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In the lead-up to the 2014 Victorian election and in the months since taking office, the Andrews Government has articulated a vision of investing in the community to put people first.
The Victorian State Budget 2015–16 is now an important chance for the government to deliver on that vision, and also help build a Victoria without poverty.
The government has already outlined commitments and policies aimed at supporting people to overcome disadvantage and become part of strong, cohesive, self-reliant communities. It has prioritised tackling unemployment, education, family violence, healthcare and public transport. While welcoming this, VCOSS believes there is still more to be done to overcome entrenched and emerging disadvantage, and we look forward to working with the government on other critical areas; including housing, early intervention, early years support, child protection, justice, cutting the cost of living, building resilient communities and supporting a strong community sector.
With this in mind, VCOSS is pleased to present its 2015–16 State Budget Submission. Made in consultation with and on behalf of our community sector member groups, this submission puts forward many practical proposals under the following key areas, which would support Victorians to overcome disadvantage and build brighter futures. We look forward to working together with the government on these proposals, to help put people first and build a Victoria without poverty.
The top 12 priorities for the new Labor Government to tackle disadvantage and to build a Victoria without poverty are:
|Strengthen the community sector to help people thrive|
Community sector organisations are facing increasing demand from Victorians with increasingly complex needs. The sector needs a sustainable and appropriately indexed funding base to meet these challenges, and funding to meet mandated increases in wage and superannuation entitlements for employees.
Many Victorians face multiple barriers to employment. The state government can build on its Back to Work plan to ensure a focus on supporting vulnerable Victorians into work, by developing and funding a Workforce Participation Plan as outlined in the VCOSS November 2014 paper Tackling Unemployment. The review of Victoria’s Vocational Education and Training system needs to focus on people facing disadvantage and whether it provides effective and supportive pathways for them to gain qualifications for meaningful work. The government can also tackle youth unemployment by funding a ‘work ready’ pre-employment training program for young people and Local Learning and Employment Networks.
|Help every child succeed in education|
To get the best possible start in life, children and young people need access to high quality and affordable education, throughout their early, primary and secondary school years, as well as throughout their further education. The state government can support children’s early development by working with the federal government to ensure all children can access four-year-old kindergarten, and by supporting a high quality professionalised workforce. It can also support vulnerable children by delivering on its election promises of the new Camps, Sports and Excursions Fund. Targeted support for children and young people at risk of disengaging or not being able to participate fully in education is also needed.
|Prevent family violence|
Increased political, community, media and police focus on violence against women and children has contributed to a dramatic increase in family violence reports. VCOSS welcomes the government’s response to this, including the Royal Commission and immediate support package to help services meet overwhelming demand. We also highlight the need for the government to ensure survivors, families and services are well supported to participate in the Royal Commission process.
|Invest in integrated support for children and families|
New models of integrated service delivery are being developed to improve children’s and families’ wellbeing and education in areas of entrenched social disadvantage. Extending a range of these models across the state to match local community needs, including through increasing the reach of maternal child health services, intensive playgroup and family services supports, will help families build brighter futures and break cycles of intergenerational disadvantage.
|Make child protection work|
Urgent investment is required to meet the needs of children, young people and families in the child protection system. With the number of child protection reports continuing to rise to record levels, family services are struggling to meet demand, putting some of our most vulnerable children further at risk. Expanding the capacity of Aboriginal community controlled organisations to care for at-risk children, improving foster care and kinship reimbursement rates and expanding therapeutic care to all children and young people in residential care are key areas to focus on.
|Create healthy and inclusive communities|
A good health system needs more than hospitals, ambulances and elective surgery waiting lists. Primary and community health services are often the first point of contact for people needing care. It is far more efficient and effective to invest in these services than to treat later consequences of health issues in hospital. There are many areas of community health in need of government investment, including alcohol and other drug treatment programs, community mental health and recovery services, individual support packages for people with a disability, carer supports and dental health.
|Tackle the housing crisis|
Victoria is facing a housing crisis. Housing costs continue to rise to record levels and there is a severe shortage
of social housing. This is making it increasingly difficult for low-income Victorians to find secure, stable homes. The Victorian government can tackle our housing crisis by expanding social housing, creating a common housing register, introducing a rapid rehousing program and expanding the permanent supportive housing program. Put together, these initiatives can help form the basis of a whole-of-government strategy aimed at ensuring every Victorian can have a safe, secure and affordable home.
|Cut the cost of living|
The rising cost of living, and particularly the rising cost of energy, is a significant issue for all Victorians and especially those on low incomes. The state government can help ease the costs of living for low-income families, by maintaining the concessions budget, restoring the full value of concessions, lifting the cap on utility relief grants and helping low-income households improve their water and energy efficiency. Expanding support for asylum seekers living in the community and improving the capacity of no-interest loans schemes and financial counsellors would also be valuable investments to help Victorians overcome disadvantage.
|Expand transport options|
Good transport options help people access the opportunities around them and build meaningful lives. But many areas of Victoria have little or no public transport available. Implementing and expanding the government’s bus funding package and Public Transport Accessibility Fund, as well as improving taxi accessibility are key ways the government can expand people’s transport options.
|Make communities safer by addressing the causes of crime|
Victoria’s prison population has almost doubled in the last decade, however we haven’t seen a corresponding drop in crime rates or increased community safety. Victoria needs a new justice reinvestment plan to stop people committing crimes in the first place, and to stop prisoners from reoffending upon release. Prisoners
in Victoria have typically experienced significant disadvantage, often contributing to their offending behaviour. Investing in youth diversion programs, post-release transition support, innovative models such as the Victorian Drug Court and the Koori Courts, and increasing funding for community legal centres will help people steer themselves away from the path of offending and become positive members of the community.
|Build resilient and engaged local communities|
Adverse situations and emergency events such as natural disasters are on the rise and they hit socially isolated people and communities experiencing disadvantage the hardest. There is also a geographic disparity in communities, with new growth areas and rural and regional areas vulnerable to social exclusion. Supporting the community sector to prepare for emergency events and funding more neighbourhood houses can help people connect with their communities, build resilience and better cope with emergencies and adverse events.