House debates

Monday, 21 May 2018


Mental Health

12:54 pm

Photo of Andrew GeeAndrew Gee (Calare, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise in support of the motion of the member for Fisher and I thank him for raising the issue of mental health in this House.

Mental health issues affect Australians from all walks of life and, as the member for Fisher has noted in the text of this motion, one in five people currently report having a mental health or behavioural condition. This can have a particularly serious impact on people living in country communities, and this is because the tyranny of distance in country Australia can mean that accessing mental health services can be more difficult, and it also adds to the sense of isolation that people dealing with mental health issues face. As a country, it's vital to continue the national conversation on mental health issues and, in so doing, to help remove the remaining stigma that can still be associated with them.

I note also that issues of mental wellbeing and mental health are more, not less, prevalent among our younger population. Children, teenagers and young adults, who are expected to make their way in the world, can sometimes bear an enormous burden that they shouldn't have to shoulder alone. In Lithgow, there have been some tragic cases of young people taking their lives in recent times. This has deeply affected the Lithgow community and has left it with a profound sense of loss. The community has been united on the issue of securing better mental health services for the city, and it was vitally important to the extent that the Australian government recently announced the establishment of a headspace outreach service for the City of Lithgow. This will provide mental health support for the young people of Lithgow and its surrounding districts. Working with the Nepean Blue Mountains Primary Health Network, interim services are already up and running, and these will be expanded and built upon as the premises are secured. That is underway at the moment.

I'd like to acknowledge the important and valuable work of many community representatives. The whole community has been behind this, but I'd like to acknowledge particularly Katrina Prescott; Frank Thorvaldsson; Lizz Reay, who is the CEO of Nepean Blue Mountains Primary Health Network; all the Lithgow city councillors who supported this new service; Stephen Jackson, who is the CEO of Marathon Health, which is tasked with delivering the new service; and also Greg Hunt, who is the Minister for Health and who has taken a personal interest in getting this service up and running for the City of Lithgow. It's an important service, because it will let our young people know that they don't have to bear this burden alone and that there is help there when they need it.

Another organisation in the Calare electorate providing critical mental health support is, of course, Lifeline Central West. These people work tirelessly; they give up their time—it's volunteer based. In Calare, it's based in Bathurst, which is at the centre. They work around the clock in difficult circumstances to provide people in country Australia with the support that they need in what can be their most difficult hour. I'd like to acknowledge the executive director, Alex Ferguson; the centre manager, Stephanie Robinson; and all the staff and volunteers at Lifeline Central West for their vitally important work. I know that the budget has delivered Lifeline a $33.8 million funding increase, which has been warmly welcomed.

The Centre for Rural and Remote Mental Health in the Calare electorate is another wonderful country community organisation providing valuable community support to people in rural areas. I'd like to acknowledge the wonderful and important work being done by Professor David Perkins and Trevor Hazel; by the researchers Dr Hazel Dalton, Dr Scott Fitzpatrick and Dr Donna Read; by Vanessa Delaney in the centre; and by the rural and remote mental health team members, Di Gill, Camilla Kenny and Tessa Caton.

As I said at the outset, mental health and the discussion of it need to be things that we keep shining a light on. It's going to take a national effort to overcome mental health issues and it's vital that this light continues to shine on them, particularly in country areas. So I thank the member for Fisher for this motion and I commend it to the House.

12:59 pm

Photo of Warren SnowdonWarren Snowdon (Lingiari, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for External Territories) Share this | | Hansard source

I thank the member for Fisher for putting this motion on the agenda and providing us with the opportunity to have a discussion about mental health issues. I want to acknowledge the contribution of the member for Calare. Coming from a regional part of Australia, I want to concentrate particularly on the impact of mental health on rural and remote parts of this country, and note the very important work that the RFDS does in the provision of mental health services to many people in isolated communities. One of the key issues for people who live in the bush—I'm talking about remote areas, not just regional areas close to capital cities—is access to services and access to professional assistance. The RFDS has been very important with that, as are Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services right across this country and primary health services in the Northern Territory in particular.

What I want to concentrate on this afternoon are the impacts of mental health on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities—across this country, but, most particularly, in the Northern Territory—and highlight the intergenerational impacts of mental health, the relationship between mental health and the justice system, and the importance of understanding the need to address mental health issues in community: specifically, where possible, within families and with the involvement of community controlled health organisations such as Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services.

A particular illness that I want to talk about is foetal alcohol spectrum disorder. At least one in three people in detention in Western Australia suffer from FASD. That comes from a report done by the Telethon Kids Institute in that state, as recently reported in the media:

Lead researcher Carol Bower said preliminary findings suggested 30 to 40 per cent of the young people detained at Banksia Hill had FASD.

