Victorian 2021 Budget places over AU$40m in tech upgrades for mental health and hospitals

Mental health and hospitals were among this year’s bigger winners in the Victorian Budget, with the state government doling out billions for both over the next few years.

In the 2021 Budget, the Victorian government unveiled it will invest AU$3.8 billion over four years into improving mental health and wellbeing. A portion of that funding will come from a levy, set to commence next year, that will be charged to business with more than AU$10 million in national wages through a payroll tax surcharge for Victorian employees.

The funnelling of billions into Victoria’s mental health system stems from the Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health, which the government said shone a light on structural gaps and failures in the system.

From that funding, AU$2.5 million will be allocated to design a contemporary mental health and wellbeing information and communications technology system, including a review of data required for service delivery and systems administration.

For hospitals and health infrastructure, AU$7.1 billion has been allocated to improve COVID-19 responses, in-vitro fertilisation services, and aged care services. On the tech front, AU$18 million will be spent to upgrade the health department’s network infrastructure in order to support and deliver patient-related services such as pathology, diagnostic imaging, and patient management systems.

“This will improve delivery of information related to patient diagnostics and other clinical services and enhance cybersecurity,” the Budget documents state.

Last month, the government pre-announced it would also earmark money to upgrade and modernise the IT infrastructure of 28 of the state’s hospitals and health services in a bid to guard against further cyber attacks. The government had previously said it set aside AU$30 million, but the Budget documents revealed that the upgrades will only receive AU$19 million in the upcoming year, with no additional spending earmarked for the three years afterwards.

Staying on cybersecurity, Victoria’s Parliamentary Services will receive AU$8.6 million over four years to implement cybersecurity systems testing, training, and awareness programs, improve incident response mechanisms, embed 24-hour cyber event logging, and upgrade existing information and communication technology security systems.

Of the Budget decisions that were not pre-announced, the government has also penned for AU$8.1 million to be spent across various digital initiatives including extending Victoria’s Cyber Safe program, enhancing customer experience with more digital services for Victorians, creating plans for government shared services infrastructure evolution, and supporting a common digital publishing platform to manage and consolidate a range of government websites.

Victoria’s independent anti-corruption agency will also receive funding, to the tune of AU$2.9 million, to uplift and modernise its technology capability to enable its staff to perform remote work securely and effectively. The funding will also be used to facilitate the utilisation of advanced analytics while ensuring critical security obligations are met.

Meanwhile, AU$20.5 million over four years will be spent on expanding access to Tech Schools in the Ballarat, Banyule Nillumbik, Bendigo, Casey, Geelong, Gippsland, Monash, Whittlesea, Wyndham, and Yarra Ranges regions.

The government hopes this will build students’ science, technology, engineering, and mathematics skills and connect them to jobs of the future.

“This initiative will expand on site and virtual delivery capabilities of existing Tech Schools and pilot a mobile Tech School delivery model for students in remote areas of Gippsland,” Budget documents say.

In addition to the AU$133 million that will be invested towards digital radios, Victoria will place AU$1.5 million into the Powerline Bushfire Safety Program in a bid to continue delivering safer powerlines to the Victorian community, including business case development for future technology-led investment that reduces powerline related bushfire risk. 

Half a million dollars has also been set aside to upgrade the Essential Services Commission’s information technology system to give expanded services to program participants.

Victoria’s annual Budget has also provided AU$11.6 million over three years to strengthen its agricultural traceability systems as part of efforts to enhance the state’s reputation for high-quality food and fibre products. According to Budget documents, this will entail implementing a traceability and product integrity action plan, trialling new traceability technologies, and building on successful Agriculture Victoria technology trials.

On the same day, Juniper Networks announced it has been chosen to help upgrade the statewide network of VicTrack, the state’s railway and tram line operator. 

The network refresh, which is expected to be completed by the end of next year, will see Juniper Networks design a network that can support mission-critical transport and government applications.

“This upgrade will allow VicTrack to provide a safer and more efficient commuting experience across one of Australia’s most populous states, while simultaneously bolstering its networking infrastructure to support its business expansion plans to offer communication solutions for the enterprise market,” the transport operator said.

No financial terms of the Juniper contract were disclosed.

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