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State Budget Analysis 2012-13

Watch this space for more detailed analysis over the coming weeks.

State Budget
Analysis 2012-13

Media Release
A mixed bag for Victorian families
1 May 2012

'In a tough revenue environment, today's budget includes some smart decisions to invest in proven programs for vulnerable and abused children and young people, as the first stage of response to the Cummins' Inquiry into Protecting Vulnerable Children' says Cath Smith, Victorian Council of Social Service (VCOSS) CEO.

'But there is too little investment in critical services, such as public transport for families moving into new fringe suburbs or growing regional cities.'

'The budget includes some wasteful spending - with $690 million for new prison capacity that would be better spent on crime prevention - sitting alongside cuts to education and skills, community health and social housing - all critical for developing strong communities and a strong future economy.'

Other positives

  • ‘Investments were also made in alcohol and drug programs, including supports for young people, in mental health programs for women with children, and in homelessness support for families.'
  • ‘Funding for an Independent Children and Young Person’s Commissioner, including a specific Commissioner for Aboriginal children and young people.'
  • ‘Confirmation of full funding of the state government component of the Fair Work Australia equal pay case for 2012 and 2013, and indexation on the wages component of community service funding. However, zero indexation on non-wage costs will impact on community services struggling to pay escalating petrol, rent and utility bills.'

Disappointments

  • The absence of new investment in public transport services, with a single bus service to Monash University the only bus initiative, and the innovations fund in Transport Connections cut.
  • Halving of the Education Maintenance Allowance and abolishing the School Start Bonus - both payments which assist families with the high costs of education.
  • No capital investment for Aboriginal Health or to resource partnerships between Aboriginal community controlled health services and mainstream services.

The analysis below details the funding shifts, accounting for population and inflation.

Output area Real effective increase
(adjusted for population an CPI)
Mental health 0.8%
Acute health services -0.6%
Aged and home care -0.8%
Primary and dental health -6.0%
Public health 8.1%
Drug services -4.1%
Disability services -1.8%
Child protection & family services 1.2%
Youth justice and youth services -1.0%
Concessions -2.3%
Housing -5.9%
Empowering individuals and communities (DHS) -10.2%
Early childhood services 9.7%
Education -1.4%
Skills -4.5%
Justice 2.2%
Public transport -0.3%

For more information, or to arrange an interview with Carolyn Atkins,
contact John Kelly – M: 0418 127 153

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Children and families

VCOSS budget priorities In 2012-13 Budget VCOSS comment

Strengthen the capacity of Aboriginal community controlled organisations (ACCOs) to provide preventative and early intervention supports to children and families.

No new commitment in the state budget.

The Department of Human Services (DHS) has allocated some funding to Integrated Family Services in Melbourne’s north and west.

In January 2012, Community Services Minister Mary Wooldridge announced that $8.8 million would be allocated over four years to 17 ACCOs so they could provide therapeutic out-of-home care for Aboriginal children and young people and support their later transition from state care to independent living.

The funding allocated in January was a welcome step in providing more Aboriginal specific services for children and young people in the out-of-home care system. However, the ongoing lack of Aboriginal-specific family services remains a concern particularly given the over-representation of Aboriginal children in notifications to the DHS.

Strengthen the capacity of ACCOs to incorporate specialist therapeutic approaches within their responses to children and families.

$29.6 million to expand the therapeutic residential care program (see below) which will include new services to be provided by ACCOs for Aboriginal children and young people.

VCOSS welcomes the expansion of the therapeutic residential care program and the specific services to be provided by ACCOs as this approach recognises the significant impact of individual and community trauma on Aboriginal children and families.

Develop an Aboriginal Child FIRST presence in Melbourne’s north and west region as a first step to expanding ACCOs participation in Child FIRST statewide.

No new commitment.

There is currently no funded specific Aboriginal Child FIRST presence in any region. Resources are required to strengthen the number and capacity of Aboriginal services so they can be full participants in Child FIRST across all local government areas (LGAs).

Extend cultural competence training to all services that support Aboriginal children, young people and their families, including both government and non-government services, and universal services, such as early childhood education and care services and schools.

No new commitment.

VCOSS is concerned that there has been no progress to extend cultural competence training, particularly given the specific recommendations from the Protecting Victoria’s Vulnerable Children inquiry. VCOSS believes that cultural competence training needs to be extended to all funded organisations that support Victorian Aboriginal children, young people and their families, including universal services.

Commence Section 18 of the Children, Youth and Families Act 2005 within two years.

No new commitment in budget.

DHS has allocated funding to two organisations (VACCA North West and Bendigo and District Aboriginal Cooperative) to pilot capacity building with ACCOs to progress this work.

The pilots will help to strengthen the capacity of ACCOs to implement Section18. However, it is of concern that work has been underway since 2007 and Section 18 is still not implemented.

Expand the successful early intervention program Best Start across Victoria.

No new commitment.

The 2006 evaluation of Best Start recommended extending the program to other disadvantaged communities. There are few services in new growth suburbs and in many areas of rural and regional Victoria. Expanding Best Start would assist in implementing the Protecting Victoria’s Vulnerable Children reforms regarding place-based interventions.

Support the learning of vulnerable children and young people through stronger links between schools and local community sector organisations, and between the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development (DEECD) and the Department of Human Services (DHS).

No new commitment in budget. However the Victoria’s Vulnerable Children: Our Shared Responsibility Directions Paper recognises the importance of these links.

The whole of government Youth Partnerships program, based in DEECD, is testing ways in which education and youth services can work better together to improve responses to vulnerable young people.

Further budget issues relating to education and learning are discussed in more detail in the Early Childhood, Education and Training section.

Develop flexible funding models for family support services that respond to community need identified at the local level, and to Victoria’s growing population.

No new commitment in budget, however Victoria’s Vulnerable Children: Our Shared Responsibility Directions Paper recognises the importance of place-based responses.

$19 million allocated to expand ChildFIRST and Integrated Family Services in areas of high demand.

The expansion of ChildFirst is welcomed given the demands on current services. However, ChildFIRST is more focused on the tertiary end of the system. Greater investment in family support services is required to address issues before they each crisis point. This investment needs to be linked to population growth and the cost of service delivery so families can be supported earlier and for longer.

Expand the therapeutic approach of the Therapeutic Residential Care pilots statewide.

$29.6 million to expand the therapeutic residential care program from 40 to approximately 140 places, including new services to be provided by Aboriginal Controlled Organsaitions for Aboriginal Children and young people.

This is a significant and very welcome investment.

Evaluation of the Therapeutic Residential Care Pilot has shown it to have positive impact on young people and carers. Therapeutic Residential Care should be available statewide to support improved outcomes for vulnerable children and young people.

Improve outcomes for young people leaving care by providing support until at least the age of 25, including priority access to services such as housing, health and education.

$1 million for 'zero-fee' TAFE places for young people exiting out-of-home care.

The Springboard program announced in February 2012 provides specialist support to care leavers (up to age 21) to engage in education, training and employment.

The Government also announced in February 2012 a $1 million longitudinal research study on young people transitioning from state care to determine how young people can be better supported.

VCOSS strongly supports the ‘zero fee’ TAFE places for young people exiting care although we are concerned that TAFE availability may be limited due to funding cuts (see Early Childhood, Education and Training).

VCOSS continues to advocate for support for young people after they leave care at least until the age of 25 including priority access to housing, health, education services and other specialist services as noted in the Protecting Victoria’s Vulnerable Children report.

Initiatives at a glance

Initiatives relating to Victorian children and families were announced in the 2012-13 State Budget, with further detail announced in the Victoria’s Vulnerable Children: Our Shared Responsibility Directions Paper which was also launched on May 1 2012.

NB: These initiatives are funded and delivered across government, through the Department of Human Services, Department of Education and Early Childhood Development, and Department of Justice.

