NFP’s Mixed Reaction to Vic Budget
7 May 2014 at 11:03 am
Community sector groups have welcome the Victorian Government’s investment into infrastructure as part of the State Budget but say it must be matched with investment into vulnerable and disadvantaged Victorians.
As part of the 2014-2015 State Budget, the Government will pump more than $200 billion into rail, road and boating infrastructure including $4.1 billion for a Regional Rail Link and $25.7 million for access at local ports and marine pollution response equipment.
Comparatively, investment into vulnerable children and families includes: $24 million for additional child protection workers; $38 million to support children in ‘out of home care’; $23 million to address family violence issues; and $5.5 million for Aboriginal kinship support care.
Wesley Mission Victoria CEO Rob Evers said families were Victoria’s most important “infrastructure”.
“Rail and roads may be important, but supporting families will enable all members of our community to become economic participants and build a stronger state. For every $100 the Victorian Government will spend on infrastructure, it has committed just $1 to support vulnerable children and families and homeless people,” he said.
“This is a step in the right direction; however some 3000 children live in out of home care on any given day. Many more resources are needed to help them heal from abuse and trauma so that they can have the same developmental opportunities as other children in the community,” Evers said.
Child and family services organisation Berry Street also welcomed the investment into infrastructure but said for it to be truly effective it had to be matched by a commitment to improving Victoria’s social infrastructure.
“They go hand in hand as it is the glue that binds together our community,” Sandie de Wolf, CEO of Berry Street, said.
“Social investment means families living in affordable housing, children accessing high quality early childhood education and struggling parents getting support.
“We commend the Victorian Government’s Action Plan to combat family violence, which causes so much harm to women and children in our community. The additional $4.5 million to expand the high risk program we piloted is welcome, but it won’t stretch far enough to help the increasing numbers of vulnerable women and children.
“In the month prior to this budget being announced, Berry Street, which is just one service in Melbourne, received nearly 800 referrals from police, two years ago in the same month there were around 350 referrals.”
de Wolf said Berry Street was disappointed that the foster care system had been forgotten in this year’s budget.
“There is a real threat that foster care will disappear within five years without significant reform,” she said.
“Children in foster care always need our support and continued investment is vital.”
The Government also plans to invest $124.4 million over four years into the National Partnership Agreement on Homelessness – a decision the Council to Homeless Persons praises.
However, Council to Homeless Persons Chief Executive Officer Jenny Smith has warned that the issues of homelessness needs a long-term approach.
“Homelessness can’t be solved in a single budget cycle and we need all levels of government and all sides of politics commit to long-term solutions. Every indicator shows that the problem of homelessness is growing,” Smith said.
“Money spent preventing and treating homelessness creates savings in the long-run, because the cost of a single person’s homelessness can spiral into hundreds of thousands of dollars due to heavier use of the health, welfare and justice systems.
“It is vital that the homelessness sector is bolstered at a time when public housing waiting lists are rising, rents are skyrocketing, and more people are falling into homelessness.
“We are pleased to see the investment of $4.2 million to continue the successful Doorway Program for people with a mental illness experiencing homelessness.”
Both the Council to Homeless Persons and Wesley Mission Victoria expressed concern over the lack of investment into increasing social housing properties.
“We welcome the Government’s investment to shore up the current public housing stock through repair and maintenance, and we want to see this complemented by growth in the number of properties,” Smith said.
Wesley Mission Victoria CEO Rob Evers said Wesley believed that the commitment to the National Partnership Agreement on Homelessness did not go far enough to accommodate the 35,000 Victorians on the public housing waiting list.
“We urge the Victorian government to do more for the 23,000 Victorians including 6000 children who are homeless each and every night in a State that generates a budget surplus,” Evers said.
The Government will also put $454.3 million into prison expansion, however Not for Profit Jesuit Social Services says this only points out the costly consequences of the Government’s flawed law and order agenda.
“The overcrowding of prisons and associated health and wellbeing problems are a direct result of the government’s law and order agenda,” Jesuit Social Services Chief Executive Officer Julie Edwards said.
“There is little evidence to suggest this approach will reduce crime, with prison often exacerbating the problems that lead people to offend in the first place.”
Edwards said prisoner numbers had increased significantly – by 725 (14.4 per cent) in 2013 and have doubled over the past 20 years.
“This will be the fourth budget in a row to have poured hundreds of millions of extra dollars into Victoria’s prisons," she said.
“In a finite budget, every extra dollar spent on imprisonment is a dollar not spent on education, health, transport or other urgent priorities without making the community safer.
“If we want to create a safer community with less crime we must invest in programs that target the root causes of crime. This includes education, health and family services, as well as crime prevention and diversion programs in the criminal justice system.”