"Often these young people have trouble relating cause and effect," Professor Bower said.

So, they've got this illness typified by:


          It can cause brain damage, delayed development and behavioural and learning problems, but is often not diagnosed at birth and only recognised later in life.

          The initial impact is in utero and then it has repercussions right throughout the life of a person.

          It's only over recent years that we're understanding the prevalence of this dreadful disorder across regional and rural and remote Australia. What it highlights—and the work done by the Telethon Kids Institute highlights—is the need for us to be aware of the relationship between mental health and the justice system and to provide a capacity for work to be done in the justice system that provides people with access to the care they properly need. For this purpose, we need to open up the world of medicine and health care in the justice system, to make sure the needs of people are being properly met. At the moment, they are not. That's a particularly important issue which we need to confront.

          The prevention of this particular disease relates to the situation prior to pregnancy and ensuring that young women—and their male partners, but young women in particular—don't drink during pregnancy. If that happens, then we'll prevent FASD. But it is not the only mental health disorder which we need to be aware of. There are a range of them across the community. And we need to understand the need for the NDIS to be able to pick up and deal with severe mental health issues and ill health across Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

          Currently, there are significant barriers. The language of disability is a barrier for Aboriginal people in some regions. There's also a need for translation services to be provided. These are significant questions. Many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people fear engaging with government services and asking for support because of distrust about government programs stemming from past poor treatment. There is a lack of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander support units within the NDIA. There is a real need for us to get our heads around the extent of this problem, provide the resources necessary to address it and understand the intergenerational impacts of it upon the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community.

          1:04 pm

          Photo of Cathy O'TooleCathy O'Toole (Herbert, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

          I also thank the member for Fisher for bringing this motion forward. I just want to start by saying to anyone who is listening to this speech today that there is help in your community if you are struggling with mental ill health. For information on crisis services, there are links to beyondblue, Black Dog Institute, Lifeline and headspace on my Facebook page. Although any funding for mental health will always have my full support, I cannot stand in this place today and not raise the fact that I believe that the sector is not being adequately funded. You wouldn't try and feed a thousand people with one loaf of bread, but that is the equivalent of what is happening in the mental health sector under this current government.

          Let's put into perspective just how prevalent mental health issues are across Australia. Almost one in two Australian adults will experience a mental health condition in their lifetime. The most common mental illnesses are depression, anxiety and substance misuse related disorders. Every day, at least six Australians die from suicide, and a further 30 people try to take their own life. Fifty-four per cent of people living with mental ill health do not access treatment. Delaying treatment, especially in relation to serious conditions, impacts on detection and an accurate diagnosis. Depression is the third-highest burden of all diseases in Australia—13 per cent—and it is the third-highest globally. The burden of disease refers to the total impact of a disease measured by financial cost, mortality, morbidity and other indicators.

          For the financial costs related to poor mental ill health, it's quite staggering to see the figures: $10.9 billion is lost in workplace productivity; more than six million working days are lost per year as a result of depression; and, per worker, untreated depression costs an employer $9,660. Not only is mental ill health a serious health concern; it is also a national productivity concern. Yet the government is not adequately funding the mental health sector. The Turnbull government's funding is one of the smallest investments in the sector in recent years. In 2006, COAG added more than $5.5 billion to mental health spending. Under the Labor government, the 2011-12 federal budget provided $2.2 billion in new funding. However, in 2014-15, the Abbott government funded mental health to the tune of 5.2 per cent of the overall health budget, when mental health represented 12 per cent of the total burden of disease. Whilst these figures should not necessarily match, the gap is large and revealing. So, yes, the $80 million from last year's budget and the $11 million here and the $9 million there are all welcomed, but the lack of real funding is a real problem for the sector—particularly the community managed sector—and it doesn't begin to scratch the surface of need. This budget shows a lack of commitment to the mental health sector.

          As someone who was the CEO of a community mental health organisation before being elected to parliament—I operated from Palm Island to Mount Isa, across the west—I have a deep understanding of what is needed on the ground, and the government is not delivering. Simply thinking that the NDIS is the solution just shows how completely out of touch this government is. Funnelling program funding for personal helpers and mentors, day-to-day living and mental health carer respite—all federally funded—into the NDIS is not a solution. We estimate that there are probably over 250,000 people with mental health conditions who will not be eligible for the NDIS. Access to support should not depend on where you live or who is able and around to look after you. This budget's commitment to mental health shows the lack of an overarching mental health strategy.

