentator to assess the detail of many items.  A review of budget documentation is therefore overdue.

Some priority initiatives

Delivering on promises made in the run-up to the 2018 State election was a key focus of this year’s Victorian Budget, and strong economic, population and employment growth has given the Victorian Government the confidence and fiscal capacity to execute long-range infrastructure plans.  Building road, rail, education and health infrastructure for a growing population was therefore a feature

Pleasingly there were several initiatives announced that will impact favourably on disadvantaged and vulnerable Victorians. In each case, the initiative is welcomed, but, the community needs to be conscious of where we are continuing to fall short of what is needed .  Capital funding was also found for public and social housing, increased prison capacity and court redevelopment - this is a mixed bag, as the comments below illustrate.

To address some key areas:

·         1,000 new homes in public housing over the next four years ($209 million) in Geelong, Ballarat, Darebin, Stonnington, Maribyrnong and Whitehorse Council areas.  T this meets an election commitment.  It is a welcome start.  The challenge now is to move to the 3,000 dwellings a year that are needed to house the 82,500 people, including almost 25,000 children, who are on social housing waiting lists in Victoria.

·         Support for ageing Victorians is primarily a Commonwealth budget area, but some initiatives were welcome, including a new 120-bed public residential aged care service in Wantirna, including 60 high-care beds and 60 aged care mental health beds ($81.6 million).  Palliative care, a state responsibility, benefited from increased funding of $72m over four years, which is estimated to benefit more than 10,500 Victorians – this is a welcome step to bridge the gap in this area, but it still leaves many thousands of Victorians a year without such care.

 ·         Some welcome developments in children’s services included additional funding for children with a disability who require residential care, and to trials of models to assist children leaving the care system.  However, this masks continuing underfunding for the critical out-of-home care sector – overall funding for child protection and family services falls by 8% in real terms.

·         Community safety received some positive boosts, including support for early intervention and diversion of young people from offending and to reduce recidivism among young offenders ($45 million); and a range of initiatives to prevent family violence and support victims.  Language is important, so Minister Carroll’s public assessment is welcomed that ‘there was more to community safety than just building more prison beds.’  But this is also one of the most disappointing areas of the budget:  Emma King of VCOSS noted that “The budget blows almost $2 billion on a mega prison that won’t reduce crime or make us safer.” Julie Edwards of Jesuit Social Services assessed that ‘The Victorian Government’s 2019-20 Budget announcement of more than $1.8 billion to increase prison capacity across the state is money invested into the wrong end of the system, and the Government must also set targets to reduce the prison population and re-offending.’

There are many other positive developments to be welcomed, including an extension of the Private Rental Assistance Program, and a commitment of $3M for crisis support for asylum seekers facing destitution in our community; etc. 

More to be done.

There are many other remaining gaps – so much of what was sought in the pre-budget submissions from Catholic Social Services Victoria and from others couldn’t be funded.  These needs remain.

Moreover, there is also much that is not yet known.  As part of the response to the fall in revenue from property transfers, some $50 million per annum of savings over the next 4 years has been flagged, and the Budget forecasts whole of government ‘efficiencies’ of almost $2 billion are now proposed.  In recent decades social service agencies have taken an increasing role in delivering key services to sufferers of mental illness, people living with disability and persons experiencing homelessness.  We urge Departments to ensure that ‘whole-of-government efficiencies’ do not include unexpected cuts in demand-driven funding that social service agencies can ill-afford.

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The Victorian Council of Social Services provides a great service each year in mapping the change from the previous year in budget allocations to service areas.  Their chart showing real changes in budget recurrent allocations is set out below. 

 

 





 
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