  • $19 million to recruit 42 new statutory child protection workers.
  • $51.4 million to reform the child protection workforce.
  • $1 million to evaluate the 'Services Connect' case-management reform trials in Dandenong and Geelong/Barwon South West.
  • $1.9 million to continue the role of statewide Principal Practitioners.
  • $7.9 million for a Specialist Intervention Team to assist regional 'hot spots'.
  • $7.3 million to significantly expand treatment places for children with problem sexual behaviours.
  • $2.2 million for early childhood development workers (in Grampians, Gippsland and Loddon-Mallee regions).
  • $29.7 million to expand and develop the Stronger Families initiative.
  • $8.3 million to provide early childhood education for three-year-olds known to Child Protection.
  • $16.5 million to engage vulnerable families in early learning.
  • $4 million to strengthen the delivery of Student Support Services.
  • $16.3 million to sustain the Enhanced Maternal and Child Health Services.
  • $4.7 million to continue Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies.
  • $19 million to expand ChildFIRST and Integrated Family Services in areas of high demand.
  • $1 million for 'zero-fee' TAFE places for young people exiting out-of-home care.
  • $17 million to establish a new Children's Court at Broadmeadows Court.
  • $20 million to establish three new multidisciplinary centres for sexual assault and child abuse.
  • $23.7 million to expand New Model Conferencing in the Children’s Court.
  • $7.4 million to expand use of Family Group Conferencing and Aboriginal Family Decision-making.
  • $27.9 million to provide 34 new residential care placements.
  • S3.6 million for a Permanent Care and Stability project, including funding to expand the capacity to place Aboriginal children permanently.
  • $29.6 million to significantly expand therapeutic residential care.
  • $3 million to establish a Commission for Children and Young People (including an Aboriginal Commissioner).
  • Additional $4.1 million in funding to extend the Accommodation Options for Families, Additional Support for Families and the associated Private Rental Brokerage Services to support families at risk of homelessness.

VCOSS analysis

Our Shared Responsibility

VCOSS welcomes the substantial investment of $366 million to start implementing many of the reforms recommended in the Protecting Victoria’s Vulnerable Children Report. In addition to the budget initiatives, the Government has outlined a reform agenda in the Victoria's Vulnerable Children: Our Shared Responsibility Directions Paper. The paper focuses on five action areas:

  • building effective and connected services;
  • enhancing education and capacity building;
  • making a child-friendly legal system;
  • providing safe, stable and supportive out-of-home care; and
  • introducing accountability and transparency.

The approach recognises that action is required across government including health, mental health, alcohol and drugs, family violence, early childhood, education, family services, out-of-home care and the Children's Court, to improve outcomes for vulnerable children, young people and families. VCOSS welcomes the shared commitment from the Premier, Deputy Premier, Minister for Community Services and Mental Health, Minister for Children and Early Childhood, Minister for Housing, Minister for Education and Minister for Higher Education and Skills, and the Attorney General to deliver the reforms.

VCOSS has long called for services that are more integrated and family-centred, and so welcomes the new ‘Services Connect’ approach. This system reform was outlined in the Human Services: Case for Change paper, and aims to achieve a more holistic and client-centred approach to case management. VCOSS will be watching with interest the development over the coming year of pilot sites in Dandenong and Geelong/Barwon South West to see how reforms support vulnerable children, young people and families and what lessons can be learned to expand the approach elsewhere.

Far greater investment is required in prevention and early intervention supports to start addressing the ever increasing number of child protection notifications. Notifications are expected to rise from 62,800 in 2011-12 to 70,800 in 2012-13, yet the number of family services is targeted to rise only minimally, from 26,137 to 26,364 over the same period. If we are to start reducing the incidence and impact of child abuse and neglect, access must be improved to early supports including early childhood services, family support, drug and alcohol, housing and homelessness, and mental health services; and enhance the ability of these services to work more effectively with vulnerable families.

The continuation of funding of $39 million for a range of programs under the Victorian Alcohol Action Plan was welcomed, particularly as these include supports for vulnerable young people. VCOSS will look to further investment in alcohol and drug services as part of the Whole of Government Alcohol and Drug Strategy, as a key recommendation in the Protecting Victoria’s Vulnerable Children report is for this sector to provide more family centred support. VCOSS’ analysis of the budget shows that funding of alcohol and other drug services will drop by 4.1 per cent in real terms, once inflation and population growth are taken into account. This budget failed to address the demand on services, particularly in regional rural Victoria and growth areas.

Aboriginal children and families

The Protecting Victoria’s Vulnerable Children Inquiry report noted the need to develop specific Aboriginal responses to improve outcomes for vulnerable Aboriginal children in Victoria. In particular, the over-representation of Aboriginal children and young people in the statutory child protection warrants the implementation of new and more culturally sensitive responses. This was reinforced in the Indigenous Affairs Report 2010-11, which indicated that child protection substantiations for Aboriginal children are 9.4 times higher than that of non-Aboriginal children.

It is therefore disappointing that there has been little additional funding for Aboriginal-specific family services, to ensure organisations can provide support early to Aboriginal families rather than having to focus limited resources on those families that are already subject to child protection orders. VCOSS supports the VACCA proposal calling for an Aboriginal Child FIRST in Melbourne’s north and west regions, as a starting point.

The role of the Aboriginal Child Specialist Advice and Support Services (ACSASS), operated by VACCA and Mildura Aboriginal Corporation, is also critical in providing specialist advice to child protection about culturally relevant approaches. The lack of new funding for ACSSAS workers, who are running large caseloads as demands have increased, is a significant concern.

Children and Young People Commission

VCOSS supports increased accountability and transparency for all those parts of the system that support vulnerable families and particularly welcomes the establishment of a Commission for Children and Young People and a Commissioner for Aboriginal Children and Young People. The $3 million to establish the Commission builds on the initial commitment in the last budget of $1.6 over four years. As outlined in the Protecting Victoria’s Vulnerable Children report, the Commission must be independent, report to Parliament and be able to initiate own-motion investigations if it is to truly promote a more accountable and transparent system and better outcomes for children and young people. VCOSS supports the principles underpinning a Commission articulated in the discussion paper Are You Listening To Us? The Case for A Children and Young People’s Commission, released by the Youth Affairs Council of Victoria (YACVic).

Children's Court

VCOSS supported the recommendation in the Protecting Victoria’s Vulnerable Children report to decentralise the family division and enable the Court to sit more frequently in suburban and regional courts, both to reduce the burden on the Melbourne Children’s Court and to provide families with better access within their own communities. The substantial investment in a new Court at Broadmeadows, which is specifically designed to provide for the needs of children, young people and families, is a first step in progressing this reform. Its development must focus on effective service delivery for the sake of the children, young people, families, court staff and workers involved. VCOSS would also like to see an immediate upgrade of the Melbourne Children's Court to improve facilities for families and staff: physical space is cramped and not conducive to private discussions between families and lawyers and workers nor to the presence of children.

VCOSS welcomes the $23.7 million to expand New Model Conferencing in the Children’s Court. Increasing the availability of earlier conferencing will help promote a less adversarial decision-making process and divert families from more stressful, costly and time-consuming contested hearings.

The Protecting Victoria’s Vulnerable Children report recommended that the Children’s Court be resourced to establish specialist Sexual Abuse and Koori lists in the Family Division ‘as a priority’ to provide more specialist approaches to the children, young people and families involved. It is disappointing that there was no provision in the budget to enable these lists to be developed.

Where to from here

The Premier has committed to develop a whole of government Vulnerable Children and Families and Strategy and to establish a Children’s Services Committee of Cabinet. These should be priorities in the coming year along with the establishment of the Children and Young People’s Commission.

The Victoria’s Vulnerable Children: Our Shared Responsibility Directions Paper provides a valuable starting point to identify critical issues. VCOSS will be working with the Centre for Excellence in Child and Family Welfare and other relevant sector organisations to identify priority areas for funding in the 2013-14 budget. Some of the critical areas for action include:

  • Early intervention: improve the ability of all Victorian families to access the supports they need, when they need them, including early childhood services, family support, drug and alcohol, housing and homelessness, and mental health services; and enhance the ability of these services to work more effectively with vulnerable families.
  • Education: improve how schools meet the learning and development needs of vulnerable children and young people, including developing more flexible learning environments, and improve links between schools and local community sector organisations.
  • Adult and universal health services: increase the ability of universal health services and specialist adult services, such as mental health, drug and alcohol, and homelessness services to be more responsive to the needs of children in their work with the parent or carer.
  • Improving outcomes for Aboriginal children, young people and families: improve the way mainstream universal and specialist services – including hospitals, early childhood services and schools – meet the needs of Aboriginal children, young people and families; as well as developing Aboriginal-specific responses and increasing funding for Aboriginal Child Specialist Advice and Support Services.
  • Young people leaving care: increase the capacity of organisations to provide home-based and residential care beyond 18 years of age and to provide post-care support until a young person reaches 25, particularly ensuring young people have appropriate housing, health, training and employment supports.
  • Court services: the creation of specialist lists for Sexual Abuse and Koori family matters as a matter of urgency. Funding must also be committed to address the physical environment in the Melbourne Children's Court.

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Community sector sustainability

VCOSS budget priorities In 2012-13 Budget VCOSS comment

That the Victorian Government fully funds the outcomes of the equal remuneration case for Victorian Government funded services.

Budget following through on Coalition’s pre-2010 election commitment of $200 million over 4 years towards its share of the wage increase from 1 December 2012.

