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State Budget Submission 2012-13

State Budget Submission 2012-13 cover

The following is a summary of the VCOSS State Budget Submission 2012-13. Use the links above to read the full version.

Stronger People
Stronger State

After delivering a decent Budget last year that kept its election promises, the State Government is sending strong signals to expect a tougher approach in 2012-13.

In the face of goods and services tax (GST) formula changes, threats of an economic downturn and, in particular, a decline in stamp duty revenue, it may be tempted to cut into programs whose deep and long-term value are not always recognised.

That would mean ignoring significant trends that are changing the Victorian social and economic landscape and threatening future budgets. If that’s the case, then savings in this Budget would be illusory and their impact counterproductive.

Victoria does not have the mineral reserves of other Australian states and territories. Our economy relies on the education, skills, health and wellbeing of our workers, and we need to invest in them if we are to achieve a smarter and stronger future.

Currently our state is at the crossroads. One investment pathway would pare back services for people and communities. This would entrench new and growing locations of need – particularly on the urban fringes of our cities and in rural and regional Victoria. Devastating in itself, this will also translate into a future economy with lower workforce participation and poorer productivity – as well as a skill set across the community unsuited to future demands. Under this approach, future budgets would need a blank cheque for crisis responses like prisons and hospital emergency beds.

The smarter alternative is to strengthen productivity and participation by improving the lives and potential of all Victorians, particularly those in the families and places usually left behind. Investing in the infrastructure, services and supports needed will deliver a stronger community with more highly productive workers. It will also mean fewer people excluded from work, achieving the increased workforce participation our economy is crying out for.

We understand that money is tight. But resources are always scarce and, in any circumstance, should be carefully directed to where they will deliver the most return.

In the 2012-13 Budget, Victoria must respond to a number of short and longer-term challenges:

  • A population explosion on the fringes of our cities that has not been matched with growth in supporting infrastructure and services. The public transport deficit alone means many people struggle to get to work or learning opportunities. Further gaps in health and community services mean many families are struggling unnecessarily and that we are inviting a generation of fractured lives and communities.
  • Growing gaps in health and education outcomes for rural and regional Victoria that see young people struggling to do well at school, alarming growth in the incidence of chronic diseases such as diabetes, and communities that are increasingly cut off from opportunity and will be first and worst affected by the projected increase in frequency and severity of emergencies.
  • Strong exchange rate pressures on our manufacturing sectors and agriculture and broader economic change that are reducing job opportunities for relatively unskilled workers, and increasing demand for a highly skilled workforce.
  • Population ageing that means that, within a generation, we will have too few workers to power our economy, increasing the need to ensure all Victorian children and young people develop the skills and qualities needed to engage in work.
  • An approach to crime that comes with an exorbitant price tag, both in social terms and in the cost of prisons and police. Key to this has been the failure of the state to be a good parent to children who have suffered abuse and neglect.

These challenges call for a Budget that develops the resource potential of all Victorians to create a stronger, smarter and more economically resilient future for the State and its people.

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The basics

Rapidly rising prices for energy and water continue to put pressure on Victorian families – making it even tougher to balance household budgets under attack from cost increases of other essentials, including housing and food. Smart meters have only compounded these pressures, adding an extra fixed cost to bills.

Energy and water price hikes exact an even heavier toll on low-income families, who pay a greater proportion of their income for these important everyday provisions. They are also least able to maximise their energy and water efficiency, because they cannot afford the upfront cost of efficient fixtures and appliances. While the Victorian Government has little control over energy pricing, it can assist Victorian families with concessions, tighter regulation and robust consumer protections, and efficiency measures.

This Budget should deliver measures to improve the impact of the energy concession, including helping households improve their energy efficiency, and addressing issues around smart meters.

Recommendations

That the Victorian Government:

  1. provides an uncapped 30 per cent water concession and requires that the Melbourne Water and Parks Victoria charges are levied in equal instalments across all bills,
  2. funds a program of no-cost replacement of essential appliances that are inoperable or inefficient for low-income households,
  3. implements a program of comprehensive on-site energy and water efficiency audits for households experiencing hardship, based on the Kildonan model,
  4. fully subsidises the smart meter pass-through charge for concession households,
  5. provides free in-home displays for concession households, and
  6. revises the Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) Cost Recovery Order in line with the Australian Energy Regulator’s (AER) distribution price determination framework, to limit the cost of the rollout and provide better value for all Victorian consumers.

