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Tuesday, 1 November 2011
Page: 7812

Senator MOORE (Queensland) (18:18): This report on mental health shows that there is a general shared concern in our community that there be effective mental health care. The very fact that we had to have so much discussion and came up with a unique result—I am not aware of three separate reports coming from one process before—indicates that there is a great deal of dynamic tension about the best way to respond to the mental health needs of the community. This is unlike—and I want to just once draw this to the attention of the Senate—the situation in 2006, when the previous government brought out their mental health plan. The people in the opposition had great concerns about some of the things being done. We took a bipartisan approach to that and worked together to ensure that the budget for mental health was effective. Any differences that we may have had on policy direction were worked through. That is different to what seems to be happening a little bit at this time.

The government in the 2011-12 budget delivered a package with one key message: that we needed to do more to help Australians with mental health issues. It is important that when people have issues they can get the help that they and their families need there and then. It is most important when looking at the whole mental health package to look at the role of carers and families. If you look at the submissions that our committee received, there were significant questions raised by people involved in caring for relatives and friends. They are demanding to have greater engagement in policy development and to have their needs addressed as well.

There was a great deal of agreement in the process that we went through. But the core point of disagreement was around the repositioning of the budget. The government were very clear and very open about what they had done in terms of investment in mental health in the budget. They had reassessed and rebalanced the money. Money was being withdrawn from two key areas, the Better Access program and the rebate given to providers for their mental health sessions. The idea was that the money that was being taken from those areas was going to be reinvested so that people across the country would have greater access to the services that they needed. This was not saying that Better Access as a program was not working effectively, and this was not saying that the GPs involved were not giving good service to their clients. It is important to put on record that the issue of consultation comes up in just about every inquiry that we have. There will always need to be more innovative ways to consult effectively with people who have needs in any area. But it is just wrong to say that the government did not have consultations around developing their process. There were specialist groups developed, including consumers, people who work in a range of professions and people who have knowledge of the mental health area. There were also a wide range of consultations with consumers, carers and people in the industry across the country. All of that information was taken into account in developing the package that came out in the budget. Is it a perfect package? No. There has never been a perfect package. What it is is the best possible approach to look at how we can best spend the budget on mental health services.

The core aspect around Better Access was to reinvest some of the money, after the review of Better Access was concluded, and we went into great detail through the committee process looking at how this review operated. One thing that no-one questioned was the data that indicated that over 80 per cent of people accessing the Better Access services that are there only accessed fewer than 10 services. There could be other queries about that process evaluation but no-one argued with that data. In fact, what we said was that perhaps it was better for the people who had ongoing need to look at alternative forms of getting services that we know they need. And we had evidence from a number of practitioners that people who perhaps required more interaction with practitioners could well need interaction with other forms of practitioners.

That is not to say that Better Access did not serve a purpose, because you and I know, Mr Acting Deputy President, that, when you have need for help, you will take what is available—and up until now one of the core aspects of available services was Better Access. We said in this budget that we thought there should be more funding put into the ATAPS program, and when I have more time I will speak more about that and the alternative service it operates; also, greater use of making sure that we have an effective workforce relationship and we have access to psychiatrists so that people who have more serious needs and have to move up a level may be better serviced by having access to psychiatrists. That was a core aspect of the discussion.

I think we need to ensure that through this report—as I say consistently, a report is but a stage—we look at the range of recommenda¬≠tions and at the range of concerns and that we work together to see whether we can have an ongoing response. That is to acknowledge to all the people who gave their time to this process that we value your input, we value your needs and we know that there needs to be ongoing work on mental health services in this country. Again, that is something I can say that there is no argument about.

I would like to go on and talk more about the commission and those things, but we will have more time when we get through different stages of the budget in the future. I can say that the government are determined that we will completely reinvest every dollar into new mental health services, targeting some of the most disadvantaged people in our community—because, as always, one of the things we saw was that the services provided did not reach the people who were in the lower socioeconomic areas in our nation, and that is something about which we must all be concerned. The data is there. We now have a challenge to see whether the enhanced ATAPS, the e-health initiatives and the community care processes that are part of the budget initiatives will meet the challenges to make sure that they do reach those people—and we have a commitment in this place to work to make sure that happens.