It is anticipated that this funding will cover the Victorian Government’s share for two-and-a-half years, to end calendar 2014.

That the Victorian Government invests in the development of a sector-led community sector workforce strategy.

No announcement.

This was disappointing. We had been looking in particular for resources for accredited training to meet additional costs from previous Government’s training system reforms.

That the Victorian Government funds price indexation to cover cost increases, including the costs of participating in partnerships, accreditation processes and program evaluation, across all government funded community sector programs.

Price indexation was funded at 2.5% indexation on 80% of funding (the wages component) and 0% on 20% of funding (the non-wages component). This equates to 2% total indexation per year. It has been announced this this rate will be applied across all programs and Departments. 

VCOSS is pleased that whole of government rates of price indexation for community sector funding has been announced. However, zero indexation on non-wage costs will impact on community services struggling to pay escalating petrol, rent and utility bills.

That the Victorian Government funds prices assessed in current and past price reviews, and undertakes reviews where cost structures have clearly changed.

No current and past price reviews were funded. No new price reviews were announced.

The community sector must be fairly and adequately funded and it is disappointing that, despite rising costs, no funding increases have been provided.

That the Victorian Government invests $2.5 million over three years for the development and expansion of the VCOSS Training and Development Clearinghouse to enable all Victorian community sector organisations to be able to access advice and support.

No specific announcement. However, $3 million over three years was announced to go towards sector sustainability and capability into the future.

It is vital that any funding that goes towards sector sustainability and future capability provides access to advice and support for the sector to enable viable organisations and high quality service delivery into the future. This works needs to be led by the sector in partnership with other key stakeholders, including government.

That the Victorian Government invests $400,000 per year over four years to enable PilchConnect to be able to deliver specialised legal advice to community sector organisations.

No announcement made.

VCOSS remains concerned that PilchConnect has yet to receive recurrent funding. This service provides a significant economic contribution and a cost saving to the Government and the community sector.

That the Victorian Government continues current levels of investment in community sector peak bodies.

No announcement made.

It is vital that peak bodies continue to be funded in order to contribute to social policy and service reform and a strengthened collective response to the issues Victorian families are experiencing.

Initiatives at a glance

  • The Victorian Government will fund its share of the social and community sector equal remuneration order wage increases for the services it directly funds, up to the value of the $200 million election commitment that was announced in the 2011-12 Budget.
  • $3 million over three years was announced (at the Budget briefing but not in the budget papers) to go towards community sector sustainability and capability into the future. VCOSS has been identified in the announcements as having a lead role, in collaboration with sub-sector peak bodies.
  • Price indexation was announced at 2.5% indexation on 80% of funding (the wages component) and 0% on 20% of funding (the non-wages component). This equates to 2% total indexation per year, for the next three years. It is understood that this rate will apply across all Victorian Government Departments.

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Education, early childhood development and skills

VCOSS budget priorities In 2012-13 Budget VCOSS comment

Continue to invest in the skills, qualifications, professional development and leadership of the early childhood workforce.

No new initiatives announced.

Significant investment has been made into the early childhood workforce in previous budgets, however it is vital that this continue into the future, otherwise any workforce gains that have been made until now will be void.

Continue to implement the Victorian Auditor General’s recommendations to improve the participation of vulnerable children in early childhood education and care.

$16.3 million for enhanced Maternal and Child Health Services.

$8.3 million to provide early childhood education for three-year-olds known to Child Protection.

$16.5 million to support vulnerable families with children aged from six months to four years to engage in early learning activities including Supported Playgroups, the smalltalk program and the E4Kids longitudinal study.

VCOSS welcomes the smart decision to provide ongoing funding to these valuable initiatives that provide many vulnerable children and their families with a better start in life. These programs are working, however we look to Government to continue to invest, expand and innovate to ensure that vulnerable children have increased participation in early childhood education and care.

Provide funding to sustain community-based occasional child care services across Victoria, particularly in disadvantaged areas.

No announcements.

Occasional care cannot continue to be at the mercy of Commonwealth and State bargaining. It is too vital a service for Victorian families for it to be a political pawn in a broader agenda.

Continue to fund existing IT support for kindergartens beyond June 2012.

Recurrent IT support for kindergartens was announced prior to the budget.

This is a welcome announcement that will ensure that kindergartens can continue deliver on their funding requirements.

Review the Young Readers Program and invest in a literacy initiative that better reaches vulnerable families.

No specific announcements, other than the $16.5 million announcement for vulnerable families, which doesn’t specifically detail literacy initiatives.

VCOSS anticipates that investment to support early learning for vulnerable families will hopefully include literacy initiatives. However, we look to DEECD to release further details regarding these initiatives.

Increase KISS funding to ensure that all children with a disability or developmental delay have access to a meaningful learning program at kindergarten.

No increases to KISS funding were announced.

Unless KISS funding is increased and the eligibility criteria are widened, many children with a disability or developmental delay will not be able to access a meaningful kindergarten experience.

Develop and fund more flexible and responsive learning environments system-wide.

No new budget commitment.

It is disappointing that there has been no additional funding to pilot alternative school settings to extend the $1million allocated in the 2011-12 budget.

Resource partnerships between schools and local community sector organisations to support better outcomes.

No new commitment in the budget. However, there is recognition of the importance of these links in the Victoria’s Vulnerable Children: Our Shared Responsibility Directions Paper.

The whole of government Youth Partnerships program, based in Department of Education and Early Childhood Development (DEECD), is testing ways in which education and youth services can work better together to improve responses to vulnerable young people.

Continue to fund the School Focused Youth Services program as part of addressing the health and wellbeing issues of vulnerable children and young people.

Agencies were informed in March that the SFYS program funding will be extended from 1 July 2012 to 30 June 2013. The upcoming DEECD review of its approach to vulnerable children will consider how SFYS can be better aligned to other programs.

VCOSS commends the Government for extending the funding for SFYS for 12 months and, particularly, the early announcement on this – given the impact that the ongoing uncertainty was having on services, including the loss of program workers.

Increase the number of learning support programs in disadvantaged areas.

No new budget commitment.

It is disappointing that there is no coherent policy and funding framework to support learning support programs which assist young people to engage and re-engage with learning opportunities. Learning Support could be part of the review of vulnerability and education discussed above.

Continue the Learning Beyond the Bell program funding.

No funding announcement.

VCOSS understands that the Centre for Multicultural Youth is continuing negotiations about ongoing funding with DEECD.

Reinstate coordination funding for VCAL to effectively support the ongoing engagement in education of vulnerable young people.

No new commitments.

VCOSS has ongoing concerns about the impact of the cuts to coordination funding on the capacity of schools to provide a range of subjects and supports to VCAL students. We are continuing to monitor the impact of the cuts, particularly for community based alternative education providers.

Develop targeted programs for children and young people aged 9-14 years, including flexible education and social support programs.

No new commitments.

TThere continues to be a significant policy vacuum for students in the ‘middle years’ yet this is a critical stage of transition and children and young people in this group are very vulnerable to disengaging from education.

Provide class sets of text books and no-cost camps and excursions.

No new commitments.

VCOSS is very concerned that the removal of the school component of the Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA) (see below) will further limit schools’ capacity to provide support children and young people with educational costs.

Extend eligibility for the EMA to include dependent students who are 16 years and over who are in secondary school or a vocational education equivalent.

The school component of the EMA has been removed. The parental component of the payment has been increased:

Prep: $117.50 to $200
Years 1-6: $117.50 to $150
Year 7: $235 to $300
Years 8+: $235 to $250

The School Start Bonus for Prep and Yr 7 has been removed.

VCOSS is very concerned about these changes. Although the parental component has increased, the increase does not make up for the amount that has been removed from the school component and the School Start Bonus. These cuts may affect the capacity of many children and young people to engage in educational activities.

Resource targeted, youth specific employment support programs.

Funding has been allocated to the Government Youth Employment Scheme. Discussions are continuing with the Department of Business Innovation as to the specific nature of the programs.

VCOSS supports continued investment in youth specific employment programs as these programs provide targeted and intensive supports to young people to engage in education, training and employment.

Reintroduce concession fees for all students in all categories eligible for concession fees prior to the introduction of the Victorian Training Guarantee.

Reforms announced to concession entitlements. Rather than a fixed maximum fee for concession card holders, concession card holders will now pay 20 per cent of the course fee. Concessions will also no longer be available for diploma or degree level. Students will have access to income contingent (HECS-style) loans.

VCOSS is concerned that this change may result in training being too costly for many young people, even at concessional rates, particularly for disadvantaged young people and young people on low incomes.

