The Salvation Army is concerned that, in difficult economic conditions, today’s Victorian Budget announcement of a projected $225 million surplus will come at too great a cost for the state’s battlers. Whilst the Budget has some welcome measures aimed at improving the lives of disadvantaged Victorians, the surplus may be a luxury that we can’t afford.
The last year has been marked by the announcement of numerous reforms across the various human service sectors in which The Salvation Army works as a partner with government and other agencies. Although such reform brings many challenges, we are also presented with substantial opportunities to significantly improve the way that Victoria addresses disadvantage.
Despite the current tough economic climate, the Victorian Government has made several significant investments into key areas that support vulnerable Victorians. An example of this is the $12 million announced to support the development and implementation of the Services Connect Framework, which aims to deliver a more integrated and easier to navigate service system. However, given the level of reform projected across almost every sector, the expectation of being able to achieve much greater results with very similar levels of funding appears to be overly optimistic.
The Salvation Army warmly welcomes the announcement of:
- $91 million over four years to expand places in the out-of-home care system and roll out therapeutic models of care across the state; and
- $19.1 million over four years to continue to Accommodation Options for Families program.
The Salvation Army has long advocated for an extension of both of these initiatives, which are proven to deliver positive and lasting outcomes for the people they work with. The continued funding for these programs represents a significant investment in the future of vulnerable kids, young people and their families.
We are, however, deeply concerned about the Government's increasing investment in the expansion of prison beds, which tackles the consequences of crime too late, rather than taking a preventative approach to the causes of crime. In addition to the projected overall Budget surplus, the increase of $131.5 million into prisons could achieve better economic and social outcomes if invested in drug and alcohol rehabilitation and mental health support programs.
Furthermore, the continued reliance of the Victorian Budget on $1.9 billion revenue from gambling should be a matter of concern to our whole community. Whilst problem gamblers bear the initial brunt of this cost, the longer term impacts flow on to a wider set of community issues.
A welcome inclusion in the Budget is the Victorian Government’s recent agreement to support the NDIS and the announcement of $224 million for the NDIS trial in Barwon.
The Salvation Army also welcomes the Victorian Government’s commitment to continue negotiations and partnership with the Commonwealth Government to extend the National Partnership Agreement on Homelessness. Although it is disappointing not to get a long term agreement finalised with the Commonwealth, the joint funding agreement of $49.4 million over the next 12 months is warmly welcomed and provides a platform for future collaboration.
The Salvation Army also welcomes further investment in social housing, with $4 million announced to construct 26 units in Bendigo. However, we are disappointed to note an apparent lack of investment in areas that we know to be successful strategies, such as supports that sustain vulnerable tenancies and private rental brokerage programs.