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State Budget Submission 2013-14

State Budget Submission 2013-14 cover

The following is a summary of the VCOSS State Budget Submission 2013-14.

Download the full VCOSS State Budget Submission 2013-14 (PDF).

Delivering on the promise

In a state without mineral riches, the people of Victoria have long been the source of our competitive advantage, economic strength and capacity for innovation. Making sure that every Victorian can participate in life to the best of their ability not only improves the quality of life of disadvantaged Victorians, but is essential for a productive economy and cohesive community.

Times are tough for many Victorians. Huge economic and demographic shifts mean that new groups of vulnerable people now are drawing on the many services provided by VCOSS members – particularly on the outer fringes of Melbourne and in rural and regional Victoria.

Talk of a ‘two-speed economy’ simplifies the challenges of a complex economy where job opportunities are vanishing across industries and regions and the workforce is ageing.

Other Victorians find it tough at any time – not for lack of trying, but because they don’t have good physical or mental health, a stable home life, the chance to learn and develop skills.

Many Victorians are also held back by where and how they live, cut off from opportunity by unaffordable housing, poor public transport and lack of access to other services.

All these trends are threatening to further entrench disadvantage in Victoria.

‘Doing more with less’ is a phrase we always hear. Of course we should find more efficient ways to spend public funds, but this is too often code for cuts to long-term social investment.

As a result, the services that seek to address disadvantage in Victoria are also doing it tough – dealing with greater demand and complexity of need, while facing major regulatory change. The community sector is as keen as government to find ways to improve services, but change must produce better outcomes, not be for its own sake. It should also be resourced.

Marginalised Victorians are not a ‘problem’ to be fixed.

Rather, identifying people in difficulty demonstrates the fault lines in our community and points to where solutions for a stronger and fairer Victoria should start. The people most at risk of exclusion from Victoria’s future represent our greatest untapped potential.

When it was elected two years ago, the Victorian Government promised to improve the way government works and to deliver better outcomes for vulnerable Victorians. Since then it has instigated a raft of inquiries and consultations to find the best way ahead.

It now needs – in this Budget – to deliver on those promises of reform and on the promise of the people of Victoria.

With these core challenges in mind, the focus of the 2013-14 State Budget should be to:

  • Give all Victorians a fair and flexible chance to learn
  • Support children and families before they face crisis
  • Divert young people away from the justice system
  • Improve the health and wellbeing of vulnerable Victorians
  • Manage emergencies beyond emergency services
  • Give every Victorian access to an affordable, secure home
  • Make sure every household can afford water and energy
  • Open up public transport to those who need it most
  • Create viable community sector organisations to deliver critical services

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1. Give all Victorians a fair chance to learn

To lift Victoria’s education and development outcomes, we need make sure that all Victorians can participate in the economy and contribute to our society.

That requires better access to quality learning opportunities throughout life – from early childhood to school and through to further education.

Vulnerable children and young people gain the greatest benefit if learning and education begins early in life and is sustained.* Reducing educational disadvantage means better jobs, higher incomes and better life chances, including better health.1

The Government recognises that ‘nothing is more important for the future prosperity of families than a good education, starting in early childhood’.2 It has promised to improve ‘the engagement and support of vulnerable students and families in schools and provide better access to learning opportunities for vulnerable young people and vulnerable parents’.3

* For example, Victorian Auditor-General’s Office, Early Childhood Development Services: Access and Quality, State of Victoria, 2011, p.vii; S Raudenbush, ‘The Brown Legacy and the O’Connor Challenge: Transforming Schools in the Images of Children’s Potential’, Educational Researcher, Vol. 38, No. 3, 2009, pp. 169–180.