Initiatives at a glance

  • $29.7 million to expand and develop the Stronger Families initiative.
  • $8.3 million to support the continuation of Early Start Kindergarten to provide three-year-olds known to child protection with access to free kindergarten services and funding to continue Access to Early Learning sites in the Grampians, eastern, western and southern regions.
  • $16.5 million to engage vulnerable families in early learning.
  • $4 million to strengthen the delivery of Student Support Services.
  • $16.3 million for Enhanced Maternal and Child Health services to ensure babies and toddlers from vulnerable families have access to health and early intervention services and for maternal wellbeing.
  • $4.7 million to continue Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies.
  • $19 million to expand ChildFIRST and Integrated Family Services in areas of high demand.
  • $16.5 million to support vulnerable families with children aged from six months to four years to engage in early learning activities including Supported Playgroups, the smalltalk program and the E4Kids longitudinal study.
  • The $199M allocated for school modernisation and regeneration during 2012-14 delivers particular benefits to rural and regional schools. The schools named for improvements include Bairnsdale Secondary College, Phoenix P-12 Community College, Castlemaine Secondary College, Belvoir Wodonga Special Development School, Wodonga Senior Secondary College and Northern Bay P-12 College.
  • $200 million for school capital including a new school in Doreen South, the first stage of a promised new school for students with autism spectrum disorder in the western region and a number of major building projects at regional schools.

VCOSS analysis

Early childhood development

VCOSS welcomes the ongoing investment by the State Government in early childhood education and care services for vulnerable children and their families. Moving to recurrent funding of these programs will ensure that better access to early childhood services for vulnerable children remains a priority rather than something that has to be fought for in each budget process.

The VCOSS analysis indicated a much welcomed 9.7 per cent increase in funding to early childhood services in this current budget via the ongoing funding of valuable early childhood supports for vulnerable children and their families and population growth.

Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA)

VCOSS is very concerned about the impact of the cuts to the Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA) and School Start Bonus on vulnerable families, and the flow-on impact on their engagement with education and education services. Although the parental component of the EMA has increased marginally, the increase does not compensate for the loss of the school component of the EMA and the School Start Bonus. The overall loss for many students is tabled below.

EMA 2012 2012 EMA + $300 School Start Bonus 2013 EMA payment Reduction in EMA + Bonus
School Family Total per student Total per student Family Total per student
Prep $117.50 $117.50 $235 $535 $200 $335
Yr 1-6 $117.50 $117.50 $235 $235 $150 $85
Yr 7 $235 $235 $470 $770 $300 $470
Yr 8 - Age 16 $235 $235 $470 $470 $250 $220

NB – these figures consider the impact to the individual student. They do not take into account additional equity funding to be directed to some government schools in the future to assist the provision of essential educational items for low income students.

The Government has indicated that some of the ‘savings’ from these cuts will be directed as equity funding to ‘disadvantaged’ schools which have higher proportions of students from a lower socio-economic background based on the Student Family Occupation (SFO) funding model. The calculations above do not take this additional funding into account as the amount eligible schools receive will be determined on a case by case basis rather than the current fixed amount. However, it is important to note that not all schools will receive this additional funding. In 2012, SFO funding is provided to around 50 per cent of government schools; many students attending other schools will be impacted by the full cut as outlined above.

VCOSS is concerned about what additional support will be offered to low income students who attend more ‘advantaged’ schools and what measures will be in place to ensure that the additional funding for ‘disadvantaged’ schools is quarantined to support individual students. The current Parent Payments in Victorian Government Schools Policy states that:

One half of the EMA is paid directly to the parents and guardians through the school, and the other half of the EMA is paid to the school to expend on behalf of the student following consultation with the parent/guardian (italics added).

VCOSS is concerned that this critical principle of supporting the individual student may be lost if schools receive lump sums of equity funding based on the SFO index rather than funding based on the individual students who attend the school and are eligible for EMA.

The EMA and School Start bonus are tightly targeted – both are means tested and only available to families with a pension or healthcare card – and both have been important payments to reduce inequity. Many families already struggle to cover the cost of education including camps, school photos, diaries and lockers. A recent survey by the Salvation Army – The Economic and Social Impact of Cost of Living Pressures on People Accessing Emergency Relief – reveals 36 per cent of respondents seeking emergency relief and support could not afford to pay for their children’s participation in school outings and activities, and 43 per cent go without up-to-date school books and new school clothes.

Although the Schoolkids Bonus announced in the Federal Budget 2012-13 will assist families to meet school costs, this is not new money as families can currently apply for this funding as a tax refund. While the change to the payment will make it more accessible, it therefore does not make up for the loss of the EMA/School Start Bonus.

School Focused Youth Service

VCOSS commends the Victorian Government for extending the funding for School Focused Youth Services (SFYS) for 12 months to 30 June 2013. It was particularly helpful that the announcement came prior to the May budget, given the impact that ongoing funding uncertainty was having on services, including the loss of program workers.

The Department is reviewing its approach to vulnerable children and young people over the next 12 months. VCOSS understands this review will consider how SFYS aligns with other programs that focus on vulnerable children and young people, and look forward to working with the Department to inform its considerations.

Vocational Education and Training reforms

VCOSS is concerned about the impact of funding cuts to TAFE on vulnerable and disadvantaged students. Some of the critical issues include:

  • The deregulation of fees: given that the State Government will no longer regulate fees and the Student Contact Hour rate for some courses is to be reduced, it is expected that institutions will charge higher fees to cover the cost of providing training. In addition, the Government is reforming the concession entitlement from a fixed maximum fee. Concession card holders will now pay 20 per cent of the course fee. As fees are now uncapped, the concession rate may be higher than the current fixed rate. Concessions will also no longer be available for diploma or degree level courses – although these students will have access to income contingent (HECS-style) loans. These changes are likely to put training out of reach of many students and will disproportionately impact on disadvantaged students.
  • Support services – TAFEs currently receive a lump sum to assist them to provide student support services such as counselling, healthcare, and childcare. This payment has been removed. VCOSS is concerned that this cut will leave many TAFEs unable to provide these vital support services from within their global budgets.

On the positive side of the budget, increased funding for foundation courses in basic literacy and numeracy and for apprenticeships are welcome, as is the expansion of the eligibility for government-subsidised courses at Certificate II level for people of any age whose highest qualification is VCE or VCAL. VCOSS also welcomes the introduction of ‘zero fees’ for young people who are in or have been in state care.

Where to from here

VCOSS remains concerned about access to early childhood education and care services for children with a disability and developmental delay. It is vital that Kindergarten Inclusion Support Services (KISS) eligibility continues to expand and that investment and reform in Early Childhood Intervention Services continue, in consultation with the sector.

The lack of funding for occasional care is of significant concern, particularly given the small amount of funding required to maintain such an important service for many of the most vulnerable Victorian families. Ongoing capital investment that builds upon the already announced capital grants round will be important if Victoria is going to remain a leader in innovative and accessible early childhood education and care.

It is important that the review of School Focused Youth Services considers the unique characteristics of the SFYS program, including the strengthening of partnerships between schools and community sector organisations which has led to more integrated service responses, improved local area planning about the needs of young people and education, and increased capacity of schools to work with vulnerable children and young people and keep them engaged in education, including via brokerage funds.

Having young people disengage early from education is a significant and ongoing cost – social and economic – to the state. Helping families to meet the educational needs of their children needs to be a priority for the Government, particularly given the Victoria’s Vulnerable Children: Our Shared Responsibility reforms and the aims of the Engage, Involve, and Create Youth Statement. The changes to the EMA undermine the aims outlined in these policy statements. It is important that low income and vulnerable families are adequately supported to meet the essential education needs of their children, regardless of which school they attend. VCOSS urges the Government to reinstate the full amount of the school component of the EMA and the School Start Bonus.

VCOSS is also very concerned about the impact of the TAFE funding costs on vulnerable and disadvantaged students. It is critical that, as part of the reforms, resources are established to ensure TAFES can continue and extend access, equity and support programs so that vulnerable and disadvantaged students can stay involved in education and training.

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Emergency management

VCOSS budget priorities In 2012-13 Budget VCOSS comment

Provide medium and long term psychosocial recovery funding for individuals and communities affected by the 2010-11 floods and 2009 Victorian Bushfires, including specific support for children and young people.

No new commitments.

The social and economic impacts of emergency events on individuals and communities are long term. It is critical to ensure psychosocial supports are there when people need them.

Invest in increased emergency management capacity in local government and community sector organisations to plan for and respond to emergencies.

$10 million is provided over four years towards the Vulnerable People in Emergencies Program to enable local governments to identify and register, through a web-based database, vulnerable people who would be at risk in emergencies.

