Monday, 20 August 2018
Questions without Notice
Thank you, Senator Brockman, for your question and for your concern and care for those living in rural and regional Australia. This government has put the mental health of rural and regional Australians firmly on the agenda as part of our budget's $338.1 million investment. It's a record investment. We recognise that in the modern day there must be much more flexible and innovative ways to deliver mental health support, particularly for those living outside capital cities in regional areas where access to qualified health professionals can sometimes be a challenge. Nowhere is that more obvious than in regional Australia. The tyranny of distance is an everyday occurrence, where even basic chores can involve hours and hours of driving.
As we all saw last Sunday week on Insiders, driving—and there was a bit of crunching of gears—in general can be a bit of a challenge for Labor leaders when they're faced with the horror of visiting regional Australia. So foreign are rural areas to them that they don't even trust themselves to speak on camera about them. In rural and regional Australia, you don't just pop into the shops; you don't just grab a half-hour appointment with a mental health worker during your lunch hour. These are barriers that rural and regional people, the seven million of them, face. They're not a fringe group; they're not just some small tribe who happen to live outside the coastal fringe. There are seven million Australians who face these types of barriers each and every day.
It's not only the distance that is a problem. In July this year we announced three new mental health intervention programs—Rural Minds; Deadly Thinking; and Resource Minds—to support people who are struggling. We know that 100 per cent of New South Wales and much of Queensland is in drought, and it won't be going away soon. The government is on the front foot, supporting the mental health of our farmers and their families and their communities with $11 million in funding as part of the drought mental health package.
The drought mental health package will increase the availability of telehealth and virtual psychology services in the regions. This will be delivered with locals and charities on the ground.
When we think about the farmers who are fighting the drought, they're the ones that are at home listening to very hungry sheep and listening to very hungry cattle, not just all day but when they go to bed and when they wake up. The mental stress of that needs a response that is localised, tangible and accessible in the privacy of their own homes and in their own local communities and with the support of their local GPs.
We've made the changes to our drought mental health strategy to accommodate the fact that we need a local response, in particular for those communities. This is supported by our Primary Health Networks with $10 million to deliver the empowering our communities grant, which is going to provide $1 million to each of the affected local councils to find local solutions to empower, increase resilience and provide mental wellbeing programs.
Yes, I can. The government's investment in our transformational $550 million Stronger Rural Health Strategy reflects our commitment to improving access to quality health services for people living out in rural and regional Australia. Through better teaching, training, recruitment and retention, the strategy will deliver more than 3,000 doctors and 3,000 nurses and allied health professionals over the next decade. We're already seeing elements of this package rolling out, commencing from 1 July this year, addressing the oversupply of doctors in some urban areas and shortages in rural and remote parts of Australia.
The rising cost of the health system is unsustainable and there will be greater incentives for non-vocationally recognised GPs to obtain those much-needed specialist qualifications. As part of this package, the Royal Flying Doctor Service will also roll out a new mental health outreach program in January, part of our $84.1 million additional funding package for that organisation. Our thoughts and prayers are with our farmers in drought.