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Child protection boosted

Child protection boosted
The Age Josh Gordon
May 1, 2012

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THE Baillieu government is set to unveil a $366 million budget plan to protect vulnerable children in Victoria with a new children's court, more child protection workers and tough new laws to tackle child abuse and predatory sexual behaviour.

Today's state budget will also include hundreds of millions of dollars to be spent on new V/Line regional trains, which are likely to be built in Victoria.

But the budget sweeteners, which could also include money for hospitals, will be offset by deep public sector cuts, as recommended by the still unreleased review of state finances by former Treasury secretary Mike Vertigan, amid warnings that the government is preparing a ''Kennett-esque'' program of job cuts and outsourcing.

The Vertigan report, which underpins the government's second budget, is believed to reiterate concerns that spending has been rising at an unsustainable pace compared with revenues, and that public debt must be reduced.

Foreshadowing tough measures to offset falling stamp duty, GST and payroll tax revenues, the budget will be pitched by Treasurer Kim Wells under the themes of ''tough but fair'' and ''challenges and opportunities''.

The government will announce $366 million of new money over four years to boost child protection, prompted by the recommendations of the inquiry by retired Supreme Court judge Philip Cummins.

Included will be $17 million for a new children's court at Broadmeadows, $1 million for ''zero fee'' TAFE places for children leaving out-of-home care, $20 million for three new multi-disciplinary centres for sexual assault and child abuse, $3 million for a Commission for Children and Young People and

$7.3 million to expand treatment places for children with problem sexual behaviour.

It will also include $51 million to reform the child protection workforce and $19 million to recruit 42 statutory child protection workers.

A paper will be released with the budget outlining the new laws, including changing the standard of proof in the Children's Court family division to a ''balance of probabilities'' instead of the ''beyond reasonable doubt'' standard applied to criminal cases.

Community Services Minister Mary Wooldridge said the package would improve services ''that are not working or are poorly targeted''.

The budget will also contain hundreds of millions of dollars for about an extra 40 V/Line train carriages, with the money to start flowing from 2012/13.

It is understood the carriages will be built locally. The newest trains in the current V/Line fleet were built by Bombardier in Dandenong.

The public sector union has warned that job cuts are likely to go further than the 3600 announced last December. Community and Public Sector Union Victorian secretary Karen Batt said the government was sacrificing human capital in an attempt to boost infrastructure without taking on debt.

She said she had heard that the Department of Planning and Community Development might be merged with the Department of Business Innovation, and that up to a quarter of jobs in the Department of Health could be lost.

''It looks like the reshaping of the failed policies of the Kennett government, with privatisation and contracting out,'' Ms Batt said. ''They are going to sack people to pay for infrastructure.''

The budget will also include $900 million worth of transport infrastructure upgrades for the outer suburbs, more funding for hospitals, a jobs plan for the manufacturing sector and new money for an ''international engagement strategy''.

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