2019-20 Victorian Budget Delivered

The 2019-20 Victorian Budget was handed down on Monday 27 May by the Treasurer, the Hon. Tim Pallas. Once again, OTA was invited to attend the stakeholders’ Budget lock-up in the hours leading up to its delivery, an event at which the Premier, the Hon. Daniel Andrews, and the Assistant Treasurer, the Hon. Robin Scott outlined key initiatives for the year ahead.

OTA has prepared a summary of those Budget measures most relevant to occupational therapists. Click on the links below to skip to the sections of most interest to you.

The Bottom Line

The Andrews Labor Government, fresh from its resounding re-election in November last year, has delivered a Budget notable for ongoing investment in transport infrastructure funded in part by cuts to the Victorian public service but largely by significant new debt.

Net debt will rise to $55 billion over the next four years, peaking at 12 per cent of the state’s economy in the medium term. At a time when the cost of borrowing is relatively cheap, Labor will use the borrowed funds to deliver projects including the rail link to Melbourne Airport, North East Link and the removal of 75 level crossings.

The Opposition, however, likened the steep rise in net debt to a “ticking time bomb”.

Key savings measures include significant cuts to the public service, which may set the government on a collision course with powerful public sector unions.

Labor’s budgetary task has been complicated by a massive $5.2 billion drop in Stamp Duty revenue, the result of a sharply slowing property market.

Despite this setback, the Government’s tax take will rise by $4.3 billion over the next four years thanks in part to new or raised taxes targeting the conspicuously wealthy, notably foreign property buyers, luxury car owners, the goldmining industry, and those building home tennis courts.

Victoria’s unemployment rate is forecast to be 4.75 per cent next year, which is below the predicted national rate. The state’s economy grew 3.5 per cent last financial year but is predicted to fall to 3 per cent this year and hover around 2.75 per cent across the Forward Estimates.

Health and Hospitals

The 2019-20 Budget progresses the Government’s $3.8 billion plan to build new hospitals for a rapidly growing Victorian population, with two million more patients expected to be treated over the next year.

A record $2.5 billion spend on the health system is aimed to ensure more patients receive care, treatment and surgeries sooner.

This includes a $321.9 million investment to enable the rollout of free dental care to all Victorian government school students. It is forecast that this will save families around $400 a year per child in dental costs.

The Budget fully funds the new $1.5 billion Footscray Hospital, designed to service the substantial, and growing, population in Melbourne’s western suburbs. The hospital will cut waitlist times, allow almost 15,000 additional patients to be treated and almost 20,000 additional people to be seen by the emergency department each year.

The 504-bed hospital will also serve as a major tertiary teaching hospital and hub for specialist care in the west, including a major expansion of mental health services.

Funding of $31 million will enable a major expansion of the Royal Children’s Hospital, including a new 30-bed flexi ward to treat some of the sickest young patients.

The Budget includes a $100 million boost to the Regional Health Infrastructure Fund, helping build hospitals and health facilities for rural and regional communities.

Funding of $136.2 million will ensure 500,000 extra specialist appointments for regional and rural Victorians, allowing patients to spend less time travelling to access specialist care.

Funding of $59.5 million will build a Bendigo Hospital Day Rehabilitation Centre, bringing the various rehabilitation services spread across the Bendigo Hospital site, including occupational therapy, under one roof.

The $100 million redevelopment of Maryborough Hospital is ongoing, while funding of $10 million will enable planning of the Geelong Women’s and Children’s Hospital.

Other initiatives include:

  • Funding of $6 million for the planning stage of the proposed $562 million redevelopment of the Frankston Hospital;
  • $2.3 million to plan a new hospital at Toolern, on the outskirts of Melton;
  • The next stage of the Angliss Hospital expansion, providing upgraded facilities for local doctors and nurses;
  • Planning the $217 million upgrade of the Latrobe Regional Hospital;
  • $20 million to relocate Barwon Health clinical facilities to the Geelong Hospital Precinct, improving responses to people in crisis and access to addiction treatment;
  • Planning for ten new community hospitals; and
  • $5.9 million to undertake the planning stage for five new dedicated children’s emergency departments – at Northern Hospital, Frankston Hospital, Casey Hospital, Maroondah Hospital and Geelong University Hospital.

Mental Health

The Budget delivers an overall investment of $173 million in mental health services, including $28.7 million over two years to provide 7,000 people with earlier access to care and support through clinical mental health services in the community.

Funding of $17.5 million will strengthen mental health workforce initiatives and fund programs supporting Aboriginal Victorians with severe mental illness.

Funding of $3 million will provide mental and physical health support for those awaiting confirmation of refugee status.

Other budgetary initiatives include:

  • $23.3 million for an extra 28 inpatient beds to meet growing demand;
  • $18.9 million to support mental health clinicians at the Victorian Fixed Threat Assessment Centre and deliver extra specialised services to meet the needs of people referred by the Centre;
  • $10.2 million for a new 30-bed residential rehabilitation facility in Gippsland;
  • $6.6 million to increase capacity at three Prevention and Recovery Care (PARC) units to support Victorians in the early phases of recovery through more treatment options and improved clinical care;
  • $6 million to establish a Centre for Excellence for Emergency Worker Mental Health to provide timely, evidence-based mental health care to emergency service workers;
  • $5.7 million for the Mental Health Complaints Commissioner and the Mental Health Tribunal;
  • $17.1 million for the Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System to continue its work; and
  • $2.5 million for targeted family counselling services over the next four years, and $500,000 for additional mental health support, for members of the LGBTIQ community.

Disability Services

The 2019-20 Budget includes funding of $33.2 million to accommodate children with complex disabilities.

Funding of $218 million will be aimed at making Victorian schools more inclusive, supporting children with disability and additional needs. This includes:

  • $180 million to support students living with disability, including funding for approximately 5,400 students with high needs to attend mainstream and specialist government schools through the Program for Students with Disabilities;
  • $18.4 million in extra support for students with disability and additional needs, including outside school hours care, equipment for schools and improvements to make buildings more accessible;
  • $10 million for playgrounds, outdoor sensory areas and quiet spaces to make schools more inclusive; and
  • $9.9 million to assist eligible Victorian school students with disability to travel to and from school.

Funding of $3.4 million will support pre-school children with disability or development delay, including providing special education, therapy and assistance to access kindergarten and childcare.

$1.6 million will help meet the needs of children with significant disability, as part of the Kindergarten Inclusion Support program.

Funding of $2.8 million will support people living with a disability who are experiencing family violence.

Disability Workforce

Funding of $9.45 million will establish a new registration scheme for Victoria’s disability workforce. The Disability Worker Registration Board of Victoria and the Victorian Disability Worker Commissioner will operate a regulatory scheme for disability workers, and deal with breaches of the code of conduct, to support the development of a quality disability workforce as Victoria transitions to the NDIS.

On 10 October 2018 OTA gained assurance from the Disability Minister’s office that occupational therapists, being a profession registered with AHPRA, will not have to undergo state-based registration. However, given the layers of registration already demanded of OTs, we will seek renewed assurance that our members will not be subjected to further and onerous bureaucracy.

Aged Care

The Andrews Government will invest $81.6 million in a new 120-bed public residential aged care service in Wantirna, including 60 high-care beds and 60 aged care mental health beds. This will serve as a healthcare hub for older residents in Melbourne’s east.

Carers

Funding of $49.5 million will allow for an additional 100,000 hours of respite services annually over four years, improved public transport concessions and support to local carer groups.

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