Responding to a changing climate

2020 Victorian Budget Analysis

Disasters, like the 2019-20 ‘black summer’ bushfires, hit low-income and marginalised people and communities hardest. The warming climate is making heatwaves longer and hotter and the risk of climate related emergencies higher. For low-income Victorians, this means higher cooling costs and vulnerability to health complications.

Communities and organisations are already preparing for the coming bushfire season in a major test of the state’s resilience.

Energy efficiency upgrades and rooftop solar installations initiatives in the Budget will go a long way to making homes healthier and cutting power bills, in a massive win for Victorian households. There will be thousands of low-income Victorians and social housing tenants with access to an efficient air conditioner for the first time, while renters will soon be protected by new minimum standards for insulation and hot water systems. Emissions will also continue to fall with a big expansion of renewable energy projects across the state.

Communities devastated by the bushfires will be assisted by significant funding for Bushfire Recovery Victoria to continue its support, including increased financial counselling, and legal and family violence services. Access to mental health services will also be improved across bushfire-affected areas, including trauma support in schools and kindergartens.

There could have been greater resourcing of the community sector’s role in emergency management, however, to better support households most at risk.

 

Positive initiatives 

 

Cheapercleaner energy 

$205.6m in 2020-21 ($681.9m/4 yrs) to develop new clean energy projects and reduce power bills for households. The funding will create six new renewable energy zones across regional Victoria, build the 300 megawatt Victorian Big Battery, and design a second Victorian Renewable Energy Target auction. 

 

Energy efficiency upgrades for homes 

$163.7m in 2020-21 ($447.7m/4 yrs) to make homes more energy efficient and drive down power bills. 250,000 low-income households will receive $1,000 to replace an old heater with an efficient reverse-cycle air conditioner, and 35,000 social housing properties will be upgraded.

 

Funding Bushfire Recovery Victoria 

$146.7m in 2021-21 ($236.0m/4 yrs) for Bushfire Recovery Victoria to support bushfire-affected communities through initiatives including increased financial counselling, and legal and family violence services. 

 

More solar panels and batteries in homes  

$71.1m in 2020-21 ($152.2m/4 yrs) for solar panel rebates for 42,000 additional homes, as well as 17,500 solar battery rebates with no more postcode restrictions.  

 

Transitioning to clean energy 

$15.8m in 2020-21 ($49.6m/4 yrs) for a suite of clean energy programs including minimum efficiency standards in rental properties, establishing community power hubs and delivering renewable energy projects in Melbourne and regional Victoria. 

 

Mental health support for bushfire-affected communities 

$14.9m in 2020-21 to provide on-the-ground mental health support for communities impacted by the bushfires, promote Aboriginal social and emotional wellbeing, and increase community inclusion and support. 

 

Training workers for the clean economy 

$7.2m in 2020-21 ($74.8m/4 yrs) for rapid retraining of workers into high-priority industriesWe understand about $10m of this package will upskill workers for emerging jobs in renewable energy and establish a Clean Economy Skills and Jobs Taskforce and Workforce Development Strategy. 

 

Supporting schools through bushfire recovery 

$3.9m in 2020-21 ($7.9m/3 yrs) to assist students, families and schools in bushfire-affected areas. The funding will subsidise the cost of kindergarten, hire additional psychologists and social workers in schools, and establish a trauma recovery team to provide expert advice in schools and kindergartens. 

 

Not so positive initiatives 

 

Distance-based charge for zero and lowemissions vehicles

Electric and other zero-emission vehicles will be charged 2.5c/km, while 2c/km will apply for hybrid-electric vehicles. The average driver is expected to pay between $260 and $300 a year after the tax is introduced in July 2021. Net revenue raised over the forward estimates will be used to accelerate the take-up of electric vehicles, including through new charging infrastructure.  

 

Further policy directions 

Some households miss out on the Solar Homes program, including residents of apartment buildings and public housing tenants. Funding to investigate alternatives like solar farms could assist Victorians living in apartments, while solar panels could be rolled out to public housing properties to reduce energy costs for a low-income cohort. 

As seen in the 2019-20 bushfires and throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, community organisations have knowledge and skills that are vital during disasters, crucial in their aftermath, and essential to building community resilience, particularly for people and communities who are vulnerable or face disadvantage. The role community service organisations play in disasters and emergencies in preparation, response and recovery must be acknowledged, resourced and supported 

Electric vehicles are better for the environment than petrol cars and much cheaper to run, but they were already unaffordable for low-income Victorians. The new road usage charge risks putting them even further out of reach. A better approach would be funding no-interest loans and financial concessions for low-income households to purchase zero-emission vehicles, similar to plans by the ACT Government.