Key Budget priorities: education, early development and skills

That the Victorian Government:

  1. Fund kindergartens for national quality standards
  2. Build and better resource kindergartens for universal access
  3. Grow equity funding so kindergarten is affordable for all families
  4. Increase funding and cut waiting times for the Early Childhood Intervention Service (ECIS)
  5. Increase the number of Kindergarten Inclusion Support Services (KISS) packages
  6. Reinstate in full the Education Maintenance Allowance and the School Start Bonus
  7. Increase funding to State Schools’ Relief
  8. Fund close collaboration between schools and community organisations
  9. Deliver flexible and responsive learning environments in critical areas
  10. Provide more Vocational Education and Training (VET) opportunities for disadvantaged Victorians

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2. Support children and families when they need help

Strong and supportive families provide the foundation for children to live happy, healthy lives. However, many families struggle with mental and physical health issues, drug and alcohol problems, unemployment, disability, financial stress, family violence and homelessness or are simply overwhelmed by the pressures of parenting, all of which can affect the health and wellbeing of their children.

Abuse and neglect in childhood is linked with poorer physical and mental health and poorer outcomes for education and employment in later life.4 A snapshot of young people in custody in Victoria in 2011 indicates that:

  • 38 per cent had previous child protection involvement
  • 18 per cent had a current child protection order
  • 65 per cent were victims of abuse, trauma or neglect prior to incarceration.5

The Victorian Government has recognised the weaknesses of the current system and committed to improving lives – particularly through the findings of the Protecting Victoria’s Vulnerable Children inquiry and its response Our Shared Responsibility.6

Our members and the wider community look to this Budget to reinforce that commitment. The value our society places on the care of children is justification enough. But continued neglect and abuse also results in huge, ongoing costs for the state. The total lifetime financial cost of child abuse and neglect in Victoria is between $1.6 and $1.9 billion.7

Key Budget priorities: children and families

  1. Expand BestStart statewide, especially for outer metropolitan growth areas and rural and regional Victoria
  2. Provide minimum 20 hours funding per week and longer-term sustainability for Neighbourhood Houses and Learning Centres
  3. Increase early intervention family support services
  4. Fund the workforce development and capacity of Aboriginal Controlled Organisations
  5. Properly fund and staff the Aboriginal Child Specialist Advice and Support Service (ACSASS)
  6. Fund additional Aboriginal Child FIRST workers
  7. Extend cultural competence training to all services that support Aboriginal children, young people and their families
  8. Increase residential care baseline funding
  9. Expand therapeutic models of out-of-home care, including foster care
  10. Extend out-of-home care support for young people to 25 years of age
  11. Establish specialist lists in the Family Division of the Children’s Court
  12. Properly fund the new Children and Young People’s Commission

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3. Improve the health and wellbeing of vulnerable Victorians

Our state has one of the most effective health systems in Australia, built on strong foundations from primary care through to acute care. But it is not an equitable system: Aboriginal Victorians, those living in rural and regional areas, and people on low incomes generally have poorer health, die earlier and receive poorer health care than others.

Investment in health is also skewed towards hospitals and the crisis end of health care, with too little in prevention and early intervention programs and in locally available services – particularly in rural, regional and outer metropolitan growth areas. As a result, too many Victorians cannot access the health services they need at the time they need them.

Good health and wellbeing are fundamental to quality of life and bring substantial community and economic benefits, including higher productivity and stronger communities.

The Victorian Government’s health strategies8 include commitments to focus on the health of people who are disadvantaged and experience poorer health than others in the community, and to strengthening systems for better health prevention.

Key Budget priorities: health and wellbeing

  1. Fund priorities in the forthcoming Koolin Balit Statewide Action Plan and the Victorian Aboriginal Health Workforce Plan
  2. Fund training programs to build Aboriginal cultural competence
  3. Extend funding for regional Close the Gap Partnerships
  4. Expand local community-based mental health services
  5. Provide targeted mental health services for young people
  6. Expand alcohol and other drugs (AOD) services in rural, regional and outer metropolitan growth areas
  7. Deliver youth-specific residential detox and rehabilitation services
  8. Fund more prevention and early intervention through community health services
  9. Launch population health planning pilots
  10. Resource adult health services to support the whole family

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4. Divert young people from the justice system

Victoria’s approach to diversion for young people is ‘somewhat ad hoc’, poorly funded and not available state-wide.9 VCOSS supports the development of a legislative framework for the diversion of young people in Victoria and further investment in diversion programs to address the causes of the offending behaviour.