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Children and families

We know that having a positive start in a loving and caring environment sets children on the best possible path in life. But for many families providing this environment is difficult. And while having the right supports at the right time can make a real difference, the reality of inadequate funding is that most families who need help only get it once they reach crisis point.

This means, simply, that many children experience abuse and neglect that could be avoided. As a community, we still allow this to happen despite knowing the trauma caused and of the clear links between those experiences in childhood, and poor physical and mental health and poor educational attainment in later life.1

Providing all families with the supports they need, when they need it, to do the best job they can is the most effective way of helping children gain the skills and capacities necessary to reach their full potential – and to participate as productive members of the community.

Given the consequences of not delivering the right supports to families, when and where they need them, this is the most important reform to be achieved in the 2012-13 State Budget.

This submission identifies four critical areas of focus for children and families:

  • improving outcomes for Victorian Aboriginal children and families,
  • strengthening the role of universal early childhood services and schools,
  • strengthening early support for families, particularly in growth suburbs and in rural and regional Victoria, and
  • delivering better outcomes in out-of-home care.

1 Ombudsman Victoria, Own motion investigation into Child Protection – out of home care, State of Victoria, May 2010

Recommendations

That the Victorian Government:

  1. strengthens the capacity of Aboriginal community controlled organisations (ACCOs) to provide preventative and early intervention supports to children and families,
  2. strengthens the capacity of ACCOs to incorporate specialist therapeutic approaches within their responses to children and families,
  3. develops an Aboriginal Child FIRST presence in Melbourne’s north and west region as a first step to expanding ACCOs participation in Child FIRST statewide,
  4. extends 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,
  5. commences Section 18 of the Children, Youth and Families Act 2005 within two years,
  6. expands the successful early intervention program Best Start across Victoria,
  7. supports 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 and the Department of Human Services,
  8. develops flexible funding models for family support services that respond to community need identified at the local level and to Victoria’s growing population,
  9. expands the therapeutic approach of the Therapeutic Residential Care pilots statewide, and
  10. improves 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.

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Community sector sustainability

Community services are vital to the Victorian community, providing support to millions of Victorians, from advice and information in the local community, to financial counselling, specialised support for children at risk, assistance to people with disabilities, and much more. Many of these services are delivered by not-for-profit organisations on behalf of the Government.

As well as delivering a stronger community and better possibilities in life for those who receive support, community services also provide the ‘stitch in time’ that prevents the need for more expensive interventions – such as policing, prisons and acute health care.

The challenge for the Victorian Government – in this State Budget perhaps more than any other in recent times – is to make some strategic interventions to ‘help the helpers’ and ensure community services are of the highest possible quality and are most effective in achieving better outcomes for individuals and families.

The top priorities for change include full funding of the Fair Work Australia equal pay decision, price indexation that strengthens service delivery and organisational sustainability, and strategic support to improve the ‘back end’ and governance of organisations.

Recommendations

That the Victorian Government:

  1. fully funds the outcomes of the equal remuneration case for Victorian Government funded services,
  2. invests in the development of a sector-led community sector workforce strategy,
  3. 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,
  4. funds prices assessed in current and past price reviews, and undertakes reviews where costs structures have clearly changed,
  5. 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,
  6. invests $400,000 per year over four years to enable PilchConnect to be able to deliver specialised legal advice to community sector organisations, and
  7. continues current levels of investment in community sector peak bodies.

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Early childhood development,
education and skills

The future strength and prosperity of Victoria rests in its people. If we want young Victorians to leave school with confidence in their abilities and good results in their chosen areas and the capacity to move into work, onto higher education or into skills training, then we need to support their learning and development from the very start.

Currently the learning and development of too many children and young people has more to do with how much their parents earn and where they live – and they do not get enough support for transitions at key life stages, such as moving to high school. This is a particular issue not only for children from disadvantaged backgrounds but for all families in rural and regional Victoria, with the evidence showing that the further a child is from a major city, the less likely they will be to complete Year 12.

Victoria generally performs well compared to other states and territories.2 However, it has a relatively large number of people with very poor skills and groups of children and young people who miss out on formal and informal learning for a range of reasons beyond their control, such as children and young people in care, Aboriginal children and young people and young people with mental health issues. Many are then blocked in their efforts to re-engage later, because of funding gaps and eligibility requirements that may save dollars in the short term but cost more later on.

