The Andrews government will hand down its budget on November 24, with debt expected to soar even further as the Treasurer seeks to steer Victoria out of the COVID-19 recession.
Interest groups have put together wish lists designed to get more people back into jobs and stimulate the state’s economy. Here’s what they want.
Victorian Chamber of Commerce and Industry
The payroll tax threshold would be increased to $1 million (from $650,000), and its liabilities for employers with payrolls of up to $10 million in 2019-20 would be waived this financial year, under a bold plan put forward by the Victorian Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
The powerful business lobby group wants the government to focus on protecting and growing local business and jobs, “reclaim” the state’s global reputation and define and implement the next big build when it hands down its budget later this month.
The chamber has made more than 50 recommendations to the Andrews government, including grants of up to $50,000 to offset business costs associated with becoming COVID-safe, and providing one-off grants of up to $20,000 to sole traders.
“Victoria was the engine room of the national economy before COVID-19 hit, and, with the right incentives, levers and policies, we can be once again,” chamber chief executive Paul Guerra said.
“Victoria’s post-COVID-19 economy will be a different economy: we must be bold in our thinking and embrace innovation, collaboration, technology and business entrepreneurship.”
Victorian Farmers Federation
The VFF has its sights on the completion of the Murray Basin Rail Project, $30 million to extend the Agriculture Energy Investment Plan and $10 million to match the Commonwealth’s commitment for the On-Farm Emergency Water Infrastructure Rebate Scheme.
The sector has been hit hard by bushfires, drought, floods and the escalating trade war between China and Australia over the coronavirus pandemic.
“Victorian farmers and rural communities need and deserve fit-for-purpose roads, freight rail, affordable telecommunications, health and education to ensure they have the means to be a viable, attractive proposition for those wishing to make the move to the country,” president David Jochinke said.
“At the very least, this must form part of a minimum standard that allows agriculture to be a major part of Australia’s economic recovery.”
Property Council of Australia
The Property Council is arguing for a planned return to the office, extending planning permits and fast-tracking new ones, stamp duty concessions for first home owners and off-the-plan investors, a build-to-rent package and extending the HomesVic program.
“There is no question that stimulus for the property sector will make a huge difference to the economy,” interim executive director Matthew Kandelaars said.
“International experience has shown it takes time for people to return and every day they don’t return has an impact on jobs and workplaces. A back to office plan that works through the various issues for all of us is urgent.”
Public Transport Users Association
Boosting public transport services across the day, detailed planning for the Metro 2 rail tunnel and funding “relatively cheap but effective” infrastructure projects, such as short tram extensions, accessible tram upgrades and better pedestrian facilities, should be a priority for the government, the association’s Daniel Bowen says.
Mr Bowen also wants more funding for regional rail upgrades, including the Murray Basin Rail Project.
“Infrastructure is an effective way of boosting jobs and the economy, particularly if it is distributed around the state, and not confined to Melbourne,” Mr Bowen said.
“Aside from infrastructure, boosting public transport services provides direct relief for households affected by COVID-19 by helping them reduce the financial impact of driving when accessing education and employment opportunities.”
Australian Education Union
Victoria’s prolonged lockdown forced millions of students to learn from home.
The union is urging the government to invest further in public schools, hire and retain more than 6000 additional early childhood educators and secure TAFE funding based on the actual cost of education and training.
“High quality public education is the basis of a prosperous social and economic future for Victorians,” the union said.
“Funding our future by investing properly in public education must always be a fundamental focus of any government. It is not enough to just invest in roads and other infrastructure, we need to invest in our people and the future of our people.”
Council to Homeless Persons
The council’s key priorities are increasing Victoria’s social-housing stock to the national average of 4.5 per cent of all housing; expanding the Housing First teams to reduce recurring homelessness; implementing Housing First for people transitioning out of psychiatric care and fully funding Home Stretch, which allows 18-year-olds leaving out-of-home care to receive support until they turn 21.
Before the coronavirus pandemic took hold in Australia, this year began with some of the most destructive bushfires in the country’s history.
