Government budgets sound like they're just about money but they also reveal the priorities and values of the people that compose them. In previous budgets, the Andrews Government has demonstrated that it values people and is prepared to look after Victoria’s vulnerable citizens by investing in programs that support them. This year is no exception.
If you haven’t heard by now – the big ticket item in this year’s budget was a $172 million investment in TAFEs and apprenticeships. Thirty TAFE and 18 pre-apprentice courses in key skills areas are going to be provided for free. A lot of the courses are in engineering and construction, but there are also courses in the community services sector, including: Ageing Support, Community Services, Disability, Individual Support, Mental Health and Nursing.
This is great news for young people because it opens up career paths into some of the biggest growth industries without them needing to take on any debt. It is also good for the community sector because demand for community services is growing so fast, it is hard to keep up with recruiting – this will encourage young people to enter our workforce.
What else is in this budget? Keep reading for our analysis of what is good, bad and missing in this year’s budget.
The Budget Good News
Mental health is another big winner from this budget. New funding commitments included:
- $42 million ($232m/4 years) for inpatient bed operational costs, and
- $40.1 million ($345m/4 years) to create six mental health and alcohol and other drug crisis hubs in emergency departments at Monash Medical Centre, St Vincent’s Geelong, Royal Melbourne Sunshine and Frankston hospitals. This money will also expand the Multiple and Complex Needs Initiative (MACNI) to support people with complex needs.
This money is very needed in the mental health sector, but it doesn’t quite fill the gaps in the mental health sector that The Salvation Army asked for in our last state budget submission.
While the budget says this money is for “community-based” mental health services, it looks a lot like clinical and tertiary services. Rather than filling the early intervention and flexible service gaps that help people who might have complex needs or unclear diagnoses, most of the additional funding goes towards crisis oriented hospital based services. So while this money is much needed and very welcome, there is still some work to do. We need services that people can access before their condition becomes acute, when they become so unwell they end up in hospital.
Alcohol and Other Drugs
The Government’s commitment to the Ice Action Plan was continued with a capital investment into three new alcohol and drug residential rehabilitation facilities in Barwon, Gippsland and Hume.
In total, this commitment equals $40.6 million over four years. However, it is worth noting that $30.6 million of that money is in the forward estimates for 2020/21. Hopefully this funding commitment will remain, no matter what happens in the November election.
Out of Home Care
The Government has continued to fund its Roadmap to Reform in family and children's services, with a total of $858.6 million over the next four years. Some of this money is going towards initiatives already announced as part of the Roadmap to Reform, but it is good to see these promises funded. A few of the most significant investments are:
- $72.9 million ($225.5m/3 years) to increase the Child Protection workforce,
- $52.1 million ($140.6m/4 years) to fund more Flexible Support Packages and other therapeutic interventions for kids in care,
- $69.7 million ($214.3m/3 years) to support foster carers.
It is also really promising to see an extension of the Better Futures program to young people in some parts of Gippsland and south-east Melbourne. It would be even better, if the Victorian Government extended care to 21 years of age, as Tasmania and South Australia have done.
One of the most significant contributions of the Andrews Government is the Royal Commission into Family Violence and subsequent investments into the Family and Domestic Violence (FDV) Sector over the last two budgets.
This year was a little more modest but still made a substantial investment into the sector:
- $9.1 million ($13.5/4 years) to create a 10 Year Aboriginal Family Violence Plan,
- $6 million ($24m/4 years) to prevent FDV through behavioural change campaigns as part of Free from violence and $3.3 million ($9.6m/4 years) to support Victoria’s Gender Equality Strategy,
- $22.6 million ($49.6m/4 years) for 6,500 family violence therapeutic and flexible support packages, and
- $5 million to increase the family violence workforce.
The government also provided money for housing for victims of family violence with:
- Ongoing funding for 12 family violence refuges, and
- $1.3 million to increase family violence crisis accommodation in the Wimmera South Mallee region.
The momentum that has been built in this area has been exceptional. It is transforming a long underfunded support sector and making a real difference in the lives of victim-survivors of family violence. However, like many of the commitments in previous budgets, it requires consistency beyond a single term of government.
The Andrews Government has also been really committed to Aboriginal self-determination. We can see this commitment through initiatives within the Family Violence and Out of Home Care sectors targeted at giving Aboriginal communities more control of the solutions to these issues.
The Salvation Army was particularly pleased to see $9 million dedicated to electing an Aboriginal Representative Body to negotiate treaties with the Victorian Government on behalf of Aboriginal Victorians.
The Budget Bad News
The Victorian Government put a lot of money into the justice system again this year. While some of this investment is good for the state – like increasing court capacity and opening the Bail and Remand Court – The Salvation Army is disappointed that $689.5 million in capital costs is being spent on building another prison. This money could have been spent on prevention and rehabilitative programs that address the causes of crime.
The Salvation Army is also concerned that the Government is spending $145 million over four years to upgrade the Parkville and Malmsbury Youth Justice Centres and only $12.6 million on initiatives to target youth offending. There is strong evidence to show that the investment of justice funds in crime prevention and programs that target the causes of crime and recidivism are many times more effective than punitive approaches only. However, our current funding models show a priority that is opposite to the evidence base.
Other initiatives lumped in with funding for Parkville and Malmsbury like Youth Diversion, the Koorie Youth Justice Program, culturally targeted programs for Koorie kids and more primary and mental health services in youth justice centres are good. However, it is unclear how much of the $145 million listed will go towards these initiatives compared to physical upgrades for the youth justice centres. A successful youth justice system should put more money into rehabilitation than it does into locking kids up.
There are a few things we are happy to see funded:
- $44 million for the Navigator program will keep kids in school and prevent them from being entangled in the justice system.
- $5.2 million ($35.8m/4 years) for Victoria Legal Aid.
Overall, The Salvation Army feels that this year, the Victorian Government’s justice spending is being invested at the wrong end of the system. We need more preventative and rehabilitative programs that help people address the reasons they offend in the first place. If we can remove people’s need to offend, then we can stop spending money on prisons.
What's Missing in this Budget?
While there is much to be praised about this year's budget, the most obvious omission relates to any clear commitment to address the dire shortage of social housing in Victoria. There were some investments related to housing and homelessness, including:
- $9.9 million (23.9m/4years) to fund the previously announced Homelessness and Rough Sleeping Action Plan,
- $23.9 million for the next year of the National Housing and Homelessness Agreement (NAHA), and
- Money to increase family violence crisis housing (see the Family Violence section above).
This money is welcome but it just simply isn’t enough to address the ongoing housing affordability crisis and the growing number of people experiencing homelessness.
In our budget submission, we asked the Victorian Government for 3,000 social housing properties every year for the next 30 years. This is the number of social housing properties Victoria needs to make up for decades of neglect in social housing stock, as well as projections for the future. We estimate that 3,000 social housing properties would cost between $1.2-1.5 billion a year - about a quarter of what was allocated to new roads this year.
We see thousands of people every day in Victoria. Most of these people are either in housing crisis or already homeless because they simply cannot afford rental costs in this housing market. Every person deserves to have a safe home that they can afford without needing to worry if paying for rent will mean they can’t afford to buy food or pay for electricity. With only about six months until the November election, we hope that more announcements will be forthcoming in relation to the urgent problem of housing.