A quality, flexible, integrated and accessible system that supports lifelong learning and development is fundamental for people to be able to find employment and contribute to their community, as well as to promote economic growth and break intergenerational cycles of disadvantage.

Funding for early childhood development, school education, and higher education and skills is an investment in Victoria’s ‘human capital’ and critical to sustaining positive economic growth in the long term. Key areas for intervention in this Budget are:

  • Early childhood development
  • Flexible learning models
  • Learning support programs
  • Victorian Certificate of Applied Learning (VCAL)
  • The middle years
  • Costs of education
  • Skills and training and employment support

2 ACIL Tasman, Victoria’s productivity, competitiveness and participation: interstate and international comparisons, prepared for the Victorian Competition and Efficiency Commission, Melbourne, June 2011

Recommendations

That the Victorian Government:

  1. provides capital investment to upgrade, improve or deliver new early childhood centres in areas with a high proportion of vulnerable families,
  2. continues to invest in the skills, qualifications, professional development and leadership of the early childhood workforce,
  3. continues to implement the Victorian Auditor General’s recommendations to improve the participation of vulnerable children in early childhood education and care,
  4. invests in the Koorie Education Support workforce and expands parental engagement initiatives for all Victorian Aboriginal communities,
  5. provides funding to sustain community-based occasional child care services across Victoria, particularly in disadvantaged areas,
  6. continues to fund existing IT support for kindergartens beyond June 2012,
  7. reviews the Young Readers Program and invests in a literacy initiative that better reaches vulnerable families,
  8. increases KISS funding to ensure that all children with a disability or developmental delay have access to a meaningful learning program at kindergarten,
  9. develops and funds more flexible and responsive learning environments system-wide,
  10. resources partnerships between schools and local community sector organisations to support better outcomes,
  11. continues to fund the School Focused Youth Services program as part of addressing the health and wellbeing issues of vulnerable children and young people,
  12. increases the number of learning support programs in disadvantaged areas,
  13. continues the Learning Beyond the Bell program funding,
  14. reinstates coordination funding for VCAL to effectively support the ongoing engagement in education of vulnerable young people,
  15. develops targeted programs for children and young people aged 9-14 years, including flexible education and social support programs,
  16. provides class sets of text books and no-cost camps and excursions,
  17. extends eligibility for the EMA to include dependent students who are 16 years and over who are in secondary school or a vocational education equivalent,
  18. resources targeted, youth specific employment support programs,
  19. reviews the eligibility criteria of the Victorian Training Guarantee so that students 20 years old and over remain eligible for a government-subsidised place for whatever level of qualification they wish to enrol in, and
  20. reintroduces concession fees for all students in all categories eligible for concession fees prior to the introduction of the Victorian Training Guarantee.

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Emergencies

Victoria has been struck by a series of devastating and costly natural disasters in recent years. The demands of changing environmental conditions – of the increasing frequency and intensity of floods, fires, dryness and heatwave – is projected to continue and will likely become worse. Emergencies are devastating, personally and financially, for individuals and families and they impact hugely on both local economies and more widely on local and state government expenditure and capacity. The impact, of course, is worse for communities that have already struggled with sustained drought or wider structural adjustment.

Community sector organisations are in the frontline of recovery efforts, yet, prior to the Victorian 2009 Bushfires and the 2010-11 floods, mostly had not been engaged in local municipal emergency planning. This caused a lack of clarity about their roles and responsibilities in response and recovery and limited their capacity to organise and provide sufficient emergency relief, support services such as counselling, accommodation options and accessible transport at times of serious need.

Recommendations

That the Victorian Government:

  1. provides 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,
  2. invests in increased emergency management capacity in local government and community sector organisations to plan for and respond to emergencies,
  3. funds community sector organisations to undertake risk management, planning and staff training specifically for emergency events,
  4. ensures 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,
  5. improves the capacity of community sector organisations and local governments to undertake heatwave planning and response, and
  6. improves the thermal efficiency of the homes of those Victorians who are most vulnerable in heatwaves, particularly those with disabilities, medical conditions and chronic illnesses.

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Health and wellbeing

Too often Victorians come into contact with health services too late – when a lack of access to prevention and early intervention services, information, and decent living standards means symptoms have escalated into complex, acute, and chronic conditions, such as diabetes. This is, in part, because investment in health has been skewed towards hospitals, with too little in preventative health and early intervention and in locally available services, particularly in rural, regional, and outer metropolitan growth areas.