Most young people who are involved with the police will not commit another offence. However, the earlier a child appears in court10 and the further they progress through the justice system – especially spending time in custody11 – the more likely they will offend as an adult.

Their lives and community safety is improved when they are linked with support that can:

  • promote rehabilitation
  • reduce the problems that contribute to offending behaviour such as poverty, homelessness, mental health and substance use.

Without support, problems can become more complex and chronic which is damaging to themselves and far more expensive for government and the community.12

We already have a strong youth justice system in Victoria with the lowest incarceration rate of juveniles in Australia.13 The Government has initiated a welcome discussion about the diversion options available to young people.14 It should now look to build on that foundation with legislative change and new investment in proven programs.

It should also address particular disadvantage, including how the availability of bail can depend on where a young person lives and the over-representation of young Aboriginal people in the justice system.

Key Budget priorities: youth justice

  1. Extend the Intensive Bail Supervision Program, particularly in rural and regional Victoria
  2. Extend and expand the Youth Referral and Independent Person Program (YRIPP)
  3. Fund and expand the Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service’s Police Cautioning and Youth Diversion program

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5. Manage emergencies with the whole community

Emergencies can have deep and lasting effects on individuals and communities.

Natural disasters are on the rise and one in six Victorians is likely to be affected by an emergency in their lifetime – many will experience more than one. The impact is not just about the way the disaster strikes but, for many, what vulnerability lay there before.

The community sector plays a pivotal role in planning, response, relief and recovery for emergency events – helping to build resilience, providing crisis care, supporting people with ongoing and emerging issues including trauma, and seeking to prepare for future emergencies.

Yet emergency management planning focuses primarily on emergency services and local government. The community sector needs to be directly involved in emergency management planning, and to be given the resources to do so.

The local connections provided by community sector organisations are vital in helping communities to deal with their losses and recover more quickly. Local organisations should be actively engaged in Municipal Emergency Management processes to develop better coordinated responses and supports for any emergency event.

Not all emergencies are dramatic events like bushfires and floods – they can also strike quietly, such as in the summer of 2009 when an estimated 374 people died as a result of a heatwave. This was a greater toll than our worst bushfires and placed Victoria’s health and emergency services under intense strain.15

Key Budget priorities: emergency management

  1. Provide resources to community sector organisations to plan with local government for emergencies
  2. Link the Statewide Heatwave Plan to emergency management planning
  3. Make homes safe for vulnerable people in heatwaves

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6. Provide affordable, secure housing

Many Victorians struggle to put a roof over their heads.

VCOSS members know that the already difficult process of overcoming disadvantage becomes almost impossible if people cannot find secure, sustainable and affordable accommodation.

The most visible consequence of the lack of available and suitable housing is homelessness, but others include lack of access to education, employment and services, financial stress, domestic violence, poor health and social isolation.

Investing in better housing not only provides an immediate benefit to the tenant. The real dividend is that people can begin to overcome their difficulties, and re-engage with work and social relationships to rebuild their lives and community connections.

The Victorian Government has taken the initiative to consult with communities about the future of social housing in Victoria. VCOSS has given an in-depth response,16 and collaborated with other community sector peak bodies to produce the Joint Housing Framework Statement.** At its core, the plan should focus squarely on housing outcomes, including the accessibility, affordability and adequacy of housing.

Social housing is only one part of the solution. The leading jurisdictions in this area – including Western Australia, South Australia, and the Australian Capital Territory – have developed comprehensive affordable housing strategies. These understand that housing affordability forms a continuum including crisis accommodation, social housing, private rental and home ownership.

At the same time, progress can only be achieved if the many players in housing policy co-ordinate their actions at the same time. Piecemeal reforms and proposals that tinker at the edges will have little impact.

