House debates

Thursday, 10 December 2020


Select Committee on Mental Health and Suicide Prevention; Appointment

5:25 pm

Photo of Andrew GeeAndrew Gee (Calare, National Party, Minister for Decentralisation and Regional Education) Share this | | Hansard source

by leave—I move:


(1) a Select Committee on Mental Health and Suicide Prevention be established to inquire into:

(a) the findings of the Productivity Commission Inquiry Report into Mental Health, the Report of the National Suicide Prevention Officer, the Victorian Royal Commission, the National Mental Health Workforce Strategy and other recent strategic reviews of the current mental health system in light of events such as the 2019 Bushfires and COVID-19 pandemic, including the capacity of the mental health workforce to respond to such events; and

(b) other matters not addressed by these recent reviews, including:

  (i) emerging evidence-based approaches to effective early detection, diagnosis, treatment and recovery across the general population and at-risk groups, including drawing on international experience and directions;

  (ii) effective system-wide strategies for encouraging emotional resilience building, improving mental health literacy and capacity across the community, reducing stigma, increasing consumer understanding of the mental health services, and improving community engagement with mental health services;

  (iii) building on the work of the Mental Health Workforce Taskforce and forthcoming National Medical Workforce Strategy, the roles, training and standards for all health and allied health professionals who contribute to mental health care, including peer workers, that are required to deliver quality care at different levels of severity and complexity, and across the spectrum of prevention, early intervention, treatment and recovery support;

  (iv) the funding arrangements for all mental health services, including through the MBS and PHNs, and whether they are structured in a way that supports safe, high quality and effective care in line with the qualifications of practitioners and needs of consumers across whole of population;

  (v) the use, standards, safety and regulation of telehealth services and the role and regulation of domestic and international digital and online mental health service providers in delivering safe and high quality care in Australia; and

  (vi) any related matters.

(2) the committee present an interim report on or before 15 April 2021 and its final report on or before 1 November 2021;

(3) the committee consist of eight members, five Members to be nominated by the Government Whip, and three Members to be nominated by the Opposition Whip or by any non-aligned Member;

(4) in respect of initial appointments to or subsequent changes in membership of the committee when the House is not sitting and is not expected to meet for two weeks:

(a) the relevant Whip must nominate any appointment or discharge of a member of a committee in writing to the Speaker and such appointment or discharge shall take effect from the time the Speaker receives the written nomination; and

(b) at the next sitting, the Speaker shall report the change to the House and the House shall resolve the membership of the committee;

(5) participating members may:

(a) be appointed to the committee on the nomination of the Government Whip, the Opposition Whip or any minority party or independent member; and

(b) participate in hearings of evidence and deliberations of the committee, and have all the rights of members of the committee, but may not vote on any question before the committee;

(6) every nomination of a member of the committee be notified in writing to the Speaker of the House of Representatives;

(7) the members of the committee hold office as a select committee until presentation of the committee's final report or until the House of Representatives is dissolved or expires by effluxion of time, whichever is the earlier;

(8) the committee may proceed to the dispatch of business notwithstanding that not all members have been duly nominated and appointed and notwithstanding any vacancy;

(9) before the start of business and at any time a vacancy occurs, the committee shall be informed of the name of the member who has been:

(a) appointed by the Prime Minister to be the chair; and

(b) appointed by the Leader of the Opposition to be the deputy chair, who shall act as chair of the committee at any time when the chair is not present at a meeting of the committee;

(10) at any time when the chair and deputy chair are not present at a meeting of the committee, the members present shall elect another member to act as chair at that meeting;

(11) in the event of an equally divided vote, the chair, or the deputy chair when acting as chair, have a casting vote;

(12) three members of the committee constitute a quorum of the committee;

(13) the committee:

(a) have power to appoint subcommittees consisting of three or more of its members, and to refer to any subcommittee any matter which the committee is empowered to examine; and

(b) appoint the chair of each subcommittee who shall have a casting vote only;

(14) at any time when the chair of a subcommittee is not present at a meeting of the subcommittee, the members of the subcommittee present shall elect another member of that subcommittee to act as chair at that meeting;

(15) two members of a subcommittee constitute the quorum of that subcommittee;

(16) members of the committee who are not members of a subcommittee may participate in the proceedings of that subcommittee but shall not vote, move any motion or be counted for the purpose of a quorum;

(17) the committee or any subcommittee have power to:

(a) call for witnesses to attend and for documents to be produced;

(b) conduct proceedings at any place it sees fit;

(c) sit in public or in private;

(d) report from time to time; and

(e) adjourn from time to time and to sit during any adjournment of the House of Representatives;

(18) the committee or any subcommittee have power to consider and make use of the evidence and records of any former committee on related matters; and

(19) the provisions of this resolution, so far as they are inconsistent with the standing orders, have effect notwithstanding anything contained in the standing orders.

