THE Victorian government will plunge into $118.5 billion of net debt as it pumps money into healthcare and education with its "big-spend" 2022/2023 budget announced on Tuesday afternoon.
State member for Bendigo East Jacinta Allan MP said while the spend is significant, Tuesday's budget reflects a Labor commitment to investing for the future.
"We're continuing to invest in the services our community needs," she said, "Liberal and National governments have long taken the approach in government of cutting services."
Ms Allan said from the opposition's recent commentary it was clear "if given the chance they would do that again."
"We're investing in services that people need and supporting and creating jobs with a strong eye into the future to bring money back into the state."
The highlight of treasurer Tim Pallas' eighth budget is a $12 billion pandemic repair plan designed to address the cracks in the state's healthcare system which saw skyrocketing ambulance calls, exhausted healthcare staff and long surgery wait times as a result of the COVID pandemic.
The major health investment will see $4.2 billion for a COVID health support scheme.
This will include another $1.1 billion for rapid antigen tests and $284 million for personal protective equipment.
To allow more patients to be treated at home and open up extra space in public hospitals, Victoria's Better at Home nursing program will be expanded with a $698 million investment.
As ambulance wait times continue to struggle after the Omicron wave, the government will spend $333 million to recruit 400 new staff for the Emergency Services Telecommunications Authority (ESTA).
At a local level, Bendigo's very own Health Heart Victoria program will see $6.6 million to continue its work in health promotion across the Loddon Mallee region.
Mental health will also see a $1.3 billion investment, as the state government aims to respond to the recommendations of the Royal Commission into Victoria's Mental Health System.
$6.5 million will go towards a new emergency department mental health and alcohol and other drugs crisis hub at the Latrobe Regional Hospital.
As regional community health services struggle with increased demand, the budget will see $3.5 million also provided to plan for future alcohol and other drug withdrawal hubs in Ballarat, Bendigo and Shepparton.
$36 million will be invested in constructing an alcohol and other drugs residential rehabilitation facility, including a withdrawal facility in Mildura in order to reduce treatment times across the Loddon Mallee region.
This includes works at University Hospital Geelong, Bendigo Hospital, Latrobe Regional Hospital and Mildura Base Hospital.
With a looming November state election, the 'sweetener' budget will also see $1.8 billion invested in school infrastructure.
However regional Victorians will miss out as $581.5 million will be invested to construct 13 new schools - all in Melbourne's outer suburbs.
Nonetheless, 36 special schools will get an upgrade at a cost of $326 million, including $8.8 million for Bendigo's Special Developmental School in Kangaroo Flat.
$2.6 billion will be invested in infrastructure development for the 2026 Commonwealth Games set to be held in regional Victorian hubs including Bendigo, Ballarat, Gippsland and Geelong.
An investment of $20 million will expand the Assessment and Referral Court (ARC), including at the Ballarat, Geelong and Shepparton Magistrates' Courts to continue the work of the ARC in addressing underlying factors contributing to offending.
Bendigo Law Court will also aim to be up and running from 2023 with new funding to expand specialist court services to the Loddon Mallee region.
It will be the first regional court in Victoria to provide specialist courts for the Koorie community and will also include a Specialist Family Violence Court.
Safer road upgrades
$101 million will also be invested in regional road upgrades following a 16.2 per cent rise in fatalities on Victorian roads this year (86 deaths so far compared to 74 in 2021).
The works include intersection upgrades, new overtaking lanes and new roundabouts on key regional roads and highways.
Notably for the Bendigo region, the much anticipated Howard Street and Midland Highway intersection will be set for an upgrade after a string of collisions involving children saw community members rally for change in March.
The High Street and Urquhart Street intersection in Woodend will also see upgrades as part of the state budget.
Thanks to the significant budget spend, including yesterday's cost of living $250 energy bonus announcement - estimated to cost the state $250 million, Victoria will continue to spend more than it raises.
Total revenue is set to increase by 12.7 per cent to $81.9 billion in 2021-22 but total expenditure will hit $99.5 billion.
The state opposition said the budget "is not a repair plan for 6.7 million Victorians, but a public relations repair plan for one man, Premier Daniel Andrews".
The state election is set to be held in November 2022.
More to come
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