Treasurer of Victoria, Tim Pallas, handed down his state budget on Thursday, May 19 and a key focus was the on-going response to COVID and mental health.
Here’s part of what he had to say:
Speaker, today I deliver the Victorian Budget 2021-22, only six months after our last Budget. If 2020 was a year defined by anxiety and fear this year in Victoria is defined by the relief and joy of normal life resuming.
Workers are returning to offices, shops and restaurants. Guests are arriving at parties and weddings. Footy fans are packing into stadiums.
Of course, we must also remain vigilant and follow the expert health advice to keep each other safe. But there’s a new sense of freedom as we leave the house without wearing masks, meet with friends, and plan for a holiday.
Speaker, we know ourselves better after the pandemic. When the crisis of our lifetime hit, Victorians rose to it in ways that surprised us. We checked on neighbours we’d never met. We put up signs to thank health workers. We sat teddies in windows for passing kids and we bought a bit extra at our struggling local shops.
We really cared about our communities. We really looked after each other.
It might feel like the time for that has passed. But it’s actually more important than ever, that we keep looking after each other.
Because this isn’t over until it’s over for all of us.
The truth is that just as some of us had a tougher pandemic than others, some of us are having a tougher recovery.
Speaker, this Government wants no Victorian left behind. And by supporting those still struggling, by delivering care where it’s needed most – we can create thousands of jobs too.
Speaker, our economy is recovering — not tentatively, not gradually, but in an optimistic rush that shows a heartfelt confidence in the future.
We’re on track to meet our goal to get an extra 400,000 Victorians back in work by 2025 – in fact we’ve already beaten our own interim goal of 200,000 jobs – nearly a year early.
Women – who suffered harsh job losses in 2020 – were employed in 147,000 jobs between September and March as female employment surged above pre-pandemic levels.
The proportion of workers under 30 in jobs has also recovered after a devastating fall, returning to pre?pandemic levels and putting young lives back on track.
The workforce participation rate is at a record high.
Victoria’s economic growth has surged, with State Final Demand growing by a massive 6.8 per cent in the December quarter – more than double the national average.
Gross state product is expected to increase by 6.5 per cent in 2021-22.
That’s well above Australia’s forecast 4.25 per cent GDP growth.
Speaker, if the engine of the Australian economy is roaring, it’s because Victoria put a tiger in its tank.
Victorian building approvals just hit a record high.
Business confidence is up.
Consumers are more confident than they have been in over a decade.
The Andrews Labor Government’s successful history of sound and responsible public finances has helped us bounce back quickly from the economic crisis.
But there’s still more to do to ensure people aren’t left behind.
Speaker the Andrews Labor Government invested $49 billion in the last Budget to support families and businesses through the pandemic.
It was not the time to fixate on a surplus.
With interest rates at record lows, we could borrow to protect jobs and drive a stronger recovery.
Revolution in mental health
To make sure that every single dollar we spend is supporting the services Victorians need, we will also implement a program of initiatives focused on reprioritising Government’s efforts.
Nowhere is this more important than our mental health system.
Speaker, budgets talk a lot about money.
I want to pause for a moment and talk about feelings – the feelings expressed at the Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System. I want to talk about the misery of depression. And the panic of anxiety, when the thoughts won’t stop circling.
I want to talk about the fear that a beloved child could self-harm.
And about the older blokes who bottle it up.
I want to talk about the young mums struggling, and wondering, ‘should motherhood feel like this?’
About the Victorians who self-medicate with drugs or alcohol.
And about the grief for a childhood lost, felt by a young person caring for a mentally ill parent.
I want to talk about the courage it takes to walk into a hospital and ask for help.
And the despair of hearing – there is nothing we can do for you.
Speaker, around half of Victorians experience a mental illness at some point in their lives.
Around one in five are struggling with it right now.
They are our children, parents, partners and friends. They are us.
But in our worst moments we turn to a system which is clearly broken.
The Royal Commission heard heartbreaking stories from thousands of Victorians.
Victorians like Anna, the carer for her 27-year-old son Harold, diagnosed with schizophrenia. She’s had nine long years struggling to get help for her boy. And she’s terrified one day, when she’s not around anymore, he’ll end up on the street.
Or take Kiba, only 22, now doing well but who attempted suicide in his teens. Not just once, but multiple times Speaker. He went to his local emergency department for help. Only to be told, we wish we could, but there are no beds available.
There are thousands of stories of heartbreak. And many more stories of how our system fails. We want to fix it. And we will.
If a Victorian needs support, we want a system that will catch them with both hands. We want a solid foundation of experts, carers, beds, cutting edge treatments; help in schools, workplaces and hospitals.
We want early intervention, dedicated help for our kids, and care that’s actually available in our communities.
We want people to know that in their worst moment, their state is there with them. Imagine how that could change lives.
Thanks to the Royal Commission we have a blueprint of 65 recommendations, for exactly how to make this change. And the time to act on that blueprint is right here and right now.
Speaker, as the late great Ruth Bader Ginsburg said, ‘Real change, enduring change, happens one step at a time.’
And today we take a monumental step.
Last Budget’s investment of $869 million was the single biggest mental health investment Victoria had ever seen.
This Budget builds on that and invests more than four times that amount.
We’ll reconstruct the system from the ground up with a record $3.8 billion.
Speaker, this Budget funds the first 20 new local services, bringing care to adults with moderate mental illness before they reach crisis point.
We know that most mental illnesses emerge before age 25, making the early years critical.
So we’ll set up one stream of care for children up to age 11, and another for young people aged 12 to 25, as part of an $842 million investment.
We will target suicide prevention and response, with $173 million to save lives.
We’ll deliver 50 additional beds across five new youth prevention and recovery care units.
Our last Budget funded over 9,000 new social housing homes – including 2,000 for Victorians living with mental illness.
This Budget reinforces those homes with wraparound mental health support, at $46million.
Outreach services to Bass Coast
Right now, it’s too hard for regional Victorians to get mental health care near their homes.
So, three of our first six ‘front door’ sites will be in regional Victoria – Benalla, Latrobe Valley and Greater Geelong. This will be in addition to new beds, new staff, new support.
We’re also supporting follow-up care and outreach services with nine new sites – including Bairnsdale, Hamilton, Horsham, Echuca, Swan Hill, Wangaratta, Bass Coast, Central Gippsland and West Gippsland.