Victorian budget: Infrastructure, regions the big winners

Local government, transport and health groups welcome the Andrews Government’s record investment in infrastructure and community services.  

Victoria’s councils have said the state budget’s spending on state and local infrastructure will help them provide services and facilities to a growing community.

The Municipal Association of Victoria singled out the $100 million in funding for local roads and $43 million to help councils with early childhood infrastructure as standout measures in the State Government’s election-year budget handed down on Wednesday.

Councils in rural Victoria will also benefit from a new $20 million Rural Council Transformation Program that will seek to improve their efficiency, while regional Tourism Boards will get an extra $2 million.

A boost of $50 million to the Growing Suburbs Fund will support local governments in providing new and upgraded community facilities in key suburbs, according to the budget.

However, despite the big spend on infrastructure, MAV president Mary Lalios said the peak was disappointed there was no reinvestment of landfill levies in projects that would develop the state’s recycling capacity.

Asset sale contributes to infrastructure spend

The Victorian Government has ramped up its total infrastructure spend to $13.7 billion, a dramatic increase from the $5 billion a year being spent as recently as 2015.

With Victoria leading the country both in terms of economic and population growth, the State Government announced $4.3 billion for roads across the state and $1.9 billion on public transport, as well as big spending on regional and local infrastructure.

On the back of economic growth of 3.3 per cent (above a national average of 2 per cent), the Victorian Government has predicted a $1.4 billion budget surplus in 2018-19.

Half of the $2.1 billion the State Government received from the Commonwealth for its share of the Snowy Hydro Electric will fund key projects such as the Shepparton Line upgrade ($313 million) and Ballarat Base Hospital redevelopment ($462 million) as well as a $929 million program of new or upgraded schools.

The state’s freight and logistics industry welcomed the budget’s spend on construction and upgrades to Victoria’s transport networks.

“We are especially pleased that significant funding has been allocated for roads and transport infrastructure that will ease congestion for freight operators, and improve productivity and efficiency,” said Peter Anderson, chief executive of the Victorian Transport Association.

Historic spend on mental health

In health and community services, the budget committed an unprecedented $705 million for mental health services and support. Among the initiatives will be “crisis hubs” in emergency departments and more support services in regional areas.

The budget provides $2.1 billion for extra staff and capacity in the health system, and $1.2 billion to build and expand hospitals across the state.

The Victorian Healthcare Association, representing public healthcare providers in the state, said it applauded the “historic” spend on public and community health, which represented an increase of 6.9 per cent on the previous year.

The peak’s CEO Tom Symondson said the significant investment in mental health was much needed and would go some way towards addressing the massive impact to hospitals and to the community.

“We’re delighted to see the investment in initiatives such as the crisis hubs in emergency departments, but a significant gap remains in community-based mental health and we hope to work with the government ahead of the November election to identify solutions to this important issue,” Mr Symondson said.

Among its education measures, the Victorian Government has allocated $172 million to fund free tuition across 30 TAFE and pre-apprenticeship courses in growth industries.

Boost to regions

In the regions, the budget commits $760 million to the state’s nine regional partnerships, with $153 million going toward the Geelong City Deal.

The government has allocated $2.2 billion for roads in Melbourne’s northern and south-eastern suburbs, and $941 million to upgrade the regional road network, while a new country roads body will be established with staff in every regional centre.

Other measures in the budget include $25 million to tackle the digital divide in regional and rural Victoria, $25 million on local crime prevention initiatives and $24 million to strengthen Victoria Police’s response to organised technology-enabled crime.

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