What missed out in this year’s state budget

Detail on road funding in the state budget was minimal. Picture: STEWART CHAMBERS. 400686_11

By Mikayla van Loon and Dongyun Kwon

A scant detail State Budget has left many of the projects open to interpretation but what missed out, particularly in the Yarra Ranges, let’s take a look.

With family violence support and prevention earmarked for $211 million in funding and $28.8 million set aside for community legal centres, it came as a double edged sword for a local provider.

Eastern Community Legal Centre (ECLC) was “pleased” to learn a further four years of funding would be provided for its Mabels program but was “deeply disheartened” that no further funding had been budgeted for the expansion of its services despite the apparent gendered-violence “national crisis”.

“We are disappointed by the State budget announcement that does not recognise the apparent need for additional and ongoing funding for our services that are at the forefront of support for family violence victim-survivors that often face multifaceted, complex needs and require tailored and targeted legal advice and broader help,” ECLC chief executive officer Michael Smith said.

A call for a “sustained commitment” from both the State and Federal Governments has been on the agenda for community legal centres in the lead up to the National Legal Assistance Partnership (NLAP) review.

“There is very little in [the] budget for the Victorian community legal sector to get excited about,” Federation of Community Legal Centres chief executive officer Louisa Gibbs said.

“But we acknowledge that in a tight fiscal environment, existing programs of Community Legal Centres will continue to be funded.”

ECLC awaits the release of the Federal Budget on Tuesday 14 May “and hopes that the urgent challenges faced by CLCs will be recognised and addressed”.

While education was at the forefront of the budget, Yarra Ranges schools have missed out on upgrade funding totalling $753 million, with the closest school with ‘upgrades in planning’ being Croydon’s Melba College.

Universal pre-prep for four-year-olds has been delayed and will be rolled out by 2036 instead of 2032, citing workforce shortages as the reason for the push back.

Evelyn MP Bridget Vallence has claimed the delivery of a promised 50 new childcare centres has been put “on hold”.

Similarly, 35 planned mental health and wellbeing locals will be set up slower than scheduled as Victoria cannot find the extra 2500 psychologists, psychiatrists and mental health nurses required to support the services.

“[This is] not only failing their obligation to implement the measures of the Mental Health Royal Commission but meaning it will remain hard for families to access vital mental health and wellbeing services,” Ms Vallence said.

A bulk amount of $964 million to maintain Victorian roads has been announced but details on where and what has been left out.

Ms Vallence said the true cost of road maintenance works was hard to decipher given the inclusion of flood recovery works but the total expenditure was “16 per cent less next year than it was four years ago”.

“Yet again there is no funding to fix known dangerous roads such as Warburton Highway at Seville East or to duplicate Mooroolbark Road at Hull Road in Mooroolbark, and the Budget is silent on the Maroondah Highway and Killara Road project, creating uncertainty about when this project will ever start.

The Department of Transport was contacted for comment to confirm which, if any, road maintenance projects had been allocated to the Yarra Ranges.

RACV has also asked for better transparency from the State Government to understand which roads require repair to meet safety standards.

“Transparency of allocated road funding and areas where road improvements have been made will be key to tracking the areas where spend and upgrades are still required,” RACV head of policy James Williams said.

“Without this understanding, regional roads will miss out on integral funding that is key to ensuring a safe road network for all users.”

Premier Jacinta Allan said in her first delivery of a budget “we’re making the biggest multi-year investment in our healthcare system in our state’s history”.

Ongoing hospital funding of $8.8 billion, $146 million for Ambulance Victoria and $28 million to support the healthcare workforce were some of the headline announcements.

Despite this Maroondah Hospital, or the renamed Queen Elizabeth II Hospital, remains noted as in the planning stage alongside three other projects, with no capital works money allocated.

“Last year’s 2023-24 Budget allocated a small fund for the design and planning only, and this has not yet commenced,” Ms Vallence said.

“So, for two Budget cycles the Allan Labor Government has the promised Maroondah Hospital upgrade as ‘in planning’ and there is absolutely no funding allocated for any capital works to achieve the promised ED and expansion of Maroondah Hospital.”

General practitioners (GPs) were also left dissatisfied by the $10 million for a co-designed grant program.

“While any investment in general practice care is always welcome, the Victorian Government’s $10 million to support GPs will not save us from the Patient Tax – it’s like putting a bandaid on a patient who’s lost both their legs,” Royal Australian College of General Practitioners Victoria chair Anita Munoz said.

“Victorians should be prepared for further crowding at hospitals and local GPs to be at breaking point.”

On the environment front, despite $270 million to protect waterways and catchments, $116 million to restore native forests, $85 million for biosecurity and $38 million to expand hot water rebates through Solar Victoria, Landcare Victoria was disappointed to learn the facilitators and coordinators program would not be funded.

“Eighty Facilitators and 10 Coordinators harness the power of more than 600 groups and tens of thousands of volunteers across the state, but right now they are under-resourced and lack job security,” Landcare Victoria chair Jane Carney said.

“With their contracts due to end in June next year, we’re going to struggle to hold onto these incredible leaders, who have an increasingly important role to play as governments wind back extension support and ratchet up biodiversity and climate commitments.”

Premier Allan admitted this budget was “challenging to put together” especially “in a domestic and global environment that faces many, many pressures”.

“Whether it’s the inflationary and interest rate pressures, the pressures of workforce shortages and what that means for project and service delivery, also too the global unrest, the ongoing impact of the pandemic,” she said.

“We simply can’t put our heads in the sand and ignore these circumstances as we have putting this budget together.”