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How does the ACT Budget deliver for Canberra’s most vulnerable citizens?

By Rebecca Vassarotti - 8 June 2017 6

The 2017-18 ACT Budget was always going to be shaped by its status as a post-election budget. The commentary was always going to be focused on how the Government was going to deliver on its election promises against the challenging background of limited options to raise revenue and limited discretionary expenditure, given that so much of our revenue is required to deliver quality health, education, justice and municipal services for the city.

Given this, it is no surprise and completely appropriate that this year the ACT Government has focused on delivering on core election commitments, with large investments being made to support health infrastructure, transport infrastructure and education infrastructure and support. These investments have been broadly welcomed by commentators and it is hard to argue the need to ensure that we have modern health facilities, fit-for-purpose school facilities, and infrastructure to make our city works.

Given my areas of interest are in areas of supporting low-income, disadvantaged and vulnerable Canberrans, I am used to needing to look hard to find the commitments that I am looking for in budget statements. This year it was no different, and it took me a long while to find what I was looking for buried in supplementary papers released as part of the budget paper package.

One real positive is that the community is now benefiting from the dividends of the safer families levy that was introduced to deliver better domestic and family violence responses. This levy has enabled additional investment in frontline support and legal services, and the investments made last year continue this year. This budget has also included funding for the development of a Family Violence Hub, which is an innovative service delivery model which provides wrap-around services to families in crisis and recovery. The current investment is around half a million dollars over the next four years is a good start and let’s hope that it is properly funded in the long term.

The recognition of the need to support access to mental health services, including support for young people in schools and needing acute services will have a significant positive impact on the well-being of our whole community. The investment of almost $24 million will make a real difference in supporting people who are in need of mental health support, an area where people currently struggle to access the services they need at the time that they need them.

With the rollout of the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) in full swing, it is important to see ongoing investment to ensure students with a disability are able to access inclusive education, that the capacity of services supporting people with disabilities and coordination of the NDIS system is supported. A missed opportunity in this budget is supporting people who fall out of the NDIS but still require support due to a disability.

A very welcome initiative is the continuation of the Throughcare Initiative that supports people exited the justice system, ensuring that they have supports in place to re-integrate into the community in a way that is supported. This is an innovative and evidence-based program that will deliver outcomes that far exceed the $5.3 million investment made through this budget.

Given the priority issues of homelessness and affordable housing, it was surprising that this was not given a higher priority in this budget. There is significant investment in public housing renewal which is needed, and it pleasing to see an additional $1million to support specialist homelessness and housing support services, and around $700,000 to commence planning for innovative housing models such as Common Ground and accommodation for people with high needs. It is not close to being enough, and really disappointing that ways of delivering affordable rental affordable options for low-income housing has not been addressed – perhaps the upcoming Homeless Summit will be an opportunity to develop models that can be funded in future budgets. A good initiative is the Government’s introduction of a ‘vacancy tax’ which aims to ensure that homes that can be rented don’t stand empty. It’s  a good initiative particularly given we have the second highest rate of homelessness in Australia.

There are some other positive investments, including ongoing support for the Safe Schools Initiative, and funding for a new health facility for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, to be delivered in partnership with the Winnunga Nimmityjah Aboriginal Health Service.

So, a solid budget, with no surprises, and one that aims to respond to a range of issues and concerns. As always, there is much more work to do to reach the admirable aim that of Canberra’s becoming Australia’s most inclusive city, particularly to ensure that this is a community that belongs to everyone and one that supports and enables everyone to reach their potential.

Do you think the budget has done enough to support our most vulnerable citizens?

Rebecca sits on a number of community-based boards including the Early Morning Centre and Community Housing Canberra. She ran as an ACT Greens candidate in the last Territory budget.

What’s Your opinion?


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6 Responses to
How does the ACT Budget deliver for Canberra’s most vulnerable citizens?
Rebecca Vassarotti 6:14 pm 09 Jun 17

A_Cog said :

Sigh. A number of sweeping statements here ignore the realities of shocking incompetence and neglect. But I’ll stick to just one meta-issue.

Throughcare is NOT a success. The “evaluation” does not declare which suburbs the program has used. So we cannot compare those sites to any spike in crime. Just because an offender was not arrested, does not mean they did not reoffend. The ACT Police only solve 12% of reports (the lowest in Australia). The AMC has the highest rate of recidivism in the nation. Vassaroti’s party colleague Rattenbury has been jail minister for half a decade. The Auditor-General shredded his oversight of the jail. Oks Estate was used for this cohort, crime DOUBLED but only 3 offenders were prosecuted.

Additionally, the NDIS misses 75% of people with psychosocial disabilities, ie, people with schizophrenia and/or bipolar with drug addiction… which is the main prison cohort. Who is the minister for mental health? Rattenbury. So Vassaroti praises two programs that Rattenbury is central to, but I can quickly give two examples showing he’s beyond incompetent.

