Budget Papers 2020-21

Ms SPENCE (Yuroke—Minister for Multicultural Affairs, Minister for Community Sport, Minister for Youth) (10:09): It is a great pleasure to have the opportunity to speak on the 2020–21 state budget, which really does put people at its centre. It is fair to say that 2020 was a year like no other. Australia saw in that new decade engulfed in flames. This might feel like a long time ago now, but residents across Victoria are still trying to put back the pieces following the fires that tore through our state. It was impossible to prepare for the immense loss that we experienced during this time, of homes, of flora and fauna and of human life. And just as we were beginning to come to terms with the extent of this devastation, along came COVID-19.

The pandemic hit us hard and fast, and by mid-March all Victorians were having to adapt quickly to a new way of life. This was not easy for anyone, and the unique barriers facing many cohorts and individuals only rose higher and higher in the months that followed. The pandemic heavily and disproportionately impacted on already vulnerable people, including young people, women, multicultural communities, Aboriginal Victorians, people experiencing family violence, older citizens, people living with disability and many others. Indeed the sacrifices that they and all Victorians have had to make to stop the spread of this virus have not been in vain. I would like to take this opportunity to thank every single Victorian for everything that they have done, given up and fought through.

It has been a long and exhausting journey, but there have been some positives to note along the way, such as bridging geographical divides and improving the accessibility of programs and services by moving them online. Victorians are spending more time with their families and better balancing their many commitments with more flexible work arrangements. The work that women do has never been valued more highly, and we know that we need to provide better support for women both at home and in the workplace. In fact we have learned that we do not want to return completely to how we were before COVID. Our 2020–21 state budget recognises all of this and that COVID has brought with it unprecedented and enormous challenges, but many of these challenges were pre-existing and have simply been heightened. Some of the things that have changed should stick.

There is so much in this budget that I could speak to, but instead I have picked some highlights relevant to my portfolios, to my constituents in Yuroke and to Victorians everywhere. For our multicultural Victorians, who we know have done it particularly tough during COVID due to language and cultural barriers, racism and the often volatile nature of their work and visa status, the 2020–21 budget will help bring people closer together by dedicating $21 million for the development of new and upgraded community facilities. This investment in local halls and meeting spaces will make sure that more multicultural and multifaith communities have a place to call their own and to share their traditions. Not only will this help bring multicultural communities together, but it will also create vital construction jobs as we rebuild from the pandemic. The budget will also provide support for playgroups for newly arrived families, allowing parents and little ones to connect and to find friends. This initiative adds millions of dollars to our support for those who have come to Victoria on humanitarian grounds. To help them find new opportunities or get back on their feet, more than $14.4 million will support multicultural and young Victorians into jobs by breaking down barriers to employment and making sure that they know their working rights. Accessing information in one’s own language has never been more important, which is why we are committing $3 million in this budget for multicultural media outlets so that they can extend their reach and improve their services.

We are also staying true to our 10-year commitment to the Victorian African Communities Action Plan—something that I know is very important to you, Acting Speaker Carbines—and we are building on the work undertaken thus far to advance real outcomes for our African communities by allocating a further $4.5 million to it, and $35 million more will be provided to the International Student Emergency Relief Fund to lend a helping hand where finances have become increasingly tight. Through this budget we are demonstrating our readiness to combat racism and support the many diverse communities that enrich our state.

Community sport is an essential part of life for many Victorians, and I am proud that this budget demonstrates our commitment to this sector through a whopping $164 million investment in community sport. $137 million of this will go towards infrastructure, which takes the Andrews Labor government’s total investment in community support infrastructure to more than $1 billion since 2014. But it does not end there. We do not want our children to miss out on opportunities to participate in sport and recreational activities due to financial pressures. That is why the Andrews Labor government is investing $21 million in the Get Active kids voucher program, the first of its kind in Victoria. This will see around 100 000 eligible children obtain vouchers of up to $200 for membership fees and subscriptions as well as uniforms or equipment.

It is incredibly important for the health of our kids and for the health of the community sport sector that kids get out and back into participating in sport, and we do not want finances to be a barrier to this occurring. That is why this program, the first for any state government in Victoria, is so important, and I am proud that the Andrews Labor government has supported it in this budget. Alongside this initiative we are investing a further $6 million in the sporting club grants program so that clubs can purchase new uniforms and equipment, provide additional skills development to coaches and staff, increase their operational capacity and support COVID-safe operations. We are supporting community sport through COVID recovery in this budget because we know the importance of this sector. We value the 16 000 community sporting clubs, leagues and associations, and we understand the flow-on benefit that this investment has to the physical health and the mental health of the 3.9 million Victorians who play sport or engage in activity every week across this state.

Victoria’s young people have been amongst the hardest hit by the pandemic and the impacts will be felt long into their futures, which is why I am thrilled that this budget prioritises young Victorians and that we are making record investments in the youth portfolio in 2020–21. With a baseline budget of $34.7 million and a state budget allocation of $11.6 million, we are proudly enabling the continuation of successful initiatives that engage young people and promote access to opportunities as we emerge from the pandemic.

