Overview from Catholic Social Services Victoria
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:
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.
[with thanks to Vin Martin]
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.
By Dennis Fitzgerald
This article is republished with permission.