Victoria’s health system has also responded poorly to diversity in our community – with mainstream services such as hospitals still failing to provide culturally-appropriate services to Aboriginal Victorians.

The Victorian Government has very recently released its Victorian Public Health and Wellbeing Plan 2011-2015.3 This makes welcome commitments to focus on the health of people who are disadvantaged and experiencing poorer health than others in the community, and to strengthening systems for better health prevention.

The 2012-13 Budget will be an important opportunity for the Government to fund these commitments and consolidate a new direction in Victorian health to build a stronger and healthier community.

But just as critical as direct health spending is the need to recognise that health prevention and early intervention extends beyond the healthcare system and into the other areas of government that affect people’s health – such as housing, transport, education, community safety, employment, and concessions. Despite the important part that these social determinants play in health outcomes, these services are often planned, implemented, and evaluated without regard to their health impacts.

Making sure all parts of government work together to improve Victorians’ health – and thereby strengthen our economy – will require new accountabilities for all departments. Applying a ‘health lens’ – or Health in All Policies approach – across all areas of government will ensure that health and wellbeing is considered during the development, implementation, and evaluation of policies and services.4

3 Department of Health, Victorian Public Health and Wellbeing Plan 2011–2015, Prevention and Population Health Branch, Victorian Government, Melbourne, Victoria, September 2011

4 World Health Organisation, Adelaide statement on health in all policies: moving towards a shared governance for health and well-being, Report from the International Meeting on Health in All Policies, Adelaide, 2010, accessed 25 August at http://www.who.int/social_determinants/hiap_statement_who_sa_final.pdf

Recommendations

That the Victorian Government:

  1. funds the development and implementation of a Health in All Policies approach to ensure all parts of government consider health impacts and work together to improve Victorians’ health and wellbeing,
  2. funds priorities identified in the Victorian Aboriginal Health Workforce Plan, particularly developing the available workforce and building middle management and leadership,
  3. funds and requires mainstream health services, particularly hospitals and community health services, to further develop their capacity to deliver culturally accessible services,
  4. increases investment in primary care, such as community health services, to ensure services are available locally when people need them and can provide integrated support, promote early intervention and link vulnerable people to specialist services,
  5. prioritises capital planning and investment for community health services – particularly in areas with poor or no services, including many rural and regional locations and metropolitan growth services,
  6. funds an integrated health literacy strategy to better inform all Victorians about how to stay healthy and make the best use of the health system when they need it,
  7. addresses the service gaps in locally available, early intervention community-based mental health services and supports in rural and outer-metropolitan areas,
  8. increases investment in locally available youth-specific mental health services that have strong links across other local services and supports in rural and regional areas and outer metropolitan Melbourne,
  9. funds a workforce strategy to ensure quality mental health services,
  10. addresses the gaps in alcohol and other drug services in rural and regional areas and in outer metropolitan growth areas, and
  11. invests in the workforce development needed to achieve more family-centred drug and alcohol services.

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Housing

Victorian housing markets are not working, particularly for people on low to moderate incomes – like part-time workers, carers, teachers, community sector workers and shop assistants, for whom there are simply too few opportunities to secure affordable rental housing, much less to think about buying a home.

This means that many low waged and part-time workers and others on low income are housed precariously – either paying rents in excess of what they can afford or in some instances forced into the growing number of illegal rooming houses springing up in our suburbs and towns. This places people just one step away from homelessness – where a cutback in hours of work, illness or other issue is all it takes.

We know homelessness has catastrophic impacts for individuals and families. Precarious housing likewise has serious consequences for stress, family stability and wellbeing.

The crisis in affordable housing affects a great many Victorians – with one in 20 (over 109,000 households) paying over 50 per cent of their income in housing. It is particularly severe for renters – with more than one in five low to moderate income renters (over 65,000 households) in housing stress.

For the 2012-13 State Budget, VCOSS is highlighting three areas where pressures are extreme and growing, and particular attention is needed: for children, older Victorians and those who are driven by affordability to live in locations where access to work is difficult or impossible.

To address this crisis, there is no getting around the need for the Government to boost the level of spending on public housing, and to look at new, innovative ways of encouraging more investment in the type of housing we need – affordable rental housing.