Photo of Chris BowenChris Bowen (McMahon, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Health) Share this | | Hansard source

I want to make it very clear that the opposition was not consulted about the creation of this committee. This committee is not necessary. This motion comes after a two-year Productivity Commission inquiry looking into mental health, and the government's response is to create another talkfest. Mental health is one of the most urgent crises facing this country. Mental health is meant to be a national priority. This government commissioned a Productivity Commission review of mental health in October 2018. The draft report was finalised on 31 October 2019. The final report was given to the government on 30 June 2020. The government had said they would respond in next year's budget, in May. The final report was released to the public, after the government had had it for five months, on 16 November. And now we have, without a word of explanation from the government, this motion to create a committee to consider the implementation of the Productivity Commission report. This is kicking mental health into the long grass. This is saying, 'We won't have a response in the May budget.' This is saying: 'It's all too hard. What we're going to do is have another inquiry.'

Do you know how many inquiries there have been into mental health in Australia since 2013? The number is 58. There have been 58 inquiries into mental health in Australia since 2013. And what is this government's answer? Another inquiry—a parliamentary inquiry to look at what the Productivity Commission found. This is deeply disappointing. There were a thousand submissions to the Productivity Commission's inquiry. Organisations and individuals spent a lot of time on their submissions to the Productivity Commission. What are we going to say to them now? 'Write another submission. Come and give evidence to the politicians. Come and give evidence to the parliament, because what you said to the Productivity Commission, to the Victorian government's royal commission and to the 58 other reviews is not enough. We need to hear more.'

We don't need more talk about mental health; we need some action. We are meant to all agree about what happens with mental health. I wrote to the Minister for Health last year, and I did so at the suggestion of the shadow assistant minister, the member for Dobell. She gave me an excellent suggestion, saying, 'Why don't we treat mental health as our predecessors treated HIV/AIDS and say, "This is a big national crisis; let's work on it together"?' Now the government says, 14 months later: 'Let's have a parliamentary inquiry so we can work on it together. Let's kick it down the road, beyond the budget, to late next year.'

We have said, time and time again—I think our bona fides are clear—that we will give bipartisan support to the government on any substantial measure relating to mental health. But what I won't support and what I won't be silent about is this last act of this last sitting day of parliament, at half past five on a Thursday. The minister at the table can't even be bothered to give a speech to explain the government's decision. The Prime Minister, whose personal decision this was, as I understand it, can't be bothered to come into the chamber. It's left to the minister on duty. I don't blame the minister on duty; he's doing what he's told. He's not been given any speaking notes to explain why, two years after the Productivity Commission inquiry was commissioned and after it has reported and its report has been released to the public, we're now going to need a parliamentary inquiry to consider how to handle the recommendations of the Productivity Commission review and the 58 other reviews of mental health in Australia.

I said to the minister last year, 3,000 Australians a year take their own lives. This epidemic of entirely avoidable deaths is arguably the greatest health challenge Australia has faced since the emergence of HIV/AIDS in the 1980s. I went on to say that there are many health policy areas in which we disagree, but I believe it would be possible to set aside our disagreements to work together on this urgent national priority. We said this 14 months ago.

Not everybody will agree with the Productivity Commission review. Maybe we don't agree with every element of it, but, if the government just got on with it and responded to it and started implementing the bits that at least they'd agree with, they would have no stronger supporters on this side of the House. But instead, with not a word of consultation, the government arrogantly decides we're going to have a committee. They rang us last night and said, 'We're going to have a committee.' They didn't say, 'Do you think we should have a committee?' or 'Do you think this is something that we should work on together?' They just said, 'There's going to be a committee.' We'll turn up at the committee. We'll nominate members on the committee—very well credentialed members when it comes to mental health. But I say this to all those mental health advocates across Australia who've been waiting for action, begging for action—for those individuals who've seen politicians saying all the right things about mental health and thought at last the mental anguish that they've been going through might be recognised by this parliament, those who hoped for better and hoped for more—I'm sorry that this parliament is going to submit you to another process where you have to come and give evidence and submit to yet again another inquiry. I'm sorry your government is letting you down by not implementing the Productivity Commission's review and responding to the Productivity Commission. I'm sorry this government is not doing better for you.

I meet, as the member for Dobell meets, constantly with mental health advocates. They don't have all the answers. Who does? But they've got a lot of the answers. We know what the answers are. The Productivity Commission has laid out the cost. They've laid out a way forward. We can have a discussion about which bits will work and which bits won't. We'll respect the government's right to reject or accept the recommendations as they see fit—they're the elected government. But what I won't cop is a talkfest. What I don't approve of is this arrogant treatment of mental health, which just throws it in and says that it's all too hard, after years of inaction, years of talk and years of saying: 'It's good we're talking about mental health now. It's great we're now talking about these issues.' No, it's not. How about we actually start doing something about these issues? We need a revolution, not an evolution, when it comes to mental health, and we don't have time to wait. We don't have time for more inquiries. It's time for this government. I've always said I accept the Prime Minister and the Minister for Health's findings when it comes to mental health reform, but I'm going to call out inaction when I see it, and this is inaction. It's disappointing inaction. It's inaction for which people will pay a price. It means we're just going to have 12 months more of talk and submissions. It means we're going to have 12 months more of argument and debate. Reform and investment in mental health just won't happen on this government's watch.

Question agreed to.