At the time of writing this submission, Victoria was grappling with a surge in COVID-19 cases and a second large-scale lockdown. Much remains uncertain. We do not know how long this pandemic will last, the total number of deaths, or the full physical, mental, social and economic toll.
We do know, however, that certain groups and individuals have been at heightened risk during this crisis. This includes people without safe and secure housing, people in prison or immigration detention, people in aged care, people with chronic ill-health, and those who are unemployed or in insecure work. We recognise, too, the many Victorians working in essential services who continue to provide the crucial healthcare, social support, food, transport and other services that people rely on, in circumstances that often expose them to greater health risks.
Managing the health and economic response to a once in a century crisis is no easy task. We welcome the important initiatives the Victorian Government has undertaken to date, including providing emergency accommodation for people experiencing homelessness; additional funding for community legal services; and emergency relief packages for people in need.
In our submission, we set out key steps we believe the Victorian Government should take – both in the immediate term and as we chart our recovery – to help ensure the health and well-being of all Victorians and build a more equitable future. This includes proactively addressing the serious health risks COVID-19 poses for people in prison by releasing low-risk offenders, people on remand, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and people with chronic health conditions.
When the immediate health emergency recedes, we need to focus on an equitable recovery that prioritises support for disadvantaged people, reduces inequality, builds community resilience, and advances ecological justice. All these overlapping objectives are features of what has been termed a just recovery, a concept increasingly used to describe localised post-disaster organising efforts.
Specifically, we call on the Victorian Government to invest in social, affordable and energy efficient housing; establish a community resilience fund; and strengthen training and employment services systems.