No new commitments to specifically support the emergency management capacity in local government and community sector organisations.

This web-based database is a significant improvement on the initial ‘list of lists’ approach that had been developed. VCOSS hopes that the staff training included as part of this program will be extended to community sector organisations.

VCOSS retains some concern as to what supports will be provided to highly vulnerable members of the community who have no support networks.

Fund community sector organisations to undertake risk management, planning and staff training for emergency events.

No commitment.

Community sector organisations need resources to enable them to contribute to local government-led emergency planning processes, provide emergency training to their staff, and develop the plans needed to directly respond to the needs of the highly vulnerable people they work with.

Ensure clear mechanisms, including MOUs, are in place to financially reimburse community sector organisations for the provision of a range of pre-agreed services for affected communities.

No commitment.

Currently no framework is in place that clearly articulates all relevant roles and responsibilities in response and recovery, including mechanisms to ensure the efficient reimbursement of community sector organisations involved in response and recovery.

Improve the capacity of community sector organisations and local governments to undertake heatwave planning and response.

No commitment.

The increasing number of consecutive hot days in Victoria threatens the health and wellbeing of vulnerable Victorians. Heatwaves need to be included in emergency management provisions to help ensure emergency services, local governments and community sector organisations adequately plan for and respond to these events.

Improve the thermal efficiency of the home of those Victorians who are most vulnerable in heatwaves, particularly those with disabilities, medical conditions and chronic illness.

No commitment.

Improving the thermal efficiency of the homes of those households that are most vulnerable will better protect them in heatwaves.

Initiatives at a glance

  • $10m over four years provided towards the Vulnerable People in Emergencies Program to enable local governments to identify and register, through a web-based database, vulnerable people who would be at risk in emergencies.
  • $16m over four years to upgrade the Victorian State Emergency Service’s information technology systems to ensure that they can be used in incident control centres (operated by the Country Fire Authority).
  • An Emergency Management White Paper is currently being developed, following the Emergency Management Green Paper, Towards a More Resilient Victoria, published in September 2011.

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Health and wellbeing

VCOSS budget priorities In 2012-13 Budget VCOSS comment

Aboriginal health and wellbeing

Fund priorities identified in the Victorian Aboriginal Health Workforce Plan, particularly developing the available workforce and building middle management and leadership.

Fund and require mainstream health services, particularly hospitals and community health services to deliver culturally appropriate services.

No new commitments.

The lack of resources to support the Government’s commitment to Close the Gap is highly disappointing.

Mental health

Address the service gaps in locally available, early intervention community-based mental health services and supports in rural and outer-metropolitan areas.

Increase investment in youth-specific mental health services in rural and regional and outer metropolitan areas.

Fund a workforce strategy to ensure quality mental health services.

$3 million to operate a new and intensive day patient program at the Royal Children's Hospital for young people with eating disorders.

A further $4.9 million for the existing Body Image and Easting Disorders Treatment and Recovery Service for young people and adults at Dandenong and Austin hospitals.

$61 million allocated for 95 new mental health beds. While not youth-specific, these beds will be available for young adults aged 18-25.

VCOSS welcomes the increased funding for eating disorder programs.

Significant gaps remain in access to mental health services in outer metropolitan, rural and regional Victoria, particularly for young people.

Alcohol and other drugs

Address the gaps in alcohol and other drug services in rural and regional areas and in outer metropolitan Melbourne growth areas.

Invest in the workforce development required to achieve more family-centred drug and alcohol services.

$39 million for a range of programs under the Victorian Alcohol Action Plan that was subject to one-off funding and now has been made recurrent.

VCOSS welcomes the decision on recurrent funding for the Victorian Alcohol Action Plan.

Significant gaps remain in services in rural and regional and outer metropolitan growth areas.

Primary health

Increase investment in primary care, including community health services, to ensure services are available locally.

Prioritise capital planning and investment for community health services.

Fund an integrated health literacy strategy.

No new commitments.

The lack of focus on primary care, including community health services, is particularly disappointing.

VCOSS is very concerned at the 10% real effective decline in investment in Community Health Care.

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Housing

VCOSS budget priorities In 2012-13 Budget VCOSS comment

Invest in a flexible fund to securely house families at risk of homelessness within reach of children’s schools.

The lapsing program – Accommodation Options for Families, which provides rapid rehousing in safe accommodation for families in rooming houses – was refunded.

This was an important homelessness program and is a welcome commitment.
However, growth in long term housing options that enable children to retain links to their schools remains a priority.

Invest in a flexible fund to securely house older Victorians at risk of homelessness within their local communities.

No new commitments in the budget but two of the 10 innovation action pilots announced in April are targeted to older Victorians.

These are welcome initiatives, but, as above, growth in long term housing options to securely house older Victorians remains a priority

Develop a Victorian Affordable Housing Bond to reduce costs to community housing development – and contribute available, well-located land to support new affordable housing initiatives.

No commitment at this point, but the bond proposal is included in the Government’s options paper for improving the supply of social housing.

Further exploration of this concept is very welcome.

Initiatives at a glance

  • Funding of $10.4 million over four yeas to build and operate the first of the three Youth Foyers committed to in the Victorian Homelessness Action Plan.
  • Immediately prior to the budget the Government released two discussion papers on social housing and announced a three-month period of consultation. A reform process is also underway in homelessness with the Victorian Homelessness Action Plan undertaking pilots and expected to report on new approaches.

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Transport

VCOSS budget priorities In 2012-13 Budget VCOSS comment

Expand the bus network to ensure growth areas receive early access to public transport and ensure better coverage of underserviced areas.

The only service improvement in the bus network announced in the budget was permanent funding for the Monash University 601 Express Bus to Huntingdale Station.

The lack of public transport service beyond inner Melbourne continues to limit transport options for disadvantaged communities in Melbourne. More investment is needed in future.

Invest in a program of long-term accessibility improvements to public transport, sufficient to ensure that all Disability Standards for Accessible Public Transport (DSAPT) milestone targets can be met, but allowing for reasonable flexibility to ensure that accessibility outcomes can be prioritised, including for projects outside the direct coverage of the standards.

No improvements announced in the budget.

The Government recently announced a project to upgrade the route 96 tram corridor to become fully accessible.

The pace of access improvements remains too slow to make noticeable improvements to public transport accessibility. While more strategic approaches are welcome, such as the route 96 project, the lack of resources is hampering progress.

Ensure ongoing investment in joined-up mobility services, including access to school buses, expanding community transport options, improving taxi services and providing better travel information, training and support.

No new commitments.

 

With the Taxi Industry Inquiry due to report soon, we expect that the Government will provide the investment needed to improve service levels. The creation of Public Transport Victoria (PTV) may provide opportunities for better travel information in future.

Ensure the Transport Connection Program is funded beyond 2013.

The budget announces unspecified ‘savings’ from the Transport Connections Program after commitments have been met.

While the Department of Planning and Community Development (DPCD) has assured us that no co-ordinator positions or Innovation Fund grants will be cut, there is no clear information on where the ‘savings’ will come from.

Initiatives at a glance

  • $349.8 million for metropolitan grade separations at Mitcham Station (for both Mitcham Road and Rooks Road) and Springvale Station.
  • An unspecified amount of money to purchase additional V/Line trains to expand capacity on the regional passenger rail network.
  • $171.9 million for major period maintenance on the regional rail network, for both passengers and freight.
  • $166.5 million of additional funding to implement the myki ticketing system and the extension of the Metcard system to the end of the 2012.
  • $49.7 million for detailed planning work towards the Metro Melbourne rail tunnel.
  • $19.1 million for railway station improvements, including a new station at Grovedale in Geelong, and improvements to the Warragul station carpark.
  • $15 million for planning work towards the East-West tunnel.
  • $5.5 million for the 601 Monash University to Huntingdale Station shuttle bus.
  • $188 million has been cut from the transport portfolio over 4 years, on top of the $251 million cut last year.

VCOSS analysis

Across the transport portfolio, approximately $1.2 billion of new spending has been allocated in this budget, offset by $188 million in savings. However, very little of this directly translates to increased public transport services, with nearly 80 per cent of the funding spent on road projects, regional rail maintenance, grade separations and myki implementation. While public transport patronage is expected to grow around 3.6 per cent across the state, the Government is planning for almost no growth in services.

According to VCOSS real effective change analysis (below), public transport spending decreased by 0.3 per cent, taking account of the increases needed to cover population growth and inflation. This means that real public transport spending per head of population is at a standstill, and is actually going backwards for specialist services like school buses and the Multi-purpose Taxi Program.

