House debates

Monday, 25 October 2010

Private Members’ Business

Mental Health

7:17 pm

Photo of Janelle SaffinJanelle Saffin (Page, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

I rise to speak in support of better initiatives, more initiatives and a more responsive way of acting with mental health services, but I want to put on the record that, while the member for Boothby was just saying we need to work in a bipartisan way, I suggest that their motion is not a way forward for working in a bipartisan way. The member for Boothby also attacked the government, saying that in 18 months we did not completely reform the whole mental health system. The federal government does not wholly manage the mental health system; it is done with states and territories and does not purely rest with the federal government. Attacking the government by saying that in 18 months it did not completely reform it, change it and fix every problem in mental health—it is just ludicrous to think that those things could happen. I do not want to relive the past, but I could say that in the 12 years or more that they were in government they did not fix it. They did not move to fix it. The coalition government also did not appoint a minister for mental health. But I do not want to spend too much time dwelling on that. I just rebut some of those comments because they are absolute nonsense, and to say that the government has no commitment is simply not true.

There is for the first time a Commonwealth minister for mental health. That did not exist before. I know that the Minister for Mental Health and Ageing, in one of his first speeches—I think he had been minister for 40-odd hours—said he could not describe what an honour it was and how excited he was to be in that position. He also outlined some of the issues and realities that we have to face. Some of those are that, as a community, we know that we have not done well enough for people who suffer mental ill health, for their carers and for families—if they are fortunate enough to have that caring network around them. There has been underperformance for decades, and it flows from decades of government inaction at all levels: bad planning, wrong priorities, and non-responsive services. There is a whole lot that needs to be done. The Prime Minister has said that, yes, we have to do better, and that is where we have started. To work in a bipartisan way means we have to recognise that and work out what we have to do now. To come up with a policy in an election, as the coalition did, and say, ‘This is the blueprint; this is the way to fix it all,’ is ludicrous. You cannot come up with something at such short notice—in such a short time—and say, ‘This is going to do it.’

Funding is always important. We need more funding. I always say I welcome more funding. But we also have to direct that funding. We have to make sure that it is going to work and gets to the people it needs to get to. We have to ensure that when someone fronts up to a health service with a problem that is to do with their mental health they are responded to in whatever way is needed. We know that sometimes in our health systems all around Australia people do not get a response or the care that they need when they front up, and if their particular disorder or presentation of symptoms does not fit a service then they may not get through the door. Those are some of the things that we have to stop. Places like the headspaces are critical, but there is more that is needed. There is the early intervention for psychosis. We need to do more early intervention for young people—but intervention in a way that works. The headspaces are being rolled out; there will be about 30 extra. I know that, like all members, I will be saying I want one in my area, and I know that it will be competitive. It is hard to do. We have the health services that are able to respond with the care that is needed for the people in their communities, and some of the health reforms will start to lead the way to doing that.

I agree with paragraphs 1(a) to 1(e) of the motion of the honourable member for Dickson, in which he notes certain things, but I disagree with his comment in paragraph 1(f) because it simply is not true. I shall turn to that soon. I also have to disagree with paragraph (2), requiring the government to do what is contained in 2(a) to 2(e). It is no use our coming in here and being prescriptive. We have to work through the issues, work with the mental health experts and work with the teams. We need to have mental health as an integrated part of our health system. In some areas, this has not been the case and there has been a discrepancy in services. I can remember years ago looking at how much funding per person there was for mental health in each state and territory and finding there were lots of discrepancies. That is one of the things that is being addressed through the COAG agreement, including the COAG agreement in April this year. Do we need more money in another state or not? Maybe we do and maybe we do not, but they are not easy issues and they are not issues that we can determine by standing up and speaking on a motion about mental health.

I have worked as a mental health advocate. I have worked as a lawyer representing people in institutions in different places. I have had a long involvement in the area both professionally and personally. I know that we have too many people with mental ill health in jails and they should not be in jails. Those are some of the issues that will be dealt with through COAG, through health reform and through the agreements, but we cannot resolve all of those there.

The current forward estimates include $1.2 billion of spending on specific mental health initiatives, and that is beyond the Medicare benefits schedule and the PBS. That is a doubling of the previous government’s expenditure over its last four years. I do not say this by way of crowing; I say it by way of fact. Those members on the other side who said the government is cutting funding and not doing enough ought to think long and hard before they start to throw out those comments. We are rolling out the first 10 of up to 30 new headspace sites and the Minister for Mental Health and Ageing has written to the states seeking their interest in partnering with the Commonwealth to develop the Early Psychosis Prevention and Intervention Centre. That is the first ever Commonwealth investment in the EPPIC model since its introduction in 1992 and it comes from the federal government. The expansion of the subacute beds—that is, the 1,300 beds which were committed at COAG—will support mental health as well.

There is also the $277 million suicide prevention plan announced in the election, and that will boost front line services like Lifeline, which will be able to take tens of thousands of additional calls. Don’t Lifeline do a wonderful job? Where would we be without Lifeline in our communities? There are so many groups that I am loathe to name just one, but we all know the work that Lifeline do. Just having someone answering telephone calls and being there really does make a difference. There is also the expansion of the psychological services on the ground for people who have attempted or are at high risk of suicide, particularly after discharge from hospital. I have looked at the statistics, as I am sure everyone else has, about people who are discharged from hospital after attempting suicide and about how there has not been any follow-up. Those are some of the things that we have to change, but wasn’t it wonderful that during the last election everyone was talking about mental health? Who would have thought years ago that we would be in an election with the media, with members of parliament and with parties focusing on mental health initiatives, discussion and debate. It seemed to me to be a coming of age, in a sense, that mental health is clearly on the mainstream agenda, which is where it should be. The fact is that we now have a Minister for Mental Health and Ageing, someone who can be a primary advocate at the federal level and with the states and territories through COAG. Each and every one of us as MPs is an advocate for people who have mental ill health.


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