Environment Victoria is calling for large investments in energy efficiency and switching from gas to electricity, modernising the electricity grid with more energy storage, expanding the Latrobe Valley Authority to support the region’s transition from coal, funding that enables the Portland aluminium smelter to start running on clean energy and landscape management for bushfire-affected areas as well as protecting riverbanks.
“As we emerge from lockdown, Premier Andrews’ job isn’t just to build back the economy we had, but to build the economy we need to face the big challenges of the future, including climate change,” chief executive Jonathan La Nauze said.
“There are thousands of good local jobs in energy efficiency, renewable energy and restoring our devastated landscape after the bushfires. Smart governments are recognising a healthy economy depends on a healthy environment – they don’t have to be pitted against one another.”
Law Institute of Victoria
The institute’s top priority in this year’s budget is more funding for Legal Aid, saying vulnerable Victorians had been “suffering” from a lack of face-to-face access to independent legal advice.
It also wants court infrastructure updated and dedicated funding for legal practices to upgrade their phone systems, IT and offices.
“Access to justice is a fundamental right. We have supported legislation to allow the courts to continue to operate during the pandemic, for example judge-alone trials,” president Sam Pandya said.
“But we want to ensure that, as we return to ‘COVID normal’, clients’ rights to access a lawyer and obtain independent legal advice is not compromised due to the urgency to cut back on court waiting lists. We welcome the return of jury trials and support further funding to support our courts return to some in person trials and hearings.”
Domestic Violence Victoria
Victoria’s coronavirus lockdown contributed to the highest rate of family violence in the state’s history as reports of abuse in the home rose 6.7 per cent in the 12 months to June, according to the latest Crime Statistics Agency figures.
Domestic Violence Victoria chief executive Tania Farha said the pandemic exacerbated problems that existed prior to COVID-19.
The organisation is pleading with the Andrews government for increased funding to hire more case workers and give the workforce a pay rise, money to upgrade technology and equipment, ongoing funding to implement all the recommendations of the Royal Commission into Family Violence and funds to build more social housing.
“We know that, across the board, emergencies like natural disasters increase the frequency and severity of family violence,” Ms Farha said.
“COVID-19 is no exception and the specialist family violence sector needs to be resourced to respond to demand during the COVID-19 recovery and any future outbreaks or other disasters.”
Regional Cities Victoria
Data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics released this week revealed Melburnians fled to regional Victoria as the coronavirus pandemic upended people’s lives.
Regional Cities Victoria wants Treasurer Tim Pallas to deliver on initiatives that will accelerate construction projects, improve digital and telecommunications infrastructure, build more affordable housing and developing recycling and resource recovery infrastructure.
“The issue of digital connectivity has been brought into sharp focus during the pandemic, with the shortcomings of accessible and reliable digital connectivity in regional Victoria evident as more people have had to work and study from home,” spokesman Craig Niemann said.
“It is a disadvantage that must be addressed as a matter of priority to future proof regional communities.”
As the pandemic gripped the state, Volunteering Victoria recorded a sharp decline in the number of volunteers – there were 1.1 million fewer volunteers (down from 2.3 million).
Volunteering Victoria said volunteering was not “free” and it does not “just happen”.
“It requires a range of investments, including staff for volunteer co-ordination and management,” chief executive Scott Miller said.
The group wants grants programs that support volunteers directly and indirectly, funding for emergency volunteering and programs to help unemployed young people develop skills.
The State of Volunteering report has found there is a return on investment of $3.70 for every $1 spent on volunteering.
Municipal Association of Victoria
Local governments are best placed to understand the dire impact of COVID-19 on communities, the MAV says.
It is asking the Andrews government to provide councils with $60 million for walking and bike riding infrastructure, $16 million to support local creative industries, $8 million to build a network of youth support workers, $40 million over four years for local road black spot funding and $100 million over four years for coastal climate change adaptation.
Australian Medical Association
The peak medical body has asked the Victorian government to consider a dramatic overhaul of the state’s public health system to reflect a NSW-style model by establishing a number of smaller units across the state.
In NSW, locally focused public health units were established over three decades, with some concentrating solely on containing and preventing infectious diseases, while others tackle immunisation and prevention of chronic diseases such as diabetes, cancer and obesity.
Sumeyya is a state political reporter for The Age.