Public transport – real effective change
2011-12 expected outcome ($million)Increase needed to cover CPI & population ($million)2012-13 target ($million)Real effective increase
Public transport (metropolitan)2,950.13,079.73,084.70.2%
Public transport (rural and regional)829.7866.2853.6-1.4%
Specialist transport services259.5270.9266.1-1.8%
Public transport (total)4,039.44,216.94,204.5-0.3%

The Budget also reflects the first full year of operation of the Public Transport Victoria, the Government’s new independent public transport authority. The public will be closely watching its success in seeking to align Victoria’s complicated and sometimes mismatching transport system, as well as successfully advocating for public transport investment and network improvements.

Metropolitan public transport

If grade separations are included, more than $600 million has been allocated in this budget towards initiatives that primarily affect the metropolitan public transport system – about half of the total new transport investment. However, the bulk of this is for grade separations at Mitcham and Springvale ($350.6 million), with most of the remainder paying for cost blow-outs in the implementation of myki ($166 million), Protective Services Officers ($21.9 million), and the troubled new train communications system ($32.5 million). The investment of $49.7 million towards planning and development of the Metro Rail Tunnel is welcome, although this project will still require significant Commonwealth government investment to be realised.

The only direct investment in new services is a tiny $5.5 million over four years to make permanent the 601 Monash university shuttle-bus. No resources have been allocated to continue the bus service reviews, nor to fund new services in growth area suburbs.

There were also no new investments in accessible transport, with the $20 million delivered in last year’s budget continuing to fund small improvements over four years, but at a far lower rate than has occurred in previous years; thus Victoria will not meet the Disability Discrimination Act targets for 2012. The Government has announced a ‘whole of route’ accessibility upgrade for tram route 96, using funds already allocated as part of the purchase of 50 new trams, although this will not commence until extensive design and consultation work is complete. The Government has also recently made public the report of the Railway Station Useability Panel, which sets out principles for the construction and upgrade of railway stations, which includes improved accessibility in the future.

There are no budget allocations to act on building the Rowville or Doncaster rail lines. The final report of the Rowville investigation suggests that no action may be taken on the infrastructure for a decade, while the Government’s decision to pursue the cross-city road tunnel has worried communities about its commitment to building the Doncaster line.

Equally, while there are benefits in removing level crossings, including reducing congestion and improving pedestrian safety, removing them in a higgledy-piggledy fashion delivers only minor gains for public transport users, as the number of train services that can be run is still limited by the impact of level-crossings elsewhere on the network. At the current rate, it will take the best part of a century to remove all of the level crossings in Melbourne, which is far too slow to have any foreseeable impact.

The high projected growth of passengers on the metropolitan train system predicted last year failed to materialise, with boardings expected to fall this year by 3.2 per cent from last year’s total. The big growth in passengers is actually on the bus network – with a whopping 16 per cent increase expected for the year to 30 June 2012 over the previous year. In 2012-13, the budget forecasts 2 per cent growth in metropolitan train passengers, 4.4 per cent in tram passengers, and 6 per cent in metropolitan bus passengers – which rather begs the question why so many of the government’s investments have been in the train system.

If the Government is not prepared to undertake an expensive program of rail line construction and grade separations that will actually lead to significant rail capacity improvements in the foreseeable future, it may be better to focus on alternatives. Investing in an improved bus network, including priority measures such as bus-ways, could add significant public transport capacity at lower cost, and can be more easily introduced to suburban Melbourne, where most Melbournians live and services are worst. The previous investment in the Smartbus system appears to be a major reason that bus use has been rapidly growing in Melbourne over the past year, and illustrates the potential buses have to increase patronage and reduce congestion.

Rural and regional public transport

The Government has announced the purchase of additional V/Line train carriages to accommodate growing patronage which is now beyond capacity on many peak services. The budget also contains funding for a new station at Grovedale in Geelong and an expansion of the Warragul station car park on the Gippsland line.

These are welcome commitments, although we note the Government has not yet disclosed the number, cost or timetable for delivery of the new V/Line vehicles. However, there are no additional resources for rural and regional bus and coach services which enable people experiencing transport disadvantage to reach critical economic and social opportunities. During the last financial year, decisions were made about a number of trial rural bus services associated with the Transport Connections program. While 30 of these trial services have been made permanent by using existing resources, another 30 have been discontinued, potentially reducing access for some rural residents. A further 10 trial services have been extended for further analysis.

No commitments have been made to extending the Transport Connections Program beyond 30 June 2013. The budget announces unspecified ‘savings’ from the Transport Connections Program after commitments have been met. While the Department of Planning and Community Development (DPCD) has assured us that no co-ordinator positions or Innovation Fund grants will be cut, there is no clear information on where the ‘savings’ will come from.

Specialist transport services

No new funds have been allocated to specialist transport services, which include school buses and the Multi-Purpose Taxi Program. The Victorian Taxi Industry Inquiry has released its draft report, which includes important initiatives including a central booking service for wheelchair accessible taxis, talking taxi meters, expansion of the Multi-Purpose Taxi Program (MPTP) to people over 80 and not able to drive, and to ensure people eligible for the MPTP receive free public transport passes. The final report of the Inquiry is due this year, and VCOSS is looking forward to the government’s response and implementation strategy.

No funds have been allocated to community transport or to integrated mobility solutions, with a number of mobility and access organisations struggling to meet demand and retain their existing funding.

Where to from here

The consolidation of public transport management in Public Transport Victoria (PTV) will hopefully begin to bear fruit in the coming year, although drastic staff cuts will likely undermine its ability to focus quickly on the task at hand. Immediate priorities are likely to be improvements to bus contracting, timetabling and information services. The Regional Rail Link is now under construction, although services remain several years away and, while detailed design planning and land acquisition is underway for the Melbourne Metro tunnel, we continue to wait for the Federal Government to commit funds to the project.

Beyond these big projects, however, the biggest priorities for the network should be investing in incremental improvements to the existing system, especially focusing on re-designing the bus network for more effective performance and improving accessibility to broaden the potential pool of customers.

The bus system is the component of the network that reaches the largest number of Victorians and is usually the most cost-effective means to expand coverage and frequency. However, current bus routes are often indirect1 and poorly co-ordinated with other modes. Ultimately, it is likely that an entirely new network design is required for the metropolitan area to maximise the effectiveness of the bus system, by reducing duplication and deviations, increasing frequencies, and supporting connections between services where this improves access. This also applies to larger regional centres. Cities like Geelong, Ballarat and Bendigo have reached a scale where a full-service public transport system is feasible, and greater thought needs to put into re-designing these networks to support increased usage. Similarly, lagging public transport provision in metropolitan growth areas strains infrastructure, increases isolation and impedes access to services in new communities; implementing well-designed bus services early in these suburbs will result in improved economic and social outcomes.

Due to the lack of sufficient funding, meeting the 2012 targets for public transport accessibility contained in the Disability Standards for Accessible Public Transport 2002 is now impossible. It is outrageous that the Victorian Government is failing to meet its legal requirements to some of Victoria’s most vulnerable citizens: it should prioritise significant investment into improving accessibility to meet its 2012 targets as soon as feasible and ensure there are sufficient resources to meet the 2017 targets. While the investment is too small, VCOSS welcomes the new approach being used by the Department of Transport to accessibility improvements, such as the proposed Route 96 Project, which adopt a ‘whole-of-route’ approach to accessibility improvements. We regard this approach as preferable to the scattergun response used in the past and which has resulted in very little increased capacity for people to actually be able to use the tram system.

More generally, the Department of Transport needs to examine, in concert with other agencies, means of providing cost-effective mobility services to people who have difficulties using public transport or live in areas with little or no public transport service. Resolving these issues requires a co-ordinated approach that can bring together public transport, community transport, taxi services and mobility assistance organisations to examine new models of flexible transport provision and improve access and information to existing services. For instance, the recent draft report of the Taxi Industry Inquiry has produced draft recommendations that would both increase the flexible use of taxis for the purposes of community transport and mobility.2

1 Public Transport Users Association, Driven around the bend: Melbourne’s meandering bus routes, May 2012

2 Victorian Taxi Industry Inquiry. Table of Draft Recommendations, 2012, p.13

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Utilities

VCOSS budget priorities In 2012-13 Budget VCOSS comment

Provide an uncapped 30% water concession.

Water concession cap indexed by 2.5%.

Average metropolitan water prices will increase by 7.8% on 1 July. Indexing the cap by only 2.5% further decreases the value of an already inadequate concession.

Implement a program of no-cost essential appliance replacement and on-site energy audits for low-income households.

No new commitments.

Existing No-Interest-Loans schemes have been unable to fill the needs left unmet by the abolition of HomeWise in 2011. Audits are less necessary now due to an imminent Commonwealth Government program.