          Rather than working with the sector to develop a coherent approach to mental health service planning, this budget continues the piecemeal, patchwork approach, where the system is driven mostly by who pays rather than by who needs what and where. There seems to be a belief that, as a nation, we have done mental health. Well, let me tell you: we have not done mental health. A lack of services on the ground, especially in regional, rural and remote areas, leaves people alone and suffering, families devastated and often confused, and members of the community stepping up in their own time as volunteers; they are overworked and overstressed.

          The struggle for veterans has also been in the shadows for far too long. These men and women, who have given selflessly for their country, deserve to have the support that they need in their time of struggle. And I haven't even mentioned the aged-care facilities, where men over 80 are struggling significantly. There is a lot more that we need to do for mental health in this country.

          1:09 pm

          Photo of Clare O'NeilClare O'Neil (Hotham, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Justice) Share this | | Hansard source

          I want to thank the member for Fisher for putting the motion forward today on mental health, and I want to particularly mention the previous speaker, the member for Herbert, and the contribution that she's made. She's talked about some very specific issues that face regions like her own, and she does so from a place of great experience. A lot of people outside this parliament looking in feel that members of parliament don't have experience in the real world, but the woman who spoke before me is a great exception to that. She has been the CEO of a disability mental health organisation in her region, and she just spoke with great passion about what this issue means to her.

          My perspective on this comes from two real directions. One of them is that, like most Australians, I'm in a family where we've been affected by mental health. I feel very comfortable standing up and saying that. It's not been the case that people have been able to say that for very long, but it's discussions like this one—and the motion that's been put forward—that have created a space for us to be able to honestly talk about the things that have happened to us and how they affect us. Mental health shouldn't be an issue that's not discussed and, in a way, it's strange that it's not discussed. We know that during their lifetime one in two adults will have a mental health condition of some kind, and the fact that there's not a full and frank and open conversation about that is one of the issues that this parliament has to address.

          I mentioned the statistic about one adult in two having a mental health condition. What we also know is that, in any given year, one in five Australians will fall into some kind of mental illness. Something that I'm desperately concerned about, as a member of parliament, is the extent to which this problem is affecting young people, which is the other perspective that I come at this from. We know for young people between the ages of 16 and 24 that almost one in four will be affected by a mental illness in any given year. And some very concerning research was published recently that shows that there's been a tripling of young people aged between 10 and 19 who are presenting at emergency departments as a result of mental illness. So we're not talking here about young people needing counselling because of some bout of depression that begins and ends, but about much more serious mental health conditions that require prolonged treatment. That treatment is simply not available to the young people when they need it, and that's an urgent national problem. Of course, when we get to the most extreme end of this, we see these incredibly tragic suicide statistics in Australia of something like almost 3,000 people a year taking their own lives due to mental illness. It's an urgent problem, and I'm very pleased to have this opportunity to speak about it.

          I want to talk about an issue that is particularly affecting my community in the south-eastern suburbs of Melbourne—that is, the lack of services available to the young people that I've spoken about. I respect the member who's put forward the proposition that we're debating today, but it's important that, as politicians, we don't say one thing and do another. I'm concerned to see that there is a lack of funding and a lack of on-the-ground support for mental health services, and I really see that in my community in Hotham. I have about 9,600 young people who live in the City of Monash, which partly covers my area and partly covers the area of the member for Chisholm. The young people in this region have mounted this incredibly courageous program to push for a dedicated youth mental health service. What we know from talking to these young people is that they actually don't want to access the services that are available to adults. They don't feel comfortable with them, because the types of issues that they are dealing with are often quite specific to issues that confront young people today. And I believe firmly that those young people deserve and warrant a youth-dedicated mental health facility in these suburbs in Melbourne.

          Unfortunately, the only option for these young people at the moment is to travel all the way from the City of Monash to the City of Knox. It's more than an hour, once you get to the right train line. I also represent young people who live much further south than the City of Monash, and getting to that line is just not possible for many of them. The Labor candidate for Chisholm ran a fantastic roundtable a few weeks ago on this issue. The young people that we spoke to were some of the most articulate, passionate, well-informed young people I have ever met at a roundtable like this, and their requirement that this is an absolute necessity for us in the south-east was made crystal clear. We haven't seen action from the member for Chisholm on this point, but it's something that I'm going to be working very hard at as we push through this last year of this election cycle. I'm grateful for the chance to speak on it today.

          Photo of Maria VamvakinouMaria Vamvakinou (Calwell, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

          There being no further speakers, the debate is adjourned and the resumption of the debate will be made an order of the day for the next sitting

          Sitting suspended from 13 : 15 to 16:00