Our innovative place-based programs build protective factors around vulnerable young people, connect them to social and economic opportunities and build a sense of belonging that prevents disengagement. Our initiatives include $8.3 million for youth organisations to continue six community support groups and the Le Mana Pasifika Project, which supports and empowers young people from culturally diverse backgrounds; $2.5 million to support young people living in regional and rural Victoria who face barriers accessing supports and services compared to their metropolitan peers; $0.7 million for five Aboriginal organisations to deliver bespoke mentoring programs for young Aboriginal people, strengthening their identity and building pathways to education, training and employment; and we are continuing to deliver on our 2018 election commitment to build and upgrade scout halls across the state, with $1.4 million allocated to these projects in 2020–21. These initiatives complement the longstanding youth programs, including FReeZA, Engage! and Advance.

It is a very good policy. More broadly, the Victorian budget is supporting young people into work through our $1 billion investment in training, higher education and workforce development, giving Victorians the skills they need to get back into work. $619 million will go to Jobs Victoria to connect more Victorians with employment opportunities, and $235 million, which has been announced for the recovery workforce initiative, will support young people to enter the mental health workforce. The Big Housing Build will deliver 10 000 jobs each year over the next four years, with 10 per cent of the work on major projects to be done by apprentices, cadets and trainees. A record $5.3 billion is being invested in this social housing project, which is the biggest this nation has ever seen and will see 12 000 quality homes built across the state for those who need them most. I am incredibly proud of this initiative.

Concerns around our mental health have never been more prevalent. During the pandemic many Victorians have experienced increased loneliness, anxiety and stress. With the Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System having handed down its report, we have committed to implementing every one of the recommendations, and we are already making a record $868 million investment to help fix our broken mental health system. We are putting Victorians with lived experience at the centre of our new system, and this funding will support the delivery of more mental health beds and a statewide rollout of post-suicidal clinical supports.

I am so pleased that the 2020–21 Victorian budget also makes significant investments in education. Our groundbreaking $1.6 billion disability inclusion package will provide additional support to students with disability and implement inclusive education reforms. The Andrews Labor government is also providing $250 million to deploy 4100 tutors across Victorian schools in 2021 to support students who may have become disengaged during periods of remote learning, and children and young people will soon be learning in the best facilities through our $3 billion investment in school infrastructure.

I am particularly proud of the unprecedented investment by this government in building and upgrading schools given my electorate of Yuroke has seen significant investment in this area over recent years. This has continued in this budget. We will rebuild Mickleham Primary School, a beloved local institution with a reputation of providing young people with a terrific education. In recent years Mickleham Primary has experienced a massive increase in enrolments, going from under 100 students a year to now over 400. This is due to the massive growth in the outer north. Expanding the existing school site and providing funding for a complete rebuild will ensure that Mickleham Primary can provide local children with a terrific education for decades to come, whether they are from rural communities or the new growing communities.

This growth in the outer north is also recognised in this budget, with funds to acquire land for the Merrifield West secondary school, the first secondary school in this rapidly growing community that saw its first primary school open this year, Gaayip-Yagila Primary, with over 600 students. Thanks to our record investment in education we will also open the nearby Kalkallo Common Primary School next year.

I am most proud of this government’s investment to deliver the long-awaited secondary school for Greenvale residents, who were told for so long that this would just never happen. Indeed that is exactly what the Liberal Party told the local residents during the last election campaign. There have been countless dedicated community advocates who have fought so hard for this outcome, and petitions were tabled in this place as far back as May 1996 calling for this school to be delivered. As a long-term Greenvale resident I know firsthand the experience of many local residents who have been frustrated by the lack of access to a local secondary school and the huge difference that this will make to local families, so I look forward to seeing Greenvale Secondary School take shape throughout this year and to its opening at the start of the 2022 school year.

Fixing our local roads has been and remains my top priority as the member for Yuroke. As a local resident who has driven on these key arterial connections every day, I have seen a huge increase in vehicle movements over recent years. Many of these roads remain inadequate, designed for the once-rural communities they served, and this budget makes important investments in their future use. At long last we will see initial progress on upgrading Mickleham Road, with new lights at Aitken College as well as critical planning work for future upgrades to this corridor. While this particular investment is a great step in the right direction, Mickleham Road does need a lot more work to bring the road up to an acceptable, modern standard, and I will certainly continue to advocate on behalf of local commuters. Work will also start soon on the long-awaited, massive Craigieburn Road upgrade, improving traffic movement from the Hume Highway right through to Mickleham Road, including additional lanes and upgraded intersections which will make this dangerous and congested road much safer.

I rise very proudly today to commend this budget which seeks to do much more than just get us back on track to where we were pre COVID. With people at its heart, this is a budget which will be felt by all Victorians for a long time to come. I congratulate the Treasurer on an absolutely terrific 2020–21 state budget, and I commend it.