By Colin MacGillivray

City of Whittlesea leaders have hailed the State Government’s commitment to mental health and education in the region in last week’s budget.

The City of Whittlesea was one of the budget’s big winners after being identified as a priority area for mental health services in the wake of the Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System earlier this year.

The government made a $3.8 billion overhaul of the state’s mental health system a centrepieces of its budget, and Whittlesea will be one of the first areas to receive what have been termed ‘front door’ care services that focus on early intervention and provide a clearer pathway for treatment.

The budget also set aside $954 million to establish 22 reformed area mental health and wellbeing services to replace existing services.

Epping’s Northern Health will receive funding for additional mental health beds and expanded acute care, and will be able to continue a hospital outreach post-suicidal engagement, HOPE, program.

Member for Yan Yean Danielle Green said the mental health funding was a win for the electorate.

“The day the royal commission report was tabled, Whittlesea was identified as one of six key priority service areas and I’m delighted to see the funding in the budget for the priority areas,” she said.

“The royal commission was an acknowledgement that the system was broken and this is about building new services where they are needed in the community. It’s about rebuilding, root and branch, our mental health services.”

Opposition leader Michael O’Brien was critical of the government’s introduction of new taxation measures in the budget, particularly a levy on businesses with a payroll of more than $10 million nationally to help fund mental health reforms.

Ms Green said there was no alternative but to introduce the levy.

“I’ve never seen such support across the community in all sorts of political groups for the idea of reforming mental health services. The community can’t afford to do nothing anymore,” she said.

“The taxes are incredibly well targeted at those who can most afford it – we’re talking about businesses like Harvey Norman that did very well and accrued a lot of JobKeeper money during COVID. I think businesses like that can afford to contribute to funding a new mental health system.”

Education was another budget talking point, with the government allocating money for the construction of a new Hayes Hill Primary School in Donnybrook, a primary school in Wollert West and a secondary school in Wollert East.

Ms Green said of 13 schools the government had committed to building by 2023, three were in the City of Whittlesea.

“It’s great for kids to have local schools and parents not to have to drive long distances to get to school,” she said.

“The Yan Yean electorate also has the highest number of construction workers in the state and any new school build, hospitals, whatever it is, that means jobs for local workers.”

City of Whittlesea chair administrator Lydia Wilson welcomed the investments in mental health and educational facilities.

“The City of Whittlesea is home to a relatively large proportion of vulnerable groups who are at risk of poorer mental health outcomes, including women in the perinatal period, women who experience family violence, Aboriginal people and people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds,” she said.

“We’re also pleased that an adult and older-adult mental health and wellbeing service for people experiencing mild to moderate mental health challenges is being established in the City of Whittlesea. This project has been fast tracked and is set to open in mid-2022.

“Council has been advocating on behalf of the community for fairer access to health and mental health services for some time, so we’re really pleased our calls have resonated with the State Government and are reflected in this budget.”