Social justice update

The new Victorian Government has been willing to act on a number of social justice areas Uniting Church members have been actively involved with. Justice and International Mission unit director DR MARK ZIRNSAK provides an overview of various social justice related policy commitments from the new government.

TAFE Funding

In the 2012 Victorian budget, the previous Federal Government cut $290 million a year from TAFE funding. This included abolishing TAFE’s ‘full-service provider’ funding, which helps institutes provide libraries, computers, counselling and other student support services.

It is these sorts of services that allow TAFE to provide pathways to disadvantaged and low income students.

The new Victorian Government has committed $320 million for an immediate TAFE rescue fund, as well as committing to an inquiry into funding for Vocational Education and Training programs.

The funding includes $25 million to rebuild Chisholm TAFE, $8 million for a new student hub at Holmesglen TAFE in Moorabbin and $5 million for an industry hub at Federation University TAFE in Ballarat.

Ending the abuse of people in disability care

The Office of the Public Advocate has continued to raise concerns about the growing number of cases of people in residential care, for disability and mental health issues, being abused and neglected.

The Victorian Government has promised to undertake a thorough Parliamentary Inquiry into the systemic failures in Victoria’s disability care system. The inquiry will examine why abuse isn’t reported or acted upon, and how it can be prevented.

Labor’s Health Service Violence Prevention Fund has pledged $10 million to reduce violence by upgrading mental health facilities, conducting a safety audit of facilities and requiring health services to publicly report violent incidents.

Addressing mistreatment of students with disabilities and mental health issues

The Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission has previously highlighted inappropriate use of physical force and restraint against students with disabilities and mental health issues by staff in some Victorian schools.

$10 million has been pledged to help teachers and schools care for children with special needs and make schools more inclusive.

However, there is only a promise to investigate the establishment of a Schools Commissioner, as an independent umpire who could receive complaints from parents or students.

All new teachers will be required to have completed a special-needs component as part of their tertiary studies.

Electricity and Gas Disconnections

From 2012, incidences of household electricity and gas disconnection has increased.

In the 2013-2014 financial year, 40,000 Victorians had their gas and electricity disconnected.

Gas and electricity suppliers are supposed to determine if their customers are facing hardship and offer an affordable repayment plan before disconnecting utilities.

However, it appeared companies were not willing to give people in hardship genuinely affordable repayment plans and instead used disconnection as a debt collection tool.

The new Labor Government has promised that energy companies who systematically break the law, such as altering contracts, will be named and shamed and face fines of up to $20,000.

A Wrongful Disconnection Policy Scheme will be introduced. For every breach that contributes to the wrongful disconnection of a customer energy companies will be liable for a $5,000 penalty.

The Essential Services Commission (ESC) will be given tough new powers to crack down on energy companies who flout consumer protection laws.

Ethical Clothing Australia

In the 2014 budget, the Federal Government cut funding to Ethical Clothing Australia (ECA). The ECA is a body that inspects working conditions for clothing workers.

The ECA have conducted almost 3,500 audits of Australian clothing factories in the past five years and met with more than 2,500 home-based outworkers.
The new Victorian Government has pledged $2 million to keep the ECA going by replacing funding from the Federal Government.

Alcohol and Gambling Reforms

Despite significant harm caused by the unethical activities of the alcohol and gambling industries, the new government failed to announce any meaningful reforms in these areas in the lead up to the election.

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