Melina BATH (Eastern Victoria) (17:39): (575) My adjournment matter this evening is for the Premier, and it relates to a letter that she received from Financial Counselling Victoria Incorporated. I will put the action that I would like at the end of this conversation. We had two people from Financial Counselling Victoria in to speak to the Nationals on Monday, and it was very illuminating. There was one from Melbourne, Zyl, and Carly from the western side of Victoria, and we thank them for sharing the very important role that they play in supporting people in financial distress. They painted quite a picture of struggle for many Victorian families and singles, and they reiterated the fact that over the past six months there has been a 47 per cent increase in Victoria in calls to the debt helpline. Families and individuals are struggling to pay their household bills and keep a roof over their head. This compares to a 23 per cent increase nationally. So Victoria unfortunately is winning in the debt helpline stakes.
What they know is that there are 310 financial counsellors across the whole of the state, and their average wait time is around two months. As Carly very aptly put it, by the time somebody is that desperate that they need to go and pick up the phone, it is a very dire situation for her to say, ‘We’ve got to put you on the books. We can’t get to you yet. You’ve got to wait for up to two months’ – and sometimes even more. Some of the things they do and they talk about of course is that they listen to that client’s story to get a clear picture of what the income availability is and what their expenses are. They advocate. They know that interest rates have gone up, that bill shock is real and that power costs have increased over the last few years, and indeed we have seen the Essential Services Commission talk about a 25 per cent increase in the base offer for electricity. We have seen these buy now, pay later schemes, and they are using more of those. Petrol is going up, and renting is just so challenging for many people. So by the time they get to them they are very desperate.
They listen, they are unbiased and they care. This organisation has written the Premier a letter, and they have three asks in that letter: to increase workforce numbers, to provide a pathway for counselling students into the system and to provide general support in the system. I ask the Premier to read that letter and respond to them in the next 30 days absolutely.