As the Victorian child and family peak body, the Centre for Excellence in Child and Family Welfare (the Centre) welcomes increased investment across several key areas that affect our member organisations and the lives of children and families across the state. However, it is disappointing to see little in the budget for families struggling to meet basis material needs as the cost of living rises.
We commend the Federal Government on the increased funding for housing and homelessness, including a 10-Year National Housing and Homelessness Plan, the construction of 30,000 social and affordable homes over five years and $100 million for transitional housing options for women and children fleeing family violence. These are important measures.
Alongside the new 10-year National Plan to End Family Violence Against Women and Children, we also welcome the enhancement of funding for the first Action Plan and for new initiatives that will address the behaviour of the perpetrators of domestic violence and assist Temporary Visa Holders who are experiencing domestic violence.
We welcome the significant investment in First Nations communities and self-determination, including funding to prepare for a referendum to ensure a First Nations Voice to Parliament in the constitution, expansive justice reinvestments, and significant investment in Closing the Gap, including $43.9m over four years from 2022–23 to improve early childhood outcomes for First Nations children.
This budget also includes a welcomed focus on disability, including creating a National Autism Strategy, a plan for the NDIS and $47 million over four years to better support people living with disability and their families.
It has been a particularly challenging year for so many of our children and families, particularly in regional and rural areas, with the ongoing impacts of the global pandemic, devastating floods, and significant cost of living pressures affecting all families. In light of this, the increased focus on disaster relief, including $630.4 million over four years from 2022–23 to strengthen Australia’s resilience to disasters, is very welcome.
The November budget provides new investments in youth, infant and perinatal mental health, including a free voluntary mental health check tool to assist teachers and schools to identify students with, or at risk of, declining mental health. However, these investments are very modest. There needs to be a much stronger focus in future budgets on increasing the mental health workforce and continuation of increased Medicare subsidised psychology sessions, particularly for children and young people.
It is disappointing not to see an increase in social security, including Job Seeker, considering the compounding challenges children and families face. Australia is experiencing a cost of living crisis with growing numbers of children and families in, or at risk of, poverty. While the commitment to deliver cheaper childcare and to reform the Paid Parental Leave Scheme are important supports for families, much more needs to be done for the 3 million people who currently live in poverty in Australia.
In particular, there needs to be a more explicit focus on children living in poverty. These children represent our future, and we need to give them the best possible start in life. The impacts of poverty on children’s lives can be devastating and lifelong unless we use all the political and budgetary levers in our power to address significant structural issues.
We still have too many parents, carers, young people and others in our community living on inadequate income payments, well below the poverty line. The Centre will continue to advocate for change over the term of this government, along with our member agencies and the Treating Families Fairly alliance of providers, peaks and academics. We will continue to push for an increase in social security payments and for the introduction of child rights impact statements on all policy decision making affecting the lives of children. With the federal government’s stated commitment to wellbeing, we have a window of opportunity to advocate for poverty alleviation as a key component of any wellbeing measure.