When I talk about the success of Throughcare I am referring to the independent evaluation (which can be accessed at https://www.sprc.unsw.edu.au/research/projects/throughcare-evaluation/). It did find that return to custody episodes for clients reduced by 23% compared to the three-year period before the Program was introduced. I have seen the program work in action and was extremely impressed by the level of practical support provided to those exiting the prison which was addressing the some of the systemic issues that might lead people to re-offend. It is not the only program that is going to impact on offending rates, is a voluntary program so not everyone at AMC are going through it. In supporting investment into this program I am not offering any opinion around ACT Policing which I think is a pretty separate issue.

In relation to NDIS, I would completely agree that it does not work well for particular groups of people. People who suffer cognitive decline are another group for which the NDIS really struggles to respond to, and as I noted in the article, there are groups of people who will not be covered. When looking at people who are covered by the NDIS, we need to work with the National Disability Insurance Authority who is making the decisions around this for individuals, and agree there is more work to do locally around responding when the gaps emerge. It doesn’t mean however that investment into the system shouldn’t be welcomed.

A_Cog 4:35 pm 09 Jun 17

… and another thing.

Convenient that Rattenbury talks about a secret report showing Throughcare works, at the same time the 2017-18 budget changes the calculation for recidivism.

So even if the secret Throughcare report was published, no-one could actually check it against 2016-17 actuals in the budget papers and annual reports.

But hey, the Greens are all about transparency.

dungfungus 9:57 am 09 Jun 17

Rebecca Vassarotti said :

dungfungus said :

I heard this on the radio this morning: ww.abc.net.au/news/2017-06-08/canberra-households-slugged-with-huge-increase-in-energy-bills/8598756

Aren’t we lucky that the government had the foresight to build those huge solar farms so now we can switch off from the greedy interstate wholesalers and enjoy cheap, clean renewable energy.

Three cheers for Simon Corbell.!

While these prices are set by the independent regulator and not the government, the massive price hikes that will be felt by energy consumers is going to hit low-income households particularly hard. I do understand that this is the result of the significant increases in the wholesale energy prices which is a national issue, rather than one that has been created locally. Nevertheless it is something that we will have to deal with. I work in the energy and water area of the ACT Civil and Administrative Tribunal where we are supporting households that are struggling with high levels of energy-related debt and I am certainly very worried about the impact of this announcement.

I hope you are not using my taxes to subsidise households that can’t balance their budgets. I’m a self-funded retiree and I would like some more income so I can go on a holiday but this has been cancelled the last round of government rate increases, car rego etc. etc. and now this means I will have to forego that so why should I divert my self generated holiday savings to you to distribute to someone else?

If it’s a “national issue” why isn’t it the “national” government providing assistance?

A_Cog 7:38 pm 08 Jun 17

Sigh. A number of sweeping statements here ignore the realities of shocking incompetence and neglect. But I’ll stick to just one meta-issue.

Throughcare is NOT a success. The “evaluation” does not declare which suburbs the program has used. So we cannot compare those sites to any spike in crime. Just because an offender was not arrested, does not mean they did not reoffend. The ACT Police only solve 12% of reports (the lowest in Australia). The AMC has the highest rate of recidivism in the nation. Vassaroti’s party colleague Rattenbury has been jail minister for half a decade. The Auditor-General shredded his oversight of the jail. Oks Estate was used for this cohort, crime DOUBLED but only 3 offenders were prosecuted.

Additionally, the NDIS misses 75% of people with psychosocial disabilities, ie, people with schizophrenia and/or bipolar with drug addiction… which is the main prison cohort. Who is the minister for mental health? Rattenbury. So Vassaroti praises two programs that Rattenbury is central to, but I can quickly give two examples showing he’s beyond incompetent.

Rebecca Vassarotti 6:34 pm 08 Jun 17

dungfungus said :

I heard this on the radio this morning: ww.abc.net.au/news/2017-06-08/canberra-households-slugged-with-huge-increase-in-energy-bills/8598756

Aren’t we lucky that the government had the foresight to build those huge solar farms so now we can switch off from the greedy interstate wholesalers and enjoy cheap, clean renewable energy.

Three cheers for Simon Corbell.!

While these prices are set by the independent regulator and not the government, the massive price hikes that will be felt by energy consumers is going to hit low-income households particularly hard. I do understand that this is the result of the significant increases in the wholesale energy prices which is a national issue, rather than one that has been created locally. Nevertheless it is something that we will have to deal with. I work in the energy and water area of the ACT Civil and Administrative Tribunal where we are supporting households that are struggling with high levels of energy-related debt and I am certainly very worried about the impact of this announcement.

dungfungus 9:50 am 08 Jun 17

I heard this on the radio this morning: ww.abc.net.au/news/2017-06-08/canberra-households-slugged-with-huge-increase-in-energy-bills/8598756

Aren’t we lucky that the government had the foresight to build those huge solar farms so now we can switch off from the greedy interstate wholesalers and enjoy cheap, clean renewable energy.

Three cheers for Simon Corbell.!

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