House debates

Wednesday, 13 May 2020

Questions without Notice

COVID-19: Mental Health

2:27 pm

Photo of Fiona MartinFiona Martin (Reid, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

My question is to the Minister for Health. Will the minister please update the House on how the Morrison government is supporting the mental health of Australians during the pandemic?

2:28 pm

Photo of Greg HuntGreg Hunt (Flinders, Liberal Party, Minister for Health) Share this | | Hansard source

I want to thank the member for Reid, not just for her interest in this particular question but also for her lifetime of professional service, in particular supporting mental health as a child psychologist. One of the things that she and so many people in this place would know is the stress, the challenge for mental health that the pandemic has brought. It could be stress brought on by health conditions or the fear that those health conditions may bring to someone's family. It could be the stress of somebody feeling isolation and loneliness, which can have such a profound impact. Or it could be the economic stress of losing one's job or having it threatened, or the challenge of running and owning a small business when cash flow dries up. That's why the support mechanisms such as JobKeeper and Jobseeker have been so important. But I do want to acknowledge in particular the stress that small businesses have felt, as COSBOA related to me only today, throughout the course of this pandemic.

Having said that, there are critical steps that we are taking to support Australians, and I do thank the opposition for their support, and I thank all the members on this side of the chamber for their deep engagement on these questions.

We came into the pandemic having invested over $730 million in youth mental health a year ago this week, thanks to the Treasurer and the Prime Minister together. There was $76 million for bushfire recovery mental health, and $64 million through Beyond Blue for suicide prevention with a particular focus on those who have self-harmed previously or those who have suffered the loss of a loved one. Against that background, I mentioned before the $74 million which we have invested. As part of that, we specifically focused on the young and the old—almost $7 million through headspace for services to the young, and $10 million for older Australians to focus on their needs as they suffer from potential fears, isolation, loneliness. All of these things have helped to build our response.

More broadly, I mentioned telehealth earlier but, as we go forwards from this moment, we have the mental health pandemic plan which the Prime Minister is taking forward to the national cabinet. We also have a commitment to work on those telehealth reforms and to provide these services going forward.

For the first time in Australia, today we announced a deputy chief medical officer for mental health, Dr Ruth Vine, a former chief psychiatrist in Victoria and somebody who will carry forward the passions, the commitment and the concerns of Australians everywhere for better, stronger mental healthcare.