Provide free in-home displays (IHDs) for concession households.

In-home displays were added to the Energy Saver Incentive Scheme in 2011. Nothing additional in this budget.

This may be sufficient to get IHDs in low-income households. Watch this space.

Fully subsidise the smart meter charge for low-income households.

Nothing; but in 2011 a commitment was made to tighten up the Cost Recovery Order to reduce the smart meter charge.

This is a step in the right direction. But the smart meter charge is still a regressive charge that hits low-income households hardest.

Maintain the 17.5% energy concessions (applied in winter for gas and all year round for electricity).

Reduced energy concessions to offset the Commonwealth’s carbon price compensation component on energy bills.

Energy concessions are better targeted than the carbon price compensation package, so a good concession has been exchanged for a bad one. Concession households up to $41 per year worse off.

Initiatives at a glance

  • The water concession cap will be indexed by 2.5 per cent, roughly in line with CPI but well below the rise in water prices.
  • Energy concessions will be reduced (by $2.50 per month for electricity and $1.82 per month for gas) so as to not double-compensate households for that part of the energy bill that is offset by the Commonwealth Government’s Clean Energy Future Household Assistance Package (saving the State Government $36 million in concessions outlays).
  • $19.8 million has been committed to the smart meter project to resource governance, stakeholder engagement and consumer information and education.
  • The municipal rates concession cap will be indexed by 2.5 per cent, roughly in line with CPI but well below the expected rise in municipal rates.

VCOSS analysis

Keeping the caps down for water and rates concessions

The concessions on water bills and municipal rates appear generous because they give a 50 per cent discount on expenditure; however the amount is capped (in 2011-12 at $270 annually for water and $194 for rates) so that, for most households, the actual discount is far less than 50 per cent. (For water, the effective discount generally ranges between 14 and almost 40 per cent, depending on household size and whether the dwelling is owned or rented; for rates it is between 15 and 20 per cent for most households.)

The cap is indexed each year so that the discount at least keeps pace with increased expenditure: the rates concession cap is usually indexed by 5 to 7 per cent, and water by something close to the average metropolitan annual water price rise – usually around 8 to 10 per cent.

Effective water concessions for different sized metropolitan households

However in the 2012-13 budget the Government has announced that the caps will be indexed by just 2.5 per cent. This is less than the Consumer Price Index (CPI – the economy-wide average of price increases) of 2.75 per cent, and half the average 1 July water price rise of 5 per cent, and significantly less than the usual annual rates increase of around 6 to 8 per cent (which in 2012-13 is actually expected to be around 19 per cent due to the impact of the new fire services levy1). The end result is that low income households will be paying proportionately more on their rapidly rising rates and water bills. This net cost-of-living increase is the last thing they need as the economy contracts while prices of essentials are rising.

Slashing the energy concessions

The energy concessions in Victoria are more generous than water and rates and are uncapped, so they scale with household size and energy usage. Low-income households’ electricity bills are discounted by 17.5 per cent all year round and their gas bills by the same amount in the six coldest months. This is important because electricity bills are among the highest faced by households and the consequences of non-payment (disconnection from supply) the most drastic. Credit must go to the State Government for expanding the electricity concession from winter-only to all year round in 2011.

But the cut to energy concessions announced in the 2012-13 budget roll back almost half the value of that expansion for the average concession household. The reduction of the concession amount by $7.50 per electricity bill and $3.64 per gas bill may seem insignificant to people on average incomes; but they hit hard for disadvantaged Victorians struggling to survive on less than half the minimum wage. At $41 a year for a typical household, the cut amounts to a 42 per cent claw back of the additional $98 electricity concession gained in 2011.

The change is a response by the State Government to the Federal Government’s compensation package for the July 1 carbon price. Because low-income households are supposedly fully compensated (via reduced taxes and increased welfare payments) for the impact of the carbon price, the Victorian Government has sought to avoid ‘double compensating’ for the same expenditure (specifically, the carbon price impost on energy bills) by reducing the concession payable by the amounts hypothecated to be covered by the carbon price compensation package.

Unfortunately, the way the carbon price compensation is implemented makes itless helpful to the most disadvantaged Victorians. The annual impact of the carbon price on an average Victorian household’s energy bills (according to analysis by the Society of St Vincent de Paul) is around $255, working out to $31 per electricity bill and about $23 per winter gas bill and $10 per summer gas bill. But the carbon price compensation is delivered via small increases in Centrelink payments and reductions in tax: $8 per fortnight for jobseekers, $13 for age pensioners, and $12 for people on low wages. While this adds up over the year (for age pensioners and low-income households, at least – Newstart recipients are undercompensated), the reality for low-income households is that any bill must be paid from one pay cheque – so they’re still going to be out of pocket for the particular pay period when the bill arrives. The Victorian energy concessions, on the other hand, are well implemented – being a reduction of the amount of each bill. In seeking to avoid ‘overcompensating’ households who are struggling financially, the State Government has substituted a poorly-targeted concession for a well-targeted one.

Worse, the cut hits unemployed Victorians the hardest. Newstart is considerably lower than pensions, and the Federal Government’s carbon price compensation is also much lower for Newstart recipients – a single person on Newstart gets just 64 per cent of the carbon price compensation that a single aged pensioner receives.

Making smart meters work

The good news in the budget for energy consumers is the commitment to resource key aspects of the smart meters program. Under the previous Government the transition to advanced metering was treated primarily as an industry issue: driven by energy companies, paid for by consumers thanks to a direct cost pass-through arrangement, and managed by the Department of Primary Industries largely using their existing resources. The cost blowout and the loss of public faith in the program appear to have been at least partly attributable to the lack of resources for governance, community information and education, and failure to consistently and appropriately engage community stakeholders. The commitment of $19.8m over four years to resource these critical areas will help to bring forward direct household benefits.

Where to from here

A number of policy and program commitments are needed in the next budget or as part of ongoing reform to ensure that low-income Victorians can reliably and consistently access affordable essential services.

Concessions

At the very least, the water and rates concession caps need to be indexed in line with price changes. The departure from this approach in the 2012-13 budget is worrying. Ultimately, the water and rates concessions should be uncapped and set somewhere between 20 and 30 per cent of the total bill to deliver more equitable and practical assistance.

The gas and electricity concessions, though diminished, are still fairly effective; but we look forward to full energy concessions being restored in a few years when the carbon price transitional period is over.

Appliance replacement or repair

A no-cost appliance and fixture repair or replacement service is still greatly needed for the most vulnerable households in Victoria. In the last full year of the HomeWise and WaterWise programs, they assisted around 18,000 and 5,000 (respectively) households that were going without an essential appliance or saddled with unavoidably high bills due to a faulty, inoperable, or inefficient appliance or fixture. These households could not afford to replace or repair the appliance or fixture themselves; and those in this situation today have far fewer options: many cannot afford even the repayments on a No Interest Loan, and, in any case, demand for these loans has far outstripped supply since the above-mentioned programs were axed.

HomeWise did have some problems and needed to be reviewed; WaterWise’s demise, on the other hand, appears to have come as collateral damage – it was highly effective and relatively inexpensive. Restitution of WaterWise and development of a new, more tightly targeted appliance replacement program to succeed HomeWise would measurably improve the quality of life and financial circumstances of many vulnerable Victorian households.

Choice in a complex market

With an influx of time-variant market tariffs expected in the near future, equipping households to successfully navigate a more complex energy market will be critical. Initiatives undertaken so far – adding in-home displays to the Energy Saver Incentive Scheme and committing to fund community education and information programs – are steps in the right direction; but further regulatory measures may be needed to ensure, for example, that all households have access to sufficient information about their own usage patterns and some way to interface that data with different tariff structures in order to make an informed choice of energy contract. The commitment to community stakeholder engagement that the Government has already demonstrated gives us confidence that this is achievable; but it will require a preparedness to implement new regulations and enforce compliance that has sometimes been lacking in energy policy.

Rental housing standards

As energy and water prices rise the value of efficiency grows – along with the cost of inefficiency. And unfortunately, energy and water inefficiency is concentrated at the lower end of the private rental market, where a disproportionate number of low-income households live. The Decent not Dodgy field study undertaken by VCOSS and the Tenants’ Union of Victoria in 2010, inspecting more than 100 low-cost rentals in Melbourne and Geelong, had alarming results: security and safety problems (33 per cent had no safety switch and 17 per cent no deadlocks) and structural energy efficiencies (19 per cent had electric hot water systems, 10 per cent visibly lacked weather proofing, and 10 per cent had no fixed heating). A 2009 study by the Department of Sustainability and the Environment found that 50 per cent of rental properties had no insulation and a further 27 per cent had only partial insulation2. This is all not surprising, as the reason overwhelmingly given by homeowners for installing insulation and making other energy efficiency improvements to their properties is to increase comfort; the next most common is to save on energy bills3. Neither of these motivations is applicable to landlords.

