This is a long-form analysis of the Victorian Government’s investments in climate change and climate equity. For a quick summary of specific Budget program expenditure in this space click here.
The COVID-19 pandemic, the 2019-20 bushfires and severe storms have sorely tested Victoria, and building resilience to future stressors including climate change must be an ongoing priority.
Community organisations are key to building resilience and to supporting people and communities during a crisis. They have knowledge and skills that are vital during disasters, crucial in their aftermath, and essential to building community resilience. However, the full value of this sector is not being realised.
Prior to the pandemic, community organisations were struggling to reconcile increasing costs with inadequate funding and revenue. This has been exacerbated during COVID-19. Consequently, many community sector organisations are constrained in their capacity to undertake comprehensive emergency planning. Furthermore, as a consequence of short-term contracts, there is a lack of institutionalised knowledge and skills for emergency planning and preparedness.
Another challenge is that community sector organisations are typically overlooked in emergency planning, despite their strong connection with clients and local communities and their ability to provide critical information and services before, during and after extreme events.
While some funding toward emergency resilience has been provided in the Budget, it doesn’t go far enough in the current environment. VCOSS welcomes funding for the Food Relief Taskforce and pop-up food relief markets across metropolitan Melbourne and operational funding for six regional food hubs (Albury-Wodonga, Bendigo, Geelong, Mildura, Shepparton and Warrnambool). VCOSS also notes funding for volunteers in the SES and Surf Life Saving Victoria.
However, VCOSS had hoped to see additional investments, such as renewed funding for the eight Regional Ethnic Communities Councils to prioritise issues, coordinate resources and lead COVID recovery initiatives, and participate in regional incident teams for other emergencies. We note the Budget does include continuing COVID-19 support and recovery for Victorian communities and will be keen to see if this provides an opportunity to help sustain the regional councils.
VCOSS notes that the total spend on climate change next financial year is just $27.6 million, down from the $46.0 million spent in 2021-22. That is a 40 per cent decrease at a time when Victoria is feeling the impacts of climate change each year, and there is still a chance of reducing emissions quickly enough to limit global warming to 1.5oC.
While some funding toward emergency resilience has been provided in the Budget, it doesn’t go far enough in the current environment.
The Budget could have provided funding to implement the seven Adaptation Action Plans, including the Health and Human Services plan, which sets out actions to help the community sector adapt to climate change. And Victorians experiencing disadvantage need more support to improve the energy efficiency of their homes, which reduces emissions but also helps people keep cool in summer and warm in winter without exorbitant energy bills.
The Budget also could have committed long-term funding to the Latrobe Valley Authority, which is helping the local economy transition from coal-fired power generation to new industries. While $7.5 million is welcome for 2022-23, we note that the transition could take decades and the community sector is concerned about residents’ social wellbeing.
On the plus side, the Budget does include a $26.3 million boost to the Solar Homes program so more households can receive subsidies for solar panels and batteries. The no-interest loan scheme is particularly useful for low-income homeowners, though work will be needed to boost uptake by landlords for their renters.
It is also promising that $7.7 million is being spent on creating two air quality precincts and reducing local air pollution. Victoria is home to three of Australia’s 12 air pollution hot spots so it is hoped that the precincts are established in the Latrobe Valley and western Melbourne where residents are most affected by dirty air.