Regional councils have good reason to be cautiously optimistic about the opportunities arising after the handing down of this month's state budget. The self-described 'pandemic repair plan' outlines many chances for collaboration between state and local government, much of which will be vital for the budget to be implemented.
We, at the Municipal Association of Victoria, expect councils to welcome the plan, alongside the hope it leads to a stronger working relationship between the two sectors of government.
As the level of government that works most closely with our communities, councils will be central to the delivery of initiatives across health and mental health, early learning and the 'Living Local Fund'.
The $30.5m being spent to promote social inclusion action and the extra $9.1m for pilot programs in 10 municipalities is a vital start in mental health funding. Alongside the significant spend in health care, this represents an appropriate response to pandemic recovery.
Money designated to programs that enable social recovery - such as the $3m for social recovery for older Victorians and carers is also something local government is highly supportive of.
We've long advocated for funding to ensure our coastlines can withstand the impacts of climate change, and the $16.9m investment in resilient coasts is a step in the right direction, albeit the tip of the iceberg of what is needed. Significant further investment in adaptation planning and works is essential to protect our communities and infrastructure.
While there are positives, the local government sector is concerned about some gaps in the budget.
Principally the lack of funding for councils in emergency management, where the state government has again overlooked this key service of councils, so critical during and after natural disasters.
The state continues to place councils at the forefront of recovery work after natural disasters, without recognising how many councils do not have the capabilities required to fulfil this vital role. This needs to be rectified to ensure communities don't learn the hard way about a lack of investment in emergency management when the next major disaster comes.
There is ongoing investment for two other major council services - kindergarten and maternal and child health - but both sectors need more.
We have seen across Victoria a workforce shortage in kindergartens and early learning that has failed to be addressed in this budget.
Maternal and child health requires more than just 'business as usual' funding, as it recovers from the disruption of the medical code brown earlier this year. Council run MCH services are so vitally important for new parents in tracking physical and emotional development of their newborn. Every one of Victoria's 80,000 newborns are engaged with the service after leaving hospital. We do not want to see this critical early intervention service at risk through a lack of funding.
Regular readers of this monthly column will have already heard about MAV's transport advocacy campaign 'locals know what locals need'. In localised transport needs, the budget missed the mark.
The state government's desire to forge ahead with its 'Big Build', at the expense of the local needs of suburbs, towns, and regions across the state.
This approach not only takes potential funding away from pivotal local projects, it also blows hot air into an already overheated market for transport infrastructure costs.
The impact of these costs is felt far beyond new projects, both large and small. It makes it even harder to properly maintain existing council assets - an ongoing issue for communities and councils across the state, especially regional and rural communities.
One undoubted success of the 'Big Build' has been the rail removal program. These completed projects have created more local amenities - skate parks, foot and bike paths. The community benefits are great, but it should not be lost that these assets continue to add to the ongoing maintenance bill councils now face.
The budget may lack recognition of the work that local governments do, but we stand ready for meaningful engagement to ensure this budget can be successfully implemented.
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