Thursday, 25 November 2010
Report from Main Committee
That this House:
- acknowledges the work of carers, and in particular ageing parents caring for profoundly disabled dependents;
- recognises that ageing parent carers remain deeply concerned about the diminishing capacity to care for their dependent children;
- appreciates the special challenges faced by families, and in particular ageing parents, who wish to make provision for the needs of their disabled dependents;
- notes that:
- disability trusts were established in September 2006 by the Coalition Government to assist families make provision for the future housing and care needs of dependents with severe disabilities;
- despite the Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs estimating that over four years, 5000 people with severe disability would benefit from Special Disability Trusts, as at 31 March 2010, 423 people have been assessed as eligible, and only 91 trusts have been established; and
- since establishing Special Disability Trusts, it has become apparent that the conditions governing eligibility and management, as well as direct and wider taxation implications, have limited the workability and uptake of the trusts;
- acknowledges that conditions diminishing the attractiveness of the trusts include the:
- complex application of taxation rules;
- inability for beneficiaries, through Special Disability Trusts, to claim the first home owners grant and other home saving initiatives;
- high initial eligibility threshold requiring a beneficiary to be eligible for at least a Carer Allowance, the regulations of which state, inter alia, that care for a ‘significant period’ must be given, defined as at least 20 hours a week of care;
- attribution of Capital Gains Tax to transferors where, in particular, houses are placed into Special Disability Trusts;
- calls upon the Government to consider implementing specific eligibility criteria for mental impairment disabilities if the measures introduced in the Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs and Other Legislation Amendment (Budget and Other Measures) Bill 2010 do not increase uptake within 12 months; and
- notes the Government’s good faith negotiations in relation to the recommendations of the October 2008 Senate Standing Committee on Community Affairs Report entitled: Building Trust, Supporting Families through Disability Trusts, acknowledges the commitment to further investigate outstanding issues to meet the future needs of people with profound disabilities and their carers
The Greens are strong supporters of mental health reform and increased funding to the sector. So we welcome the increased attention that has recently been given to the issue. Patrick McGorry works in my electorate a few minutes walk from my house and it was my pleasure to meet with him during the election campaign. I want to acknowledge the significant work that he and others have done to help put this issue on the national agenda.
Not only are the Greens big supporters of the headspace program, but we also want to see increased funding in a number of other important areas, including for primary healthcare programs to target those in need, the vulnerable and long-term clientele working with the community and NGO sector; providing alternatives to emergency department treatment such as multidisciplinary community-based subacute services that support ‘stepped’ prevention and recovery care; establishing a national network of one-stop shop community mental health centres; providing additional training for GPs and nurses to triage mental health; and respite treatment and primary healthcare programs.
To this end, we are seeking to amend the motion to add reference to these important areas, without deleting any words from the motion. Many people in my electorate have contacted my office and asked me to work for changes to this motion so it can receive wide support including from the Greens. These amendments have, I understand, the support of Professor McGorry and many others in the mental health sector. But, unfortunately, despite our approaches to the coalition, they have been unwilling to agree to these changes. We would have liked a more collaborative approach on this issue. This is an important issue that should stand above political partisanship and point-scoring.
The Greens have suggested increasing the level of investment in early intervention as well as putting investment into primary health care, which we know is absolutely essential, and into emergency services, which we also know is absolutely essential. We have suggested a special commission for mental health because we believe this issue is so significant that it needs it. We took to the election the suggestion of putting in place a minister responsible for mental health, and we are glad that the government has picked that up. We think that is a very good step in the right direction. What we need to do now is see the government’s commitment to mental health, and we need to see their investment. We agree with the opposition that we need to significantly increase investment in mental health, and there is absolutely no disagreement there.
So my plea to the government is: please invest in the level of resources that we need. We went to the election saying we needed an increase of at least $350 million a year. We agree with the opposition that ideally it would be more, so we have agreed with the proposition of increasing it and to call for $450 million a year—but not just on early intervention. We think ultimately you can have your cake and eat it too, which is why I ask the opposition one more time to please consider supporting our amendments.
What I am really worried about is that if we just say ‘early intervention’, the government will have a ticket to go: ‘Yes, we’ve invested in mental health; we’ve funded a few extra headspace and EPI centres. That’s it; we’ve done mental health.’ But they will not have fixed mental health. So, please, let us take a coordinated, comprehensive approach to funding mental health and invest in the services that are desperately needed, crucially including early intervention. Whilst we would have liked a more collaborative approach on this important issue, the Greens will pursue, if these amendments are not passed, a more comprehensive motion in the Senate and I hope that will gain the support of other parties and members when it is debated so that, instead of political point-scoring and a refusal to have real discussion between the parties on mental health, we can move towards a real united push towards better funding for a comprehensive plan for mental health.