Raising the quality of low-cost rental housing in Victoria is critical to address cost-of-living (and basic health and quality-of-life) problems for low-income households. While VCOSS believes that a suite of mandatory minimum quality standards (phased in over an appropriate time period and with a financial assistance package for low-income landlords would be an effective solution, we would support a research project that modelled different approaches to identify those that strike an acceptable balance between cost, regulatory burden, and effectiveness.

1 According to analysis undertaken by the Municipal Association of Victoria http://bit.ly/Kld0dy

2 Department of Sustainability and the Environment, Housing condition/energy performance of rental properties in Victoria, Melbourne 2009.

3 Australian Bureau of Statistics, 4602.0.55.001 - Environmental Issues: Energy Use and Conservation, Mar 2011, Canberra 2011.

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Young people

VCOSS budget priorities In 2012-13 Budget VCOSS comment

Invest in expanding generalist youth services to young people, with a priority focus in rural and regional Victoria, and in Melbourne’s growth suburbs.

No new commitment.

No commitment to new generalist services to address gaps in youth services, particularly in rural, regional and growth areas, was disappointing.

Continue to implement the Because Mental Health Matters strategy and expand the availability of youth mental health services across Victoria.

$3 million to operate a new and intensive day patient program at the Royal Children's Hospital for young people with eating disorders.

A further $4.9 million for the existing Body Image and Easting Disorders Treatment and Recovery Service for young people and adults at Dandenong and Austin hospitals.

$61 million allocated for 95 new mental health beds. While not youth specific, they will be available for young adults aged 18-25.

VCOSS welcomes increased funding for eating disorder programs. Significant gaps remain in access to mental health services in outer metropolitan, rural and regional Victoria.

Invest in more comprehensive data collection about the mental health needs of refugee and asylum-seeking children and young people.

No new commitment.

The Refugee Status Report (DEECD) identified significant gaps in data about the health, wellbeing, development, learning and safety of young people of refugee background. It is important that specific data is collected to ensure policy and service development adequately meets the need of these young people.

Expand the Youth Referral and Independent Person Program (YRIPP) statewide.

No ongoing funding was announced in the state budget, however the Centre for Multicultural Youth was pleased to be advised that the program will continue for another 12 months. Details to follow.

VCOSS supports the continuation of YRIPP. However, we call for a more sustainable and ongoing funding model.

Expand the Intensive Bail Support Program Pilot to ensure it is available to more young people, particularly in rural and regional Victoria.

No new commitment.

This was disappointing, as greater options for diversion and early intervention are needed for young people in the justice system.

Target a program for young Aboriginal women to develop life skills to improve overall health and job prospects, and reduce the likelihood of re-offending – similar to the successful Wulgunggo Ngalu Learning Place for young Aboriginal men.

No new commitment.

VCOSS is concerned by an ongoing lack of support and intervention for young Aboriginal women in the justice system.

Initiatives at a glance

  • $27.9 million to provide 34 new residential care placements.
  • $29.6 million to expand therapeutic residential care from 40 to approximately 140 places.
  • $1 million for 'zero-fee' TAFE places for young people exiting out-of-home care.
  • $3 million over three years to establish a Commission for Children and Young People (including an Aboriginal Commissioner).
  • $17 million to establish a new Children's Court at Broadmeadows Court.
  • $7.3 million to expand treatment places for children with problem sexual behaviour.
  • Additional $1.6 million over four years to continue FreeZA events. This brings the total FreeZA funding to $2.4 million each year for four years.
  • $3 million additional funding to run a new intensive day-patient program at the Royal Children’s Hospital for young people with eating disorders.
  • $4.9 million to extend access to the existing Body Image and Eating Disorders Treatment and Recovery Service (BETRS) which provides eating disorder day programs for young people and adults with severe eating disorders in Melbourne’s north and south.
  • $10.4 million over four years to build and operate the first of the three Youth Foyers committed to in the Victorian Homelessness Action Plan.
  • Ongoing funding of the Victorian Indigenous Advisory Council (VIYAC), a statewide network of volunteer Indigenous people aged between 12 and 25 years who provide a voice to government and community on issues of importance.
  • $1.8 million over 4 years to the Centre for Multicultural Youth (CMY) to work in partnership with the Victorian Government on special programs, including the establishment of two CMY regional offices and a trial of two bi-cultural youth workers to provide a one-stop-shop to assist young people from disadvantaged CALD (culturally and linguistically diverse) backgrounds.
  • $54.5 million for a Parkville and Malmsbury Youth Justice Centre upgrade. This will help create an additional 45 places at the Malmsbury Youth Justice Centre.

VCOSS analysis

Services for young people

The Victorian Government’s Youth Statement, Engage, Involve, Create recognises the importance of early identification and early intervention and commits to ‘build[ing] the capacity of schools, services, police and community organisations’ to ensure support is available, accessible, and appropriate to young people’s needs. The Statement also notes the importance of youth services and the Government has committed to working with service providers to improve coordination across the sector to improve outcomes for young people.

It is disappointing that the state budget did not include any significant commitments for young people to kick-start implementation of the Youth Statement. However, VCOSS looks forward to working with the Government to progress the aims of the Statement.

Youth justice

According to the VCOSS real effective change analysis, spending on youth justice has decreased by 1 per cent since the last budget, taking into account population growth and inflation. This budget fails to build on the increased investment in community based youth justice services announced in the 2011-12 budget while the expected average daily number of clients under community based supervision remains steady at 1,625.

The $54.5 million committed for upgrades at both Parkville and Malmsbury Youth Justice Centres recognises the need for improving these facilities. It was disappointing however, that there was no increase in funding for prevention and diversion programs alongside this. Victoria urgently needs a statewide diversion program. There are positive programs underway, such as Youth Support Services which aims to divert young people away from the youth justice system on a first offence. However, as noted by the Sentencing Advisory Council’s Report1, diversion for younger offenders tends to be ‘ad hoc’ and there is ‘no coordinated state-wide diversion response’.

Given the number of young people held in custody on remand is rising steadily, it is disappointing that there was no additional funding to expand the Intensive Bail Support Program. This would particularly benefit young people in rural and regional areas who have more limited access to bail support.

There has been a significant investment outside the budget process in the establishment of the Parkville College within the Melbourne Youth Justice Centre. This is a long overdue initiative which VCOSS believes will help to promote more positive outcomes for the young people in custody.

It is disappointing that the state budget did not commit funding to the Youth Referral and Independent Person Program (YRIPP). However, CMY, YACVic and their partner agencies were pleased to learn that YRIPP funding will continue for another 12 months. The partner agencies will continue to work with the Government towards the long term sustainability of this program.

Victorian Indigenous Youth Advisory Council

VCOSS welcomes ongoing funding of $200,000 per year for the Victorian Indigenous Youth Advisory Council (VIYAC), a statewide network of volunteer Indigenous young people between 12 and 25 years who provide a voice to Government and community on issues of importance.

Four year funding provides a sustainable base for this important program to develop and extend to engage more Aboriginal young people. This will be a critical voice in the development and establishment of an independent Children and Young People’s Commission, which will include the appointment of an Aboriginal Commissioner (see Children and Families for more detail).

Where to from here

VCOSS, in partnership with the Youth Affairs Council of Victoria (YACVic), has long called for greater investment in services for young people, particularly generalist and early intervention services. We are currently undertaking research to update the ‘Who’s Carrying the Can’ research published in 2006 to consider what services are available to young people in Victoria, where the gaps are in service provision, and emerging issues which need to be addressed. This research will inform our budget priorities for the 2013-14 budget.

A legislated diversion framework needs to be developed for young people in Victoria. VCOSS is aware that the Department of Justice is developing a consultation paper on diversion and we urge the Government to use this process to develop a strong framework for diversion for young people in Victoria. Related is the ongoing need to expand the Intensive Bail Support Program pilot to ensure it is available to more young people, particularly in rural and regional Victoria.

VCOSS calls for the Government to commit to ongoing funding of the Youth Referral and Independent Person Program and for the recommendations of the Victorian Law Reform Commission’s Report, Supporting Young People in Police Interviews, to be implemented. This includes expanding YRIPP statewide.

An issue which needs further exploration as part of the Victoria’s Vulnerable Children: Our Shared Responsibility reforms is the high number of young people in youth justice custodial facilities who have current or previous child protection involvement.

1 Sentencing Advisory Council, Sentencing children and young people in Victoria, April 2012, p28

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