Senate debates

Tuesday, 11 October 2016


Mental Health

7:49 pm

Photo of Rachel SiewertRachel Siewert (WA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise tonight to speak of an issue of critical importance to all Australians, and that is mental health. This week is Mental Health Week, yesterday was World Mental Day and today is headspace day. Obviously, the focus is on mental health this week. The purpose of this week and these days is to draw attention to the issues of mental health in our community and society. Also, it is particularly important to help reduce the stigma that still surrounds mental ill health. But there is growing concern in the mental health sector that the current raft of changes, and the uncertainty that goes along with those changes, may lead to the unintentional removal of access to services for some customers and carers.

There is also particular concern about services and supports for people with mental ill health through the process of the rollout of the National Disability Insurance Scheme. The National Disability Insurance Scheme receives multi-party support in this place and in the other place. It continues to enjoy that multi-party support—and I, for one, am on the record for my support for the NDIS. However, it is also the role of this place to make sure that with policies such as the NDIS, where we see major reforms, there are not unintentional consequences and we learn as these programs of reform are rolled out. And that is what we need to be doing with the NDIS.

I am also aware—because I was part of that discussion, because I filled this portfolio for quite a while, so I was actively engaged in the Senate inquiries into the NDIS and the debate in this chamber and, in fact, ensured that there were some amendments to the legislation—that during that time there was a debate about whether mental health should be in the NDIS or not, because of the focus on recovery from mental ill health. However, it was agreed that it go in, and it is in, and its going in was strongly supported by many in the community as well, I have to say. There was debate about it, but the overall recognition was that it should be in, so it went in. But we need to make sure that there are not unintended consequences from that process.

What is being reported back to us is that, while people with mental illness are getting some packages, it was always recognised that not everybody with mental health issues would be covered by the NDIS, and it was expected that there would be some supports coming from what was then known as tier 2, which is now the ILC, the information, linkages and capacity part of the NDIS. However, a number of people that need support will not receive that support through the ILC, because there are simply not enough resources in that program. So there is a concern, first, for what happens to those people that do not receive a package and support through the ILC either. Also, the nature of the ILC has changed somewhat since the discussion about tier 2 was first on the boards.

Then you have the states and territories that are pulling back from services, including mental health services, because they think that, for everything they are saving, the things are being covered by the NDIS. The Commonwealth is also rolling back very important programs, so you have this process where funding for very good programs is starting to be rolled back and cut and programs are being closed at the Commonwealth level and the state and territory level. So there are very strong concerns, particularly around community mental health, that in fact what is going to happen is that there will be less services and supports and more people are going to fall through the gaps, when there is supposed to be a commitment across the board to address issues of mental ill health. That is why groups and people in the sector are now starting to worry about, as I said, the unintentional removal of access to services for some consumers and carers. We are deeply concerned that these issues are not being recognised quickly enough. I acknowledge the additional funding that has been put into PHNs, but again that is not going to be enough to address the closure of these programs and the removal of support by some state and territory governments.

The reason I want to raise this here is that we will continue to pursue this issue. We need to make sure that nobody is left behind. That is why I asked Minister Nash about mental health yesterday, because this issue needs to be very firmly on the agenda. We need to make sure that we are addressing any gaps now, before people start falling through those gaps. Addressing issues around mental health is not just about the provision of services and support. That is really important—do not get me wrong; that is why I just made that statement—but we also need to make sure that policies and programs that are in place do not damage people's mental health. Unfortunately, there are a number of programs that have the potential to damage people's mental health in Australia.

One of the ones that we are very actively discussing at the moment is the proposed marriage equality plebiscite. The approach that the government is taking to marriage equality and the plebiscite is deeply concerning, and the Greens are well on the record about that. The proposed marriage equality plebiscite will be detrimental to the mental wellbeing of LGBTIQ people in this country. Over the weekend, we just saw further evidence: a report on the experiences of the LGBTI community in Ireland, which talked about the impact on people's mental health. Already we are seeing harmful actions in the marriage equality debate that will no doubt affect people's mental health. Only last week, in fact, my office received a report by a young lesbian woman in Western Australia who was directing traffic at the Perth Royal Show when she noticed a sticker on one of the signs visible as people went into the Perth Royal Show. The sticker was calling on people not to support marriage equality, and she was devastated by that. This was at a family event. This is before the money that the coalition wants to hand over to fund, basically, a discriminatory campaign—because that is what it will degenerate into—to oppose marriage equality. Before that has even started, we are seeing these materials that are already damaging people and causing people distress. That will only be magnified very significantly by the funding the government wants to funnel into the case against marriage equality, and we are deeply concerned about the impact any such plebiscite would have on people's mental health.

Then you have other policies, for example, with the government continuing to pursue people on income support and denigrating people on 'welfare'—I hate that term. One example is trying to force young people to live on nothing for five weeks. That will have a significant impact on people's mental health, and particularly the mental health of young people who, at the same time they are being denied income support, will still be expected to go and look for 20 jobs and make 20 applications a month. They will still be expected to do that. The government is pursuing the so-called social investment policies of New Zealand, but one thing that came clearly out of the New Zealand example was the impact on people's mental health from job application rejections. They found that seven major rejections impacted on people's mental health, and here is the government saying, 'You need to do 20 applications at the same time we are not going to pay you any income support,' which in itself is going to have a significant impact on young people's mental health and ability to find work. So there are a range of other programs that this government wants to put in place that will affect people's mental health.