House debates

Monday, 25 October 2010

Private Members’ Business

Mental Health

7:07 pm

Photo of Andrew SouthcottAndrew Southcott (Boothby, Liberal Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Primary Healthcare) Share this | Hansard source

I am very pleased to speak to this motion on mental health, which has been moved by the member for Dickson and seconded by me. What this motion demonstrates is the important priority the coalition places on mental health. It is extraordinary to us that, after 18 months of a national health and hospital review, after 90 or 100 visits to hospitals led by the Prime Minister, the government’s response in the area of mental health has been so profoundly inadequate. It is not just us: mental health experts across Australia are staggered by the lack of vision and lack of action that this government has shown in the area of mental health.

As a member during this time I have been involved in many different aspects of the parliament with respect to mental health. We have had some very good parliamentary forums on the issue of youth suicide, and I was very pleased to be the founding co-chair of the Parliamentary Friends of Schizophrenia, a bipartisan group which has as its goal removing the stigma of mental health but also shedding some light on this condition, which has a lifetime incidence of affecting one in 100 Australians.

On behalf of the opposition we think it is important that the government does really focus on mental health. Mental illness afflicts more Australians than almost all other health disorders, only ranking behind cancer and heart disease in prevalence. According to figures from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, mental illness accounts for 13 per cent of the total burden of disease in Australia. These same figures show that almost half of the nation’s population, 45 per cent, will experience a mental health disorder at some point in their lives. Many more will be impacted by mental illness as a family member or a friend grapples with a mental health problem. I would like to take this opportunity to recognise the work done by organisations such as beyondblue, Lifeline and others—all of which have increased the profile and given avenues for people with a mental health issue to go to. If we consider an illness like depression, depression is really a chronic disease that should be managed as a chronic disease. The risk of relapse of depression is as high as 77.5 per cent. That is why it is important that it is treated actively for one year, perhaps three years.

It is widely acknowledged that mental health treatment in Australia is currently underfunded. Mental illness accounts for 13 per cent of the national health burden but receives only six per cent of the health funding. Today we are calling upon the government to implement the key elements of the coalition’s Direct Action Plan for Better Mental Health. One key aspect of our policy was a substantial increase in the number of headspace sites from 30 to 90. The headspace model is internationally recognised as being highly effective in combating mental illness. It is a youth-friendly site. It was the former member for Adelaide, Trish Worth, and the member for Sturt who started the rollout of the headspace sites. In fact, it was an initiative that that Howard government took to the 2004 election. There is a real question mark over the government’s commitment to headspace, as shown by their slow rollout and the lack of recurrent funding that is there for each centre.

We would also like to see a commitment from the government to establish a national network of 20 early psychosis and prevention intervention centres and to provide an additional 800 beds for mental health associated with these centres. Labor have made no specific commitment to mental health beds. The government have no idea of the number of mental health beds they will be funding or the models of care which will be associated with these beds. We believe it is important in the subacute space that we have mental health beds—and we have nominated 800—but also that they be associated with a network of early psychosis and prevention intervention centres. The EPPIC model is about improved access to services, early intervention targeting those who bear the brunt of mental illness—16- to 24-year-olds—and alleviating the pressure on public hospitals and overstretched emergency departments.

During the election Labor only promised $25.5 million for early psychosis intervention centres—which might, at a pinch, fund two. It will not provide us with a national network. It still will not address the gaps in servicing that currently exist in the area of mental health. Finally, the government must appropriate funds necessary to provide these critical steps to expanding mental health treatment facilities and immediately provide existing funds for existing headspace centres.

In the 2006 budget, when the Leader of the Opposition was health minister, the Howard government committed to spend $1.9 billion over five year to June next year. This still remains the single biggest investment in mental health by any government in Australian history. It is something which I am very proud to be associated with. What we did was we used the infrastructure of Medicare to create a greater role for general practitioners in primary care and for allied health professionals. It followed on from Senate committee reports, and also from the Not for service report, which was released by the Mental Health Council of Australia in October 2005.

Since the 2007 election, funding has been reduced substantially. Labor have cut funding to mental health in a range of programs in their first two budgets. They cut funding for the Mental Health Nurse Incentive Program from $191 million to $63 million. They removed OTs and social workers from the MBS Better Access program. They cut funding to mental health services in rural and remote areas. In the Rudd-Gillard government’s national health and hospital reform plan, mental health was completely overlooked, with mental health amounting to less than two per cent of the total reforms.

The medical profession was so disenchanted by the government’s health reforms that we saw our best resigning from government positions. Professor John Mendoza, chair of the National Advisory Council on Mental Health, resigned from his position, writing:

It is now abundantly clear that there is no vision or commitment from the Rudd Government to mental health.

The Commonwealth government needs to listen to the calls from the community, from health experts and from the opposition. They need to provide national focus and leadership in the areas of mental health. The coalition set out in the election campaign a very clear policy and a very clear framework for mental health and, at the time, our policy on mental health was acknowledged by stakeholders as a major advance for early intervention and the treatment of mental illnesses. We need to work towards a society that understands and can respond to the personal and social impact of mental illness, and there needs to be a bipartisan approach to achieving this end.

The bottom line is that we need a national, uniform approach to combating mental illness. That is why we call on the government to act now to expand the number of headspace sites to a minimum of 90 nationally, to establish a national network of 20 early psychosis prevention and intervention centres, to provide an additional 800 beds for mental health associated with these centres, to ensure that these centres are adequately funded and to immediately provide additional funds for the existing headspace centres. This is an important priority. There is a strong feeling in the community that mental health has not been well addressed by this government. This is an area where the government needs to act, and that is why we are calling on the government to take action and adopt the coalition’s policy on mental health.


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