The proposals outlined here are intended to complement the positive work already undertaken by the Government to improve homelessness service delivery, by reducing the bottlenecks created in homelessness services by the scarcity of secure, appropriate and affordable housing opportunities.

Recommendations

That the Victorian Government:

  1. invests in a flexible fund to securely house families at risk of homelessness within reach of children’s schools,
  2. invests in a flexible fund to securely house older Victorians at risk of homelessness within their local community, and
  3. develops a Victorian Affordable Housing Bond to reduce costs to community housing development – and contributes available well located land to support new affordable housing initiatives.

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Transport

Victoria is facing a ‘perfect storm’ of challenges in transport that threatens to create increasing cost of living pressures and stop many of us from participating in work, education and other important activities.

Most pressingly, the lack of affordable, convenient public transport options outside of the inner suburbs of Melbourne is causing and contributing to household financial stress for the many families forced to run multiple cars simply to manage basic mobility needs, like getting to school, work and doing the shopping. At the same time, the expanding urban edge of Melbourne and population growth in regional Victoria is putting more and more distance between people and the places they need to go for work, business and social connections.

Even when there is public transport, many of us can’t use it because Victoria has failed to meet its basic commitments to accessibility and not created a ‘joined up’ accessible transport system.

In its first year in office, the Victorian Government has made some important early investments in the transport needs of Victorians, particularly for new trains, rail studies, station design and maintenance. The establishment of a new Public Transport Development Authority will hopefully allow a more systemic approach to managing the public transport network, and redress some of the fragmentation in the system.

Yet this is only a first step on a long journey. The Government also needs to look beyond rail for a range of solutions to improve transport access – including buses, community transport, taxis, cycling and walking. By adapting roads to better support public transport, cycling and pedestrian-friendly streets, we can avoid or delay the need for expensive new infrastructure, and provide a lower cost, more inclusive, healthier and more efficient transport system.

Recommendations

That the Victorian Government:

  1. expands the bus network to ensure growth areas receive early access to public transport and ensures better coverage of underserviced areas,
  2. invests in a long-term program of accessibility improvements to public transport, sufficient to ensure that all DSAPT milestones 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,
  3. ensures ongoing investment into joined-up mobility services, including access to school buses, expanding community transport options, improving taxi services, and providing better travel information, training and support, and
  4. ensures the Transport Connections Program and Travellers Aid Services are funded beyond 2013.

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Young people

The pathway from childhood to adulthood can be an exciting but difficult and confusing time. While most young people go on to live healthy, happy, and productive lives, many need help to get there, particularly those who have experienced family violence, abuse, homelessness, out-of-home care, or disruption to their education.

But risk isn’t confined to young people who have had difficult childhoods. All young people are vulnerable during adolescence, as they go through significant emotional, social and physical growth and development. Adolescent brains are developing decision-making, judgment and impulse control5 – which is why many young people make impulsive decisions or are prone to risky behavior. The brain’s emotional areas, the limbic system, are also in a rapid stage of development.

On top of that come a range of possible stresses – negative experiences with school and relationships, experimentation with alcohol and drugs, issues around gender and sexuality. Adolescence and young adulthood is also the time when mental health issues, including depression, anxiety disorders, and psychotic episodes are most likely to emerge.

What we know is that positive interventions early on can make a real and substantive difference to life outcomes for young people and, conversely, that failing to intervene during this vital period allows destructive patterns to become entrenched – at great personal cost, and often at great cost to the community.

5 A Sanson, S Havighurst & S Zubrick, ‘The science of prevention for children and youth’, 2011, Australian Review of Public Affairs, vol. 10, no. 1, University of Sydney, 2011, p.50, available at http://www.australianreview.net/journal/v10/n1/sanson_etal.pdf

Recommendations

That the Victorian Government:

  1. invests in expanding generalist youth services to young people, with a priority focus in rural and regional Victoria, and in Melbourne’s growth suburbs,
  2. continues to implement the Because Mental Health Matters strategy and expands the availability of youth mental health services across Victoria,
  3. invests in more comprehensive data collection about the mental health needs of refugee and asylum-seeking children and young people,
  4. expands the Youth Referral and Independent Person Program (YRIPP) statewide,
  5. expands the Intensive Bail Support Program Pilot to ensure it is available to more young people particularly in rural and regional Victoria, and
  6. targets 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.

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