** The Joint Housing Framework Statement was developed by VCOSS, Council to Homeless Persons (CHP), Tenants Union of Victoria (TUV), Community Housing Federation of Victoria (CHFV), Victorian Public Tenants Association (VPTA), Domestic Violence Victoria (DVVic), and PILCH Homeless Persons’ Legal Clinic

Key Budget priorities: housing

  1. Convene an Affordable Housing Task Force with community organisations and industry
  2. Provide sustainable funding for sustainable public housing
  3. Develop financial models that can attract private investment for affordable housing
  4. Establish a fund to introduce minimum standards for private rental housing
  5. Expand the availability of early intervention programs to reduce homelessness

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7. Make sure everyone can afford energy and water

Victorians need secure, reliable and affordable access to energy and water.

Sustained increases in energy and water costs over the last several years make it harder for low-income households to meet their needs. Energy disconnections – supposed to be a last resort – now approach a rate of one in every 100 households.17

Utilities providers report growing numbers of people with jobs who are not accustomed to financial hardship being in payment difficulties for the first time.18

Utilities costs were the cause of financial crisis for 20 per cent of people seeking emergency relief in 2009.19 Given the increase in prices since, the situation has likely worsened.

Although low-income households on average use around 12 per cent less electricity and 6 per cent less gas than equivalent-sized better-off households,20 a significant minority have atypically high energy bills due to serious housing and appliance quality problems.21

Key Budget priorities: essential services

  1. Deliver a 17.5 per cent energy concession discount
  2. Introduce an uncapped 30 per cent water concession
  3. Re-establish the Water Wise program
  4. Expand utilities relief to cover new problems
  5. Improve thermal efficiency for low-income households
  6. Renew programs for low-income households to improve appliance efficiency

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8. Provide transport to jobs, education and services

Victorians need transport to:

  • get to education, training, and jobs
  • access health care and other community services
  • connect with families, friends and the broader community.

These destinations are increasingly a long way from where most Victorians experiencing disadvantage live. The distances will extend as our population grows, ages and disperses – driven increasingly further away from city centres by unaffordable housing costs. This is especially the case in rural and regional Victoria, as well as in Melbourne’s outer suburbs.

In Melbourne, we expect to put more than half a million people over the next decade into ever more remote areas of the city.22 They won’t all be able to drive, or all have or want cars; in any case, we don’t want hundreds of thousands more vehicles on already congested roads.

If people can’t get to school, training or work, then we are robbing the economy of a significant workforce and also creating deep pockets of disadvantage. Victoria will also be deprived of the resources of an ageing population if seniors cannot work, help family members, provide volunteer support, and live healthy, independent lives because the transport system fails them.

Problems with transport access are not confined to Melbourne, but also affect the rapidly growing regional cities and rural areas of the state. Good public transport is an essential part of the solution – and one with an economic value.23

The Victorian Government should address the most urgent needs in the community – improve transport access for people who are isolated by income, health and disability, and geography. A range of solutions can be recruited towards this goal, including better public transport as well as transport alternatives like taxis and community transport, which can often be cost-competitive and don’t require large capital investments.

Key Budget priorities: transport

  1. Expand bus coverage and frequency to the most neglected areas
  2. Meet the state’s legal requirements on public transport accessibility
  3. Implement the recommendations of the Victorian Taxi Industry inquiry
  4. Expand and improve use of alternatives to public transport

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9. Create viable community sector organisations to deliver effective services

TThe community sector helps people get their lives back on track and protects many from further harm. Community sector organisations make a vital contribution to the Victorian economy and community.

The sector is experiencing increasing demand for its services, and increasing complexity among Victorians who need support and assistance. It is also facing significant reforms, including:

  • the Victorian Government’s reform agenda for human services
  • new funding models such as the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS)
  • the arrival of a new federal regulator
  • the Victorian Government’s reform agenda for human services
  • ongoing changes to wages, taxation laws, charity status, funding, quality standards and reporting requirements.

Any reform that improves the delivery of services to vulnerable Victorians is welcome, but change also has to be resourced and managed well. The community sector has long struggled to pay competitive rates, provide good career pathways, and to recruit and retain qualified staff. Growing demand and complexity for services means workforce sustainability is a huge issue for the sector, with potential labour and skill shortages one of the biggest threats to our future viability.

