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