The 2021 Victoria budget ensures the state’s economic recovery continues at pace and will be boosted by a “once in a generation” reform of mental health services, Treasurer Tim Pallas told this morning’s CEDA Victorian state budget briefing.
“We played to our strengths by investing in high growth areas of comparative advantage” in the 2020 budget, Mr Pallas said. “In this budget we are ensuring we don’t take our foot of the pedal.”
Unemployment in the state has bounced back above pre-pandemic levels, the Victorian Treasurer said, noting that jobs for women, who were disproportionately impacted by job losses, were also above pre-recession levels.
“Our recovery is well underway, the outlook is positive,” he said, noting that Victoria was outperforming New South Wales in both jobs growth and the participation rate.
“There were some who thought that a strong bounce back may be out of reach and I’m thrilled to see the performance of the Victorian economy has proved many of us wrong - including me.”
One of the pillars of the budget, delivered last night, is an overhaul of mental health services, funded by a levy on some leading businesses.
Mental health “had to be at the centre” of our budget, the Treasurer said, especially given the findings of the Royal Commission into Victoria's Mental Health System.
The state is “building a new mental health system from the ground up”, Mr Pallas said, with the government recognising that previous approaches had failed.
“We have a mental health crisis of unprecedented proportions.
“For far too long the suffering in the community has not been taken seriously enough … its why we are delivering the biggest social reform of a generation.”
Mental health issues are no longer something to sweep under the rug, he said.
“This is a problem that has to exposed to the daylight of scrutiny.”
While expensive, Mr Pallas told the room it is more costly not to act – and that every dollar spent will also have the extra impact of creating jobs.
“We‘re making sure that every dollar of investment is doing double duty” of caring for those in need and providing jobs, he said.
“Not only do we get the policy right ... but we also get the economic enablement of jobs in the community.”
When asked about the levy discouraging employment and growth, Mr Pallas noted the cost to business of mental health in the community.
“Nobody likes paying extra taxes,” but to keep the state’s strong economic growth running, “we need to look one of the biggest retardants” of growth, mental health.
“With this budget we are creating jobs and caring for Victorians,” he said.
“It isn’t all over until it is all over for all of us, and there are many in our community still doing it tough.”
Regarding debt, he said loans accrued were at a level that is “profoundly lower than most of the previous century”.
“While debts increased over the past decade … the increase is still moderate compared to debt accrued in various circumstances over previous decades.”
The briefing was just the second CEDA in-person event held in the Melbourne CBD since Mr Pallas’s appearance at CEDA’s 2020 Economic and Political Overview in Melbourne 15 months ago.