November 5, 2010
ABUSED children and disability rarely rate a mention at election time. Politicians prefer to talk up the schools and hospitals they will spruce up in critical marginal seats.
But John Brumby believes he has a good story to tell about social policy. The story goes back to 2005, when Labor under Steve Bracks introduced its A Fairer Victoria policy.
The idea behind the policy – on which the government has already spent $6 billion – is to create opportunities for the most needy and vulnerable. But will this $493 million funding boost make the state any fairer?
Brumby deserves points for having good intentions and yesterday’s announcement will go at least some way to addressing the need. For instance, new respite services will be welcomed by families that desperately need a break from the constant care they provide to relatives with complex disabilities.
But when it comes to supported accommodation, the new measures are a tiny step considering the backlog of more than 1000 people with disabilities on waiting lists.
On the issue of vulnerable children, there is funding for 80 new child ”support” workers. Despite funding for 100 more frontline workers last year, Brumby remains under pressure on the retention of child protection staff. The policy does not help recruit more foster carers, the unsung heroes of the system. The number of foster carers has been declining at a worrying rate.
It is significant that Brumby chose to launch his big-ticket social justice policy in the electorate of Melbourne, where cabinet minister Bronwyn Pike is barely clinging to her seat. Pike, who attended the launch even though the policy does not fall into her portfolio of education, is in serious danger of losing her seat to the Greens and is keen to talk up social justice.
Labor is mindful that voters in the inner city care about social justice issues and punished Labor at the federal election for the party’s position on climate change, asylum seekers and same-sex marriage. Now, Labor fears it will suffer a similar fate at the state election.