To strengthen service planning and delivery, the Victorian Government also needs to fund community sector organisations for the full cost of service delivery. This includes:

  • investment in innovation and partnerships
  • ‘back-end’ costs such as:
    • finance systems
    • human resources
    • infrastructure
    • compliance and evaluation
  • service and program delivery.

Key Budget priorities: sector sustainability

  1. Develop a sector-led workforce strategy
  2. Fund professional development of the community sector
  3. Provide full funding for community services
  4. Explore the efficiency of a community sector shared services scheme
  5. Support provision of high quality industrial advice

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1 J Pech, A McNevin, & L Nelms, Young People with Poor Labour Force Attachment: A survey of concepts, data and previous research, Australian Fair Pay Commission, Canberra, 2009, p7.

2 Victorian Government, 2011 Victorian Families Statement, Melbourne, 2011, p15.

3 Victorian Government, Victoria’s Vulnerable Children: Our Shared Responsibility, State of Victoria, 2012, p14.

4 Ombudsman Victoria, Own motion investigation into Child Protection – out of home care, Melbourne, May 2010.

5 Youth Parole Board Victoria, Annual Report 2011-12, Department of Human Services, 2012, p.12.

6 Victorian Government, Victoria’s Vulnerable Children: Our Shared Responsibility, State of Victoria, 2012.

7 Department of Premier and Cabinet, Report of the Protecting Victoria’s Vulnerable Children Inquiry, State of Victoria, Melbourne, 2012, p.48.

8 The Victorian Health Priorities Framework 2012-2022: Metropolitan Health Plan and Rural and Regional Health Plan, and the Victorian Public Health and Wellbeing Plan 2011-2015.

9 Sentencing Advisory Council, Sentencing Children and Young People in Victoria, Melbourne, 2012, p.28.

10 S Chen, T Matruglio, D Weatherburn & J Hua, “The transition from juvenile to adult criminal careers”, Contemporary Issues in Crime and Justice, No. 86, 2005.

11 ibid.

12 Office of the Prime Minister’s Science Advisory Committee, Improving the Transition: reducing social and psychological morbidity during adolescence, 2011, Auckland.

13 K Richards, ‘Trends in juvenile detention in Australia’, Trends and Issues in Crime and Criminal Justice No. 416, May 2011, Australian Institute of Criminology.

14 Department of Justice, Practical Lessons, Fair Consequences improving diversion for young people in Victoria, 2012, State of Victoria.

15 J Carnie, January 2009 heatwave in Victoria: An assessment of health impacts, Department of Human Services, Melbourne, 2009.

16 Victorian Council of Social Service (VCOSS) Pathways to a new Victorian social housing framework: VCOSS submission, July 2012.

17 Essential Services Commission Energy retailer’s comparative performance report – Customer service 2010-11 Melbourne, 2011.

18 Consultation with water businesses at Community Partners hardship Forum on 21 August 2012, with energy retailers at ERAA–St Vincent de Paul NECF Implementation Issue Workshops on 14 March and 31 July 2012, and with both energy retailers and water businesses at Utilities Working Group Industry Forum on 20 September 2012.

19 B Engels, R Nissim & K Landvogt, Under pressure: costs of living, financial hardship and emergency relief in Victoria, Victorian Council of Social Service (VCOSS) & ER Victoria, Melbourne, 2009.

20 Department of Human Services, Victorian Utility Consumption Household Survey, Melbourne, 2007.

21 Consultation with financial counsellors at FCRC Conference, 6 September 2012; J Borrell & S Lane Energy Audit Program Evaluation 2004-2006, Melbourne, 2009: Kildonan Uniting Care; J Feidler, Housing for the Aged Action Group, Presentation to the National Housing Conference 2008.

22 Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) 3222.0 - Population Projections, Australia, 2006 to 2101 (Series B).

23 J Stanley et al, ‘Social exclusion and the value of mobility’, Journal of Transport Economics and Policy, vol. 25, 2011.