House debates

Monday, 3 June 2013


Department of Health and Ageing

10:12 pm

Photo of Gai BrodtmannGai Brodtmann (Canberra, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I have spoken in this House on the important work done by the Department of Health and Ageing, particularly in the areas of immunisation, diabetes prevention and health promotion. Tonight I would like to talk further on this topic, because the work of the Department Health and Ageing is so broad reaching and, I believe, so incredibly important.

The Leader of the Opposition does not believe that the work of the Department of Health and Ageing is important or so broad reaching. In fact, the Leader of the Opposition would have Australians believe that we do not need a Department of Health and Ageing at all. The Leader of the Opposition has questioned publicly and repeatedly whether the Department of Health and Ageing needs all of its staff, considering that, in his words, 'They do not run a single hospital or nursing home, dispense a single prescription or provide a single medical service.'

In the 2011-12 federal budget, this government announced a $2.2 billion National Mental Health Reform package. This reform package, administered by the Department of Health and Ageing, is improving the lives of thousands of Australians with mental illness by providing more intensive support services and better coordinating those services for people with severe and persistent mental illness who have complex care needs; by targeting support to areas and communities that need it most, such as Indigenous communities and socioeconomically disadvantaged areas that are underserviced by the current system; by helping to detect potential mental health problems in the early years; and by supporting young people who struggle with mental illness.

Recently I attended the opening of a new home in Kambah in my electorate with the ACT Chief Minister. We have provided joint funding for this initiative. The home provides an opportunity for young adults in their late teens and early 20s who are battling mental illness issues, and who have come out of hospital and intensive care, to enter an environment where they can rehabilitate amongst their peers with the intensive support they need but in a less clinical environment. It is a great initiative and it was wonderful to be at the opening of that new house.

The reforms were developed—with the assistance of the department, I might add—with particular reference to what has proven to work in the past, such as: models of youth-friendly mental health services; the clinical effectiveness and accessibility of e-mental health services; the ability of programs to meet needs in hard-to-reach groups; the success of social support services to reconnect people back in the community; and the growing body of evidence that supports early intervention in childhood development.

Importantly, the reforms recognise that the Australian government, states and territories, non-government organisations and the private sector all deliver mental health programs. While the overarching objectives of these programs are often quite similar, to date there is very little in the way of formal links across and between programs. This leads to inefficient service delivery through duplicative processes. It can also mean a fragmented system which individuals suffering mental illness find hard to navigate.

Individuals and providers are not interested in which government department is supposed to be funding a service; they just want to know that the service is available when and as it is needed. Through these mental health reforms, the government is rectifying this. Through the Department of Health and Ageing, the government is exercising national leadership—putting its own house in order while giving states and territories an incentive to dedicate more resources to the mental health system through a national partnership.

Achieving these important reforms will require support, engagement and collaboration across all levels of government, non-government organisations, individuals and providers. Importantly, achieving these reforms would not be possible without the Department of Health and Ageing. I ask the Leader of the Opposition to note, before he cuts thousands of jobs within this department, that while it may not be dispensing prescriptions, this department is overseeing much-needed, nationally coordinated mental health reform. Together with the 3.2 million Australians who have suffered a mental illness in the last year, their friends, family, carers and countless other Australians, I believe this is a worthy task.

Those opposite have complete contempt for public servants doing great work in the Department of Health and Ageing. They have complete contempt for those who work to improve the health and wellbeing of Australians in the national interest. They have complete contempt for the Public Service. They have promised to abolish 12,000 to 20,000 Public Service jobs should they win the election in September. The best indicator of future behaviour is past behaviour: I ask Canberrans to remember 1996.