Caught in the Budget ‘mix’

Liberal MP Ann-Marie Hermans says new property taxes will flow through to renters. 188043_02

By Sahar Foladi

Cost-of-living relief in the 2023-’24 State budget has been given mixed reviews by social support groups.

State treasurer Tim Pallas detailed the social spending initiatives and funding decision of the 2023-‘24 budget at a Victorian Council of Social Services event on Friday 26 May.

VCOSS chief executive Emma King labelled the budget as a “mixed bag”.

“Going into the budget one of the key things we called for was to spare vulnerable and low-income Victorians and we’re really pleased to see that there have been.

“I think in terms of repayment of Covid-era debt we’re relieved to see that that is not falling on low-income Victorians and that is critical.”

Families will also benefit from free Kinder and three to four-year old kinder programs, the free TAFE and the Power Saving Bonus (PSB) in place now for round four.

However, since the release of the State Budget on Tuesday 23 May, the State Government has been hammered over whether it could have done more, especially with energy bills on the rise.

The Essential Services Commission has set a 25 per cent increase on the default power offer, which will result in an average increase of $325 for households and $752 for small businesses.

The Salvation Army spokesperson Warren Elliot said it meant the $250 Power Saving Bonus only covers a hole rather than providing relief.

“The measures in place around energy relief will obviously help families but the rise in cost of energy bills is set to go up again.”

Mr Elliot said while there’s always more that can be done, some initiatives in the budget should be applauded.

“Salvation Army is part of VCOSS support. We always like to see more help for those struggling in the community.

“There’s one thing alone that we’re pleased to see from Government is more early intervention funding. Kinder funding is part of that early intervention funding for families to re-enter the work force.

“We applauded those early intervention funding rather than the severe crisis funding.”

Opposition energy and resources spokesperson David Hodgett, was quick to jump on the spike in energy bills saying Andrews Government has “failed hardworking Victorian households and businesses.”

“These massive price increases come at the worst possible time for Victorians who continue to pay the price for Labor’s incompetence,” Mr Hodgett said.

“Under Labor life keeps getting harder and one-off payments won’t deliver more secure energy supplies or fix the systemic issue in our transmission network.

“A hot shower and a warm home should never be an unaffordable luxury. Victorians need a real plan to deliver an energy system that secures supply and will keep prices low.”

Dandenong MP Gabrielle Williams said the Free Kinder, Free Tafe and $250 Power Saving Bonus are in no way insignificant.

“The PSB has been available to people over multiple rounds. This budget funds round four, which means that it has been available for people to claim multiple times, which adds up.”

She said many of the initiatives are “economic enablers” that will deliver in the long term with Free Kinder to save families $2500 a year and Free Tafe can save up to $10,000 depending on the course.

“More than that, free kinder and TAFE facilitate women re-entering the workforce, which is not only good for gender equality, but is good for household incomes and importantly, addresses the retirement poverty too many women experience (due to impacts on superannuation savings from interrupted careers),” Ms Williams said.

Liberal South Eastern Metropolitan MP Ann-Marie Hermans seized onto ‘harsh’ new taxes, saying Victoria is “broke”.

“As a former teacher, I value education but there will be a cost to local families and children because of Labor’s new (private) schools tax.

“Dandenong’s vulnerable communities will also be hard hit, with higher rents because of Labor’s new property taxes and $100 million cut from vital community health programs that many rely on.”

VCOSS chief executive Ms King acknowledged the “cuts to critical services” but said there have been great investments too.

“We have some concerns that it may impact on the frontline services in the community sector because it’s about how it flows through.

“I would say the employment program under Jobs Victoria has been a stunning success.

“We’re very keen to speak to the Government about what might replace those programs, how the Commonwealth Government might step in, what they’ll put in because they’re critical programs, they’ve been a screaming success and they’ve delivered a real outcome to Victorians so we have to see what the next steps look like.

“On the bright side we’ve also seen some great investments in education particularly, teenagers who are at the risk of dropping out of schools.”

The Salvation Army will continue to call on State Government to work hand in hand with Federal Government to elevate cost of living pressures.