LABOR MPs have described the 2021-22 state budget as a “once-in-a-generation” budget, while Nationals MPs claim it’s disastrous for regional communities.
The centrepiece is $3.8 billion in spending on Victoria’s mental health system to implement recommendations from the Mental Health Royal Commission, with more care in regional communities and a system dedicated to children.
The government is investing $17.4 million in sub-regional follow-up care across the state, including at Central Gippsland Health. There is $141 million for five new youth prevention and recovery care units, including one in Gippsland, delivering sub-acute care and 50 new beds across the state, with support tailored to the needs of young people.
Helping to pay for the projects will be the Mental Health and Wellbeing Levy, which will apply to businesses with more than $10 million in wages nationally. The levy, which the governments says will affect less than five per cent of employers, is expected to raise about $900 million per year by 2024-25.
Owners of taxable land valued at less than $300,000 won’t pay land tax from January 1.
The full reduction to the regional employer payroll tax rate – down to a quarter of the metropolitan rate – will be brought forward to July 1.
The government has allocated $3.5 billion in education, including $148.2 million to establish the Victorian Academy of Teaching and Leadership, to enhance teachers’ professional development. Two of the seven regional academies will be located in Bairnsdale and Moe.
The government will continue its school building blitz, with $1.6 billion allocated, while it will provide additional funding for technical schools in Gippsland.
The network of specialist family violence courts will be expanded to the Latrobe Valley.
This year’s budget delivers on Labor’s promise to introduce free kindergarten for every three-year-old child, with $167 million to deliver it in every local government area for the first time.
Offering at least five funded hours a week from next year, the program will be scaled up to deliver 15 hours a week for families by 2029.
An overall package of $24.5 million has been allocated for the restoration of waterways and catchments in Victoria, including the Gippsland Lakes.
The budget delivers $7.1 billion to continue supporting hospitals and the healthcare system, including an additional $1.3 billion to continue the public health response to COVID-19. More than $517 million will go towards reducing the risk of bushfires, including $15.6 million to increase work to remove long grasses and other highly flammable undergrowth.
More than $133 million will upgrade the digital radio service for Forest Fire Management Victoria staff and other emergency response personnel. This will mean personnel can avoid radio black spots and communicate better with other first responders when fighting fires and responding to remote emergencies.
Over seven years, $138.8 million will be spent replacing Country Fire Authority radio equipment with modern digital technology.
An additional $22.5 million will use the expertise of Aboriginal cultural burning in Victoria’s land management, contributing to bushfire preparation in local communities.
The government will provide $10 million for a Morwell food manufacturing precinct.
The government says the budget will support about 38,000 jobs each and every year during the next four years.
Labor Eastern Victoria MLC Harriet Shing said the “once-in-a-generation budget” would build on the government’s record investment in Gippsland.
“(It) ensures that more people across the region get the mental health support, treatment and care they need, closer to home,” she said. “It also invests in education, skills, and training to create pathways into employment and to drive the economic growth and recovery of our region.”
Fellow Labor Eastern Victoria MLC Jane Garrett said the spending would deliver the jobs, infrastructure and services communities across Gippsland.
Gippsland South MLA Danny O’Brien said there was little in the state budget for his electorate, with the exception of planning money for the Sale College redevelopment and a mental health outreach clinic at CGH.
“We were waiting to see investments in our road and rail systems, particularly along the South Gippsland Highway, and there is virtually no new spending on Gippsland roads,” he said.
Mr O’Brien said the government was unable to control its spending, and Gippslanders would pay through $5.8 billion in new and increased taxes.
“We have a serious problem with housing affordability and availability in Gippsland and coming out of the pandemic this has been exacerbated as city people move to the country, pushing up property prices,” he said.
“Adding taxes to property will only exacerbate the problems of housing affordability.”
Mr O’Brien said the government was right to invest in the mental health system, but noted the $3.8 billion spend was only marginally more than the blowout in costs on the metro tunnel project.
“If the government was able to manage projects and keep to within its budget we wouldn’t need a mental health levy that will cost jobs and turn away businesses,” he said.
“Mental health is a core government function, and shouldn’t be stigmatised by being funded through a new levy.
“We don’t raise funds for hospitals and schools through a levy, and neither should we for mental health, which is a critically important function of government.”
Gippsland East MLA Tim Bull said the budget was disastrous for communities in regional Victoria, with nearly $285 million cut from regional development, $61.3 million from agriculture, $190 million from road maintenance and more than $150 million from tourism and major events.
“One top of this we also see steep rises in payroll tax, stamp duty and a new tax on businesses already paying payroll tax to fund the mental health levy,” he said.
“Victoria’s mental health system is broken and we must act to fix it, but mental health is a core function of government and should be treated as such – rather than as a tax.”
Mr Bull was disappointed the Maffra Hospital redevelopment missed out on funding.