Mr BARTON (Eastern Metropolitan) (15:14): My question is to the Attorney-General, representing the Minister for Mental Health, Minister Merlino. The number of Australians drinking alcohol increased for the first time in four years last year. A survey by the Victorian Alcohol and Drug Association found seven out of 10 agencies reported increases in the number and severity of presentations for alcohol since March 2020.
On any given day in July 2021 there were 3599 people waiting for treatment across the government-funded treatment types. We have thousands of vulnerable Victorians needing help yet our government agencies are not having the capacity to meet demand. So my question is: what is the government doing to ensure that drug and alcohol services have the capacity to meet that demand?
Ms SYMES (Northern Victoria—Leader of the Government, Attorney-General, Minister for Emergency Services) (15:15): I thank Mr Barton for his question to the Minister for Mental Health, Mr Merlino in the other place. I will seek a response to his question and have it tabled according to the standing orders.
Mr BARTON (Eastern Metropolitan) (15:15): Thank you, Attorney. Alcohol intake has increased since the beginning of this pandemic, so it is no surprise that alcohol-related harms have increased too. We know that reports of family violence in Victoria leapt last year at times when the state was emerging from lockdowns. As is the case right now, stay-at-home restrictions made it harder for many people to report abuse and get help. Last week we heard the Victoria Police deputy commissioner say he expected a repeat of last year and that family violence reports will increase significantly as restrictions lessen. So my supplementary is: what is the government doing to prepare for the expected increase in family violence reports and ensure that family violence victims can access the support they need?
Ms SYMES (Northern Victoria—Leader of the Government, Attorney-General, Minister for Emergency Services) (15:16): I will also pass that on to the minister as per the substantive question, although I would point out that there are probably other ministers that would be able to provide further information. I might catch up with Mr Barton on these specific issues because I know he is very interested. I really thank you for your advocacy. Perhaps I will have a chat to you about some of the ways I can get you the information that you are after.
Response received by Hon. Martin Foley 7 October 2021
Response to the Substantive Question:
- The 2020-21 Victorian State Budget committed $25.62 million to employ 100 new alcohol and other drug (AOD) workers to address the impacts of COVID-19.
- Funding was allocated to 31 AOD treatment providers to employ 90 full time equivalent staff.
- Funding for a further 10 full time equivalent staff was set aside for Aboriginal AOD services to deliver self-determined strategies for their community.
- The new workers are providing support to Victorians who disengaged from treatment during the pandemic, and those on waiting lists for AOD treatment.
- The 2021-22 Victorian State Budget committed funding to respond to growth in community-based healthcare demand with $5.066 million for AOD community-based services strategies, and $1.344 million for AOD community-based treatment for clients coming through the forensic system.
- Under the Andrews Labor Government’s $87 million Drug Rehabilitation Plan, three new facilities are due to open in the coming months.
- These new facilities incorporating 30 beds for adults in each of Geelong and Wangaratta, and 20 beds for youth in Traralgon, will significantly boost service capacity for residential rehabilitation.
- The 2020-21 Victorian State Budget committed $4.4 million to prepare for the operationalisation of these new facilities.
Response to the Supplementary Question:
- The AOD sector is well supported to identify and respond to family violence, which will assist the expected increase in family violence, and ensure family violence victims in contact with alcohol and drug services can access the support they need.
- AOD services in Victoria must align with the Family Violence Multi-Agency Risk Assessment and Management (MARAM) framework and the alcohol and drug state-wide intake and comprehensive assessment tools and accompanying clinician guide were updated to align with MARAM in 30 April 2021. They now provide detailed guidance for clinicians to support their work with family violence victim survivors.
- Tailored AOD MARAM training was rolled out in 2020-21 and a total of 692 workers completed this training (an increase from 112 alcohol and drug workers who completed this training in 2019-20).
- Approximately 19 Specialist Family Violence Advisors provide specialist expertise and support to AOD clinicians and services across the state (and approximately 21 are located in mental health services). These roles are key to supporting clinicians to respond to family violence as they embed family violence expertise within the AOD sector, support continuous improvement, lead system and practice change, and build sector capacity and capability to identify, assess, and respond to family violence.
- The Victorian Alcohol and Drug Association supports the AOD sector to better respond to family violence by providing training and support, consultation, resources, and it facilitates communities of practice where clinicians and organisations share information to build greater family violence capacity and capability in the AOD sector. In addition, Family Safety Victoria collaborated with the Department of Premier and Cabinet and two AOD services to develop specific resources to support organisations to embed the MARAM.
- Needle and Syringe Program providers in Victoria were provided practice guidance in March 2021 to better respond to family violence. A published fact sheet provides MARAM background information and advises needle and syringe providers are to develop an understanding of family violence risk factors and signs of family violence and make referrals to specialist family violence services and other support services where needed.
- We are ensuring that victim survivors experiencing family violence have support during the COVID-19 pandemic. All family violence, sexual assault and The Orange Door services are operating and providing crisis accommodation and support.
- The 2021-22 State Budget delivers $354 million over four years to provide critical services to victim survivors of family violence and sexual assault and to ensure that perpetrators are kept in view and held to account.
- This includes:
- $49.0 million over four years to support victim survivors of family violence and sexual assault, including family violence crisis and case management and sexual assault counselling.
- $44 million over four years to deliver a range of specialist interventions for children and young people impacted by family violence and sexual assault including therapeutic services for victim survivors; and responses to children and young people using violence in the home or sexually harmful behaviours.
- $18.2 million over four years provided for perpetrators of family violence including funding for Men’s Behaviour Change Programs.
- This year’s state budget builds on funding previously provided to respond to COVID-19 including:
- $40.2 for crisis accommodation and support for people experiencing family violence and sexual assault
- More than $20 million to keep more family violence victim survivors safe in their own homes to:
- enable more perpetrators of family violence, or people who are at risk of using violence, to leave home and move into short or long-term accommodation
- provide intervention and behaviour change programs for those using violence in the home
- expand services for adolescents using family violence or sexually abusive behaviours and their families
- increase funding for family violence services so they can adapt their services under COVID-19 restrictions to deliver support when and where it’s needed.
- In addition, the Victorian Premier recently announced an additional $27 million investment for food and financial relief for the state’s most vulnerable, a boost to family violence services and more support for our culturally diverse communities during the pandemic.
- This includes $2.25 million for specialist family violence services to help more victim survivors access the immediate support they need to stay safe, including crisis accommodation and immediate material aid.