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By Dev Mukherjee.
Published on the VCOSS Voice on 3 May 2017.
The 2017-18 Victorian Budget includes many positive investments to improve social cohesion.
In particular, the funding to consult and negotiate a treaty between the Victorian government and Aboriginal peoples is a welcome initiative to further Aboriginal self-determination.
The budget provided funding to implement Victoria’s multicultural policy statement. This should extend the benefits of multiculturalism, and promote a more cohesive society. There is also additional money to make Victoria more inclusive for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, trans and intersex (LGBTI) Victorians.
Neighbourhood houses help improve community health and wellbeing by enabling people of any ability, background or age to connect, learn and share in an inclusive environment. It is disappointing that essential funding for neighbourhood house coordination and expansion into new growth areas was not included in the budget.
Community sector organisations help people to overcome challenges and avoid becoming isolated and vulnerable. Indexation of funded community services remains inadequate at 2.0%, which continues to reduce the real value of funding to community services.
Developing an Aboriginal treaty
Funding has been provided to consult and negotiate a treaty with Aboriginal Victorians. A treaty between the Victorian government and the Aboriginal peoples of Victoria can:
Cost: $8.4m in 2017-18 ($28.4m over four years)
A LGBTI inclusive Victoria
The budget funds a suite of initiatives to promote a LGBTI inclusive Victoria that celebrates diversity and promotes the health and wellbeing of LGBTI Victorians.
Cost: $2m over two years
Implementing Victoria’s multicultural policy
‘Victorian. And proud of it’, Victoria’s multicultural policy, was released in February 2017. The budget provides funding to implement this policy, which includes a whole-of-government outcomes framework seeking to ensure every Victorian can belong, contribute, achieve and succeed.
Cost: $6.6m in 2017-18 ($19m over three years)
Improving language services
Funding has been provided to improve access to language services (translators and interpreters) for people requiring these services. The funding will increase remuneration and improve conditions for interpreters and translators to enhance the sustainability and quality of language services.
Cost: $2m in 2017-18 ($21.8m over four years)
Indexation for community services
To maintain the quality and availability of services for people experiencing disadvantage, the Victorian government needs to index funding at an appropriate level. The current 2.0% is inadequate.
Government funding of community services has not kept pace with rising service delivery costs related to wage increases and the cost of purchasing goods and services.
Cut red tape
The Victorian government can do more to strengthen the community sector by cutting red tape. Victorian charities spend more than $23 million each year meeting government reporting obligations. The Victorian government has made a start with the introduction of the Consumer Acts Amendment Bill 2016, which will allow the Consumer Affairs Minister to exempt incorporated associations from submitting their annual financial report to Consumer Affairs Victoria if these are submitted to another regulator (e.g. the ACNC).
The Victorian government can further reduce the regulatory burden on the community sector by repealing the Fundraising Act 1988. This Act means charities spend more than $15 million per year nationally on unnecessary reporting and compliance requirements. Fundraising can be regulated better by other laws, including Australian Consumer Law (a proportionate, risk-based model).
Strengthen neighbourhood houses
The Victorian Government has not provided additional funding to neighbourhood houses. Neighbourhood houses help improve community health and wellbeing by enabling people of any ability, background or age to connect, learn and share in an inclusive environment. They are a cost-effective way of strengthening communities and improving people’s wellbeing, reducing reliance on acute health and other interventions.