Mental health, regional communities in state budget funding boost

Monash Eastlink aerial view


Posted May 21, 2021

The Victorian Government has pitched an ambitious plan for the 2021 budget.

The State Government committed $3.8 billion to fund mental health initiatives, many of them to be fast-tracked in regional areas including in Benalla, Greater Geelong, and the LaTrobe Valley.

The $3.8b investment in mental health, to be funded by a levy on big business recommended by the Royal Commission into Mental Health, is a once in a generation spend aimed at transforming the delivery of mental health and wellbeing services. However business groups argue the additional taxes on businesses trying to get back on their feet after multiple lockdowns will further hamper their recovery.

“This sets a very dangerous precedent of fiscal repair that ultimately harms growth,” Business Council of Australia chief executive Jennifer Westacott says.

“While we welcome mental health reform, which is much needed to deal with systemic issues and the devastating impact of a long and disproportionate lockdown, but an approach that pits some Victorians against others by taxing jobs makes everyone a loser.”

RACV believes the health initiatives, along with funding to encourage tourism to the regions, additional road safety projects, and revitalising the Melbourne CBD should benefit the community, but we are very concerned about the continued overspending on major projects. This must be addressed.

Major project costs ballooned by an extra $3.6 billion, including the Metro Tunnel project by $1.37 billion.

As expected, there was ongoing investment for upgrading Victoria’s transport infrastructure, including funding for upgrades to allow additional trains to run through Caulfield junction, upgrades to suburban and regional roads and funding to begin detailed design and planning of long-awaited upgrades on the Calder Freeway.

Within regional Victoria, the government has committed $986 million for the design, construction, and maintenance of 25 new X’Trapolis 2.0 trains to be centred in Ballarat.

While funding for improvements across the public transport network are welcome, there was little money dedicated to improving active transport options – particularly the network of bicycle super-highways RACV has championed for a number of years.

“We need to get serious about active transport in order to give Victorians more options for how they get around,” RACV GM Mobility Elizabeth Kim says.

While many travel restrictions remain in place, Victorians should benefit from a $160 million funding boost for the state’s tourism sector including initiatives in Melbourne and the regions. Getting Melbourne back to where it was pre-covid must be a focus.

Also in the budget is $107 million to help revitalise Melbourne’s CBD, including funding to encourage visitors to support the cities restaurants and cafes.

“Bringing our regions and the Melbourne CBD back to life builds confidence and creates benefits for small and local businesses,” RACV EGM of Leisure Craig Peachey says.