All Victorians should be able to find homes, stay safe and healthy, get a good education and a good job, have freedom of movement, and afford the basics of daily living. But for people in regional Victoria these aims are often out of reach.
VCOSS has today released a comprehensive report, ‘The Voices of Regional Victoria’, which compiles and distils the ‘burning social issues’ in the state’s regional areas, as identified by local community service organisations.
The voices of regional Victoria are diverse and specific in their needs, but some broad themes emerge.
Investment in social and affordable rental housing
With many people unable to afford private housing, the chronic social housing shortage in regional communities can leave people homeless. The private rental market is cut-throat, and in regional communities it’s also compounded by tourists and seasonal workers competing for available homes. This often pushes people from regional centres into smaller rural communities where they can find themselves with fewer job prospects, transport options and support services.
Additional bulk-billing and specialist services, mental health and drug and alcohol rehabilitation services, and family violence prevention services
People in regional and rural areas struggle to find bulk-billing general practitioners and face long waits for specialists. Clinical mental health and alcohol and drug treatment services are scarce, especially for residential rehabilitation. While the Royal Commission into Family Violence has made great strides, women and children escaping violence need more services in regional communities, especially to address perpetrator behaviour, and for primary prevention, including programs in local schools, sporting clubs and community groups.
Better public transport in and between regions, regional centres and smaller towns
Travelling between regions is difficult. For example, only three services operate between Shepparton and Bendigo each week. Transport links between regional centres and Melbourne often dominate public discussion, diverting attention from other transport needs, including local services and links to smaller localities. To access work, education and appointments, and to participate in community life, people living in rural and regional areas need more public transport within and between regions, and between regional centres and smaller towns.
More free wi-fi, low cost internet plans and mobile phone coverage
Digital participation improves school performance and educational outcomes, employment opportunities and social inclusion. Internet services and mobile reception connect rural and regional Victorians, helping them manage money, find health and other service information, and even attend remote appointments. But high costs and poor service in rural and regional Victoria exacerbate ‘the digital divide’.
Improved pathways for young people to school, services, training and employment
High quality vocational education can boost regional Victorians’ job prospects. Rebuilding TAFE’s reputation, and forging better connections with schools and community services, can help more people find good, secure jobs. Regional Victoria needs more inclusive schools, that better engage young people by identifying future employment paths, use flexible learning models and mentoring programs, and better integrate support services such as youth workers and mental health support.
Additional early intervention, parenting and perinatal services, particularly for Aboriginal communities
Early intervention services can help families learn to care for and nurture their children, averting the need for child protection. These services include early parenting support and perinatal services. In particular, more support is required for Aboriginal organisations to deliver high quality and targeted support to Aboriginal families.
Investment in strong and viable community and social service organisations for the long term
Community organisations are powerful regional job creators. But job quality is undermined by short-term or insecure contracts. Longer-term, properly funded agreements, allowing for good wages and conditions, can help make the community sector an ‘industry of choice’ and support strong regional job opportunities. While National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) rollout is well underway in some Victorian regions, the city-centric NDIS model has flaws, including risks of market failure, services providers being unavailable, lack of choice, and shortages of high quality, well-trained workers.
Thumbnail image from Bayside Group
Header image from Border Cafe