‘It’s a no brainer’: Momentum grows for Victoria to deliver a wellbeing budget
30 November 2020 at 3:21 pm
Community groups say a wellbeing approach would be extremely beneficial for the social sector and help Victoria’s COVID recovery
The social sector is excited by the possibility of Victoria delivering a wellbeing budget next year, after the treasurer revealed the state government has been looking at this approach.
The idea of a wellbeing budget made international headlines when New Zealand delivered one in May last year.
NZ Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said it was about broadening the “definition of success for our country to one that incorporates not just the health of our finances, but also of our natural resources, people and communities”.
Speaking at the 2020 Victorian Council of Social Service (VCOSS) Treasurer’s Breakfast, Treasurer Tim Pallas indicated that the state government was considering a wellbeing budgeting approach.
He said he thought a wellbeing budgeting approach, like New Zealand’s, would help Victoria’s social recovery post-COVID.
“We’ve been looking at this. In fact, I thought we might have been able to bring some of this [into this year’s] budget, but as you’d appreciate, this has been a very, very difficult budget to land,” Pallas said.
“We are going to have to do a lot more in terms of [implementing an] appropriate way of budgeting that ensures we have long-term capacity to identify for Victorians what an appropriate investment in welfare looks like.
“If we don’t come up with a system that does that, we’ll ultimately be consigned to a situation where all we’re doing is dealing with the… acute manifestations of problems rather than making the necessary investments early in avoiding those problems. And that’s what wellbeing budgeting is all about.”
Q. Do you think a wellbeing budgeting approach, like New Zealand’s, would help Victoria’s social recovery in the post-COVID world?
— VCOSS 😷 (@VCOSS) November 26, 2020
VCOSS has been a strong advocate for a wellbeing budgeting approach, arguing that economic prosperity alone is no longer a good measure of community wellbeing.
CEO Emma King told Pro Bono News that this approach was about putting people at the forefront and recognising that wellbeing is a measure of a good economy.
“Victoria has a AAA credit rating, but it has over 100,000 people who are on the waiting list for social housing… These economic measures in and of themselves don’t actually measure how well an economy is progressing,” King said.
“Governments fund what they value and if we want to value the wellbeing of our economy, let’s put that front and centre, let them be accountable for that.
“The way that we collectively work around the pursuit of key social outcomes, we have to put that on par with the pursuit of a good balance sheet.”
As part of this approach, the state government would need to articulate its social goals and match them with concrete targets and timeframes.
When considering new programs to fund, the government would need to examine how it contributes to achieving its wellbeing goals.
Data on the progress made achieving the goals would also be regularly collected and made publicly available.
King said the ongoing COVID crisis meant action on this approach was now imperative.
“It’s a no brainer. As we’re getting through the next stage of the pandemic and moving to a COVID normal, we’ve got to look at the wellbeing of every Victorian. It’s as simple as that,” she said.
“If you look at the recent budget, there’s actually been a real shift in [that] the government’s mantra has been around putting people first.
“Having a wellbeing budgeting approach and a wellbeing economy would make sure this doesn’t blip.”
King said a wellbeing budgeting approach would also be “enormously” beneficial for the social sector, as investing in social issues earlier means problems are easier to address in the future.
She said it was realistic to expect a wellbeing budget as early as May 2021, when the next state budget is due.
She noted that COVID has exposed the cracks in Victorian society and increased public awareness of how important community wellbeing is.
“We’ve had people impacted by COVID who perhaps thought this would never happen to them. So I think the appetite in the community for budgeting along these lines would be very strong,” she said.
“The treasurer is very up for this conversation. It’s a conversation that we’ve been having. And I would really hope that the Andrews government moves to this approach.”
The Andrews government declined to comment on the possibility of a wellbeing budget next year when contacted by Pro Bono News, but a spokesperson said this year’s budget showed the government’s commitment to “putting people first”.