Your mental health
Victorian big business will pay more than $800 million a year to fund an overhaul of the state’s mental health system.
The budget includes $3,.8b over four years to improve Victorians’ mental healthCredit:iStock
A new tax on businesses with more than $10 million in wages nationally will bankroll the government’s showpiece budget commitment – $3.8 billion over four years – to rebuild the failing system.
The focus of the mental health package is $1.5 billion on community-based care to minimise the need for people to travel far to access mental health services.
The budget has allocated $264 million to build the first 20 of up to 60 new local mental health services statewide recommended by the Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System.
This includes six fast-tracked sites at Benalla, Brimbank, Frankston, Greater Geelong, the Latrobe Valley and Whittlesea, which will open by the end of 2022.
Young people will also be a focus, with two separate streams of care – one devoted to children under 11, and the other for young people aged 12 to 25.
The special levy to fund mental health services, which the government says will be imposed on fewer than 5 per cent of employers, will apply from January 1, 2022.
Victorian workers will have to wait years for wages to start rising again, jobs in education, travel and the arts will remain scarce while Melbourne’s economic recovery will continue to lag until international borders reopen.
The state budget papers tip the state’s households – buoyed by surging house values and savings accrued during the pandemic – to continue spending, driving a massive 6.5 per cent expansion in the state’s economy this financial year.
The budget papers also show regional Victoria surging ahead of Melbourne in jobs, house price growth and building starts in what Treasurer Tim Pallas calls an “amazing” non-metro economic performance.
The state’s wages bill for public servants has also blown out by more than $1 billion for the next financial year, and it is expected to grow by about $1 billion a year over the next three years.
In a bid to keep apartment sales and construction going in Melbourne City Council areas, the government will waive stamp duty on new apartments that have languished for more than a year on the market, and cost less than $1 million.
There will be incentives for buyers looking to move to the CBD..Credit:Wayne Taylor
Stamp duty will also be halved on new homes within the city council’s boundaries under $1 million.
The government will pump $107 million into city-centre rejuvenation with $7 million going to dining vouchers to entice people into the city and the remaining $100 million going to renew city spaces, finance arts events and extend outdoor dining.
Cash will go towards kick-starting Port Melbourne’s Fishermans Bend project with $179 million to be spent turning the old Holden factories into Melbourne University’s engineering school by 2024.
And in bleaker news for Docklands, demolition plans for the historic Central Pier have continued, with $3 million put aside in this year’s budget to develop designs for its replacement.
This was a no-frills transport budget that splashed a smaller-than-usual sum of cash on shiny new infrastructure.
Funding was set aside for modest but necessary upgrades on the rail network, including a revamp of Caulfield station and tracks throughout Melbourne’s south-east to prepare for the surge in demand after the Metro Tunnel is completed.
Jobs in many sectors are scarce – as are pay rises.Credit:Jason South
As previously announced, nearly $1 billion will go towards new X’Trapolis 2.0 trains.
But there is no new money for accessible tram stops, despite this being a requirement for every tram stop by the end of next year.
Cash for planning and construction was also allocated for upgrades on roads including the Calder Freeway.
More than $100 million of pre-pandemic levels of funding for the creative industries has been dropped, despite the sector being one of the worst hit during Melbourne’s protracted coronavirus lockdown last year.
Mr Pallas splashed $288 million over four years to support the industry, describing it as “unprecedented” funding, but budget papers show that the government slashed a combined $112.4 million from industry groups Creative Industries Access, Development and Innovation, Creative Industries Portfolio Agencies and Cultural Infrastructure and Facilities compared with 2019/20.
Although the government was spruiking its mammoth spending spree on creative industries last year, the budget revealed the government spent $20 million more than it had budgeted for in 2019/20.
Some of the big spending items include $120.7 million for the VICSCREEN strategy, which is designed to help take Victorian films to screens worldwide and $79 million for the creative industries support and recovery package.
The Victorian government has announced new community safety and justice projects in this year’s budget, including almost $33 million dedicated to preventing Aboriginal deaths in custody and $43.5 million to build new police stations.
Mr Pallas has also recognised the delays the coronavirus pandemic caused to the justice system, and announced funding to increase the system’s capacity and specifically identified improving safety for victims of family violence.
Courts will receive more than $210 million to boost the online services in the Magistrates Court and the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal, and provide additional resources for the Country Count, while Victoria Legal Aid, Victoria Police, the Office of Public Prosecutions, Corrections Victoria and victims support services will share in a $55 million package.
The Restorative Engagement and Redress Scheme for Victoria Police employees who are victims of workplace sexual harassment and sexual assault has received a massive funding boost of $15.5 million this year, compared with $3.4 million last year.
The Royal Commission into the Management of Police Informants is set to get a further $23.8 million this year and $21.8 million next year, before it plummets to $5.6 million and $5.1 million over the last two years of the four-year forward estimates.
Almost half of the $3.5 billion earmarked for education will be spent on school infrastructure including 13 new schools in Melbourne’s growth areas and upgrades at 52 schools, but there are no plans to build any new schools in regional areas in this budget
There is $716 million for teachers, including $148 million for a new teaching academy, and $277 million for mental health in schools.
A $250 million tutoring initiative, aimed at helping school students whose learning was worst affected by the pandemic, has not been renewed beyond this year.
Free kinder for three-year-olds will be available in every local government area from 2022 thanks to a further $167 million in this budget but just $70 million has been set aside for students with a disability, following a huge $1.6 billion investment in the last budget.
Meanwhile, international students are forecast to gradually start to return to Victoria only from early 2022.
The government has responded to record demand for health services coming out of last year’s lockdown, when many Victorians avoided health check-ups, with about $3.8 billion in new spending on emergency care and ambulance services.
An immediate $1.4 billion will go into cutting down the bloated elective surgery waitlist, hiring more staff for clogged emergency departments and expanded specialised therapies.
Almost $100 million will be invested to provide catch-up cancer, dental, maternal and child health care after many of these services were curtailed during last year’s lengthy lockdown, leading to ill-health that has fuelled demand for health services.
About $1.5 billion will be spent on the state’s public health response to the pandemic over the next four years, including community engagement on the availability and benefits of vaccination. The government says this cash will also help to continue easing public health restrictions.
Much of Victoria’s big spending on climate emissions reduction – $540 million for renewables and almost $800 million for energy efficiency – was announced in November last year, and so today’s budget looks flat for the environment.
The biggest spend is on bushfire preparation, with $517 million to maintain the existing planned burn program, increase mechanical and other non-fuel treatments, to remove long grass and “flammable undergrowth”. The number of strategic fuel breaks built or upgraded will increase from 480 last year to about 960.
This focus could be controversial, given community concern about the impact of planned burns after endangered species habitat was devastated in the 2019/20 bushfires.
On the back of its renewables boom, Victoria has increased its target for energy it gets from renewables, from 27 per cent in 2020-21 to 31 per cent in 2021//22.
Melburnians have fled the city for regional and rural Victoria, putting huge pressure on housing affordability but many councils and housing groups are still applying to the state government to build projects as part of the Big Build social housing program.
There is little new for the tourism sector beyond recent announcements and some marketing money but the government is banking on domestic visitor expenditure bouncing back from an expected $5.1 billion for 2020/21 to $11.1 billion for 2021/22.
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