Modest range of disability initiatives in Victorian 2023–24 budget
What you need to know
- The 2023–24 Victorian budget focuses on COVID debt recovery and funding election commitments.
- However, there is new or continued funding for initiatives for children and young people with disability, health and mental health.
- There is also funding for several programs that will directly or indirectly affect providers.
- NDS notes the lack of funding for some of measures we called for in our budget submission: building ‘tier two’ supports, addressing disability workforce challenges, and promoting good quality disability practice.
The 2023–24 Victorian budget focused on COVID debt recovery and funding election commitments. However, in addition to Victoria’s contribution of $2.8 billion to NDIS, there is new or continued funding for a number of disability initiatives, particularly for children and young people with disability, and in the health and mental health spheres.
While NDS welcomes these initiatives, we note the lack of measures from our budget submission to significantly build ‘tier two’ supports and the disability workforce, and promote good quality disability practice.
Children and Young People
Pleasingly, there are initiatives for children and young people with disability. There is a $202.9 million package for students for disability on top of the existing $1.6 billion Disability Inclusion program. This includes $18.1 million for supporting inclusion in kindergarten for children with additional needs, with increased Preschool Field Officer support, a more consistent assessment approach, continued specialised equipment funding, and design and piloting of new approaches to support children with a disability or developmental delay.
Another welcome development is the expansion of the out-of-hours care program to 30 specialist schools by 2026, with $11.3 million funding (within a budget of $235 million) for students with disability across the state.
The education package also includes, in each government specialist school, new NDIS navigators to assist families access disability support services. There is also funding of $31.9 million to continue the Students with Disabilities Transport Program for students at mainstream and special schools. Funding is also available to employ specialist officers to support students with disability transition to TAFE.
Health and Mental Health
The budget expands or continues some initiatives in the health and mental health areas. There is $9.1 million to expand the Pathways to Home program, which focuses on moving NDIS participants out of hospital into homes. NDS also welcomes continuation of Disability Liaison Officers in hospitals, who identify and address barriers in accessing health services for people with disability. This is funded under the State Disability Plan with $3.9 million.
There is continued investment in mental health, as the government continues to implement the recommendations from the Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System. Funding of $77 million will see the six Mental Health and Wellbeing Local Services expanded to 50 Mental Health and Wellbeing Locals by 2026. NDS is working to ensure that the needs of people with disabilities are well served by these new Locals.
An additional year of funding for the Mental Health and Wellbeing Hubs has also been confirmed. These were established during COVID-19 restrictions and will operate while the Locals are being set up.
NDS is disappointed with the lack of specific initiatives targeting disability workforce challenges, but welcome some related measures:
- Scholarships for speech pathology and occupational therapy students to work in regional areas, as part of the budget’s education package.
- The Free TAFE program will now extend to more than 70 courses and be available to people who already have a higher qualifications. The once-per-lifetime limit on free TAFE for some training pathways has been removed. These initiatives come under the $186 million to expand subsidised training in the state.
- We flagged the $9 million for the new Gig Worker Support Service in a recent news update.
- We also note the $120 million investment for Service Victoria to build and maintain digital services. We hope this will help improve the NDIS Check processes, which can create significant delays for providers with recruitment.
Quality and Regulation
NDS welcomes continued funding for the Victorian Disability Advocacy program. However, we are disappointed there is no targeted funding for prevention of abuse or promotion of good practice in disability services to complement the funding for regulation, which includes $12.4 million for the Victorian Disability Worker Commission and the Victorian Disability Services Commission.
Business tax changes
NDS associate members will note changes to payroll tax, in part to contribute to the ‘COVID debt repayment plan’:
- From 1 July, businesses with national annual payrolls above $10 million will temporarily pay additional payroll tax, at a rate of 0.5 per cent and businesses with national annual payrolls above $100 million will pay an extra one per cent.
- There will be an increase in the payroll tax-free threshold from $700,000 to $900,000 for small businesses from this July, and then to $1 million from July 2025.
- The tax-free amount will reduce for each dollar a business pays in wages over $3 million.
- Businesses with wages over $5 million will not benefit from the tax-free threshold from 1 July 2024.
- There is also a commitment to progressively abolish business insurance duty from 2024–25, and to abolish stamp duty for commercial and industrial properties, replacing it with an annual property tax over 10 years.