The 2016-17 Victorian State Budget has been welcomed by the community and social services sector.
The Budget responds to the needs of a growing Victorian population with investment of $925 million in education infrastructure, $3.2 billion on public transport and funding for child and family services (including $133 million for Maternal and Child Health Services and $168 million to increase supports to vulnerable families). It also includes unprecedented investment of $572 million to tackle family violence.
In our submission to the State Budget we recommended a range of reforms to: tackle the underlying contributors to crime; reduce re-offending; and help the most vulnerable and disadvantaged in our community. In particular we are pleased to see the Victorian Government has recognised the need to divert young people away from the criminal justice system by funding a statewide expansion of the Youth Diversion Pilot Program. We also welcome investment in mental health of $356 million to improve access to services, of which $27.5 million has been earmarked for suicide prevention programs.
However, along with the big ticks there is still so much more to do to ensure every Victorian has access to opportunities in life that enable them to flourish – to complete their education, to get a job, to access safe and affordable housing, to raise their children in safe communities and to see the next generation thrive.
Of particular concern for Jesuit Social Services is the concentration and web-like structure of disadvantage within a small number of communities across the state. While we welcome funding of $19.4m for the Community Crime Prevention Program, we would like to see the Government build on this by continuing to invest more in community-based programs and less on expensive crisis responses such as prisons. The cost of running Victoria’s prisons is still more than $1 billion per year and the Budget missed the opportunity to better prevent crime and reduce re-offending by expanding rehabilitation initiatives.
The Budget also includes welcome funding for jobs and training, including vocational learning initiatives to build students’ employability skills and help them engage in vocational pathways. However, the Government can help more students to remain engaged in education by expanding flexible learning models across Victoria. Flexible learning programs can provide wrap-around services to address the issues vulnerable young people face. We look forward to working with the Government on the implementation of its response to the VET Funding Review that promises supportive models for high needs learners.
Finally, despite the 2016 Victorian Budget including investment in housing in the form of a $152m family violence housing blitz, affordable housing for all Victorians remains central to the social and economic problems facing Victoria. We look forward to the release of an affordable housing strategy later in the year.