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Tuesday, 1 November 2011
Page: 7814

Senator WRIGHT (South Australia) (18:25): As the Greens' spokesperson for mental health I am pleased to rise to speak in relation to the tabling of the report of the inquiry by the Community Affairs References Committee into Commonwealth funding and administration of mental health services, and I thank Senator Moore for her generosity in sharing her time with me.

The Australian Greens welcomed the government's commitment of increased fund­ing for mental health in the May budget. The budget also introduced some substantial and far-reaching initiatives which the Greens have been consistently calling for, in particu­lar a focus on children, youth services, early intervention and case management, and the establishment of a dedicated Mental Health Commission. However, it is fair to say that there were also implications from the budget decisions which were of concern to the Greens and certainly received mixed reactions from various sectors.

There are several particular issues that I will refer to briefly in the time available. Some submissions expressed concern about the process of consultation which occurred before these initiatives were announced, and I share that concern. A particular issue that was raised related to the existing National Advisory Council on Mental Health. Another body was established, the Mental Health Expert Working Group, which does not include a consumer representative.

Often in the past, in Australia's mental health history, mental health consumers and carers of those who experience mental health conditions have had things done to them without sufficient consultation. It is absolute­ly crucial, for programs and initiatives to be effective and accountable, that the voice of consumers and carers be included and heard at every stage.

The other matter I want to address in the brief time available is in relation to Better Access and the change to the number of sessions available. Although I understand the reasoning behind the government's decision to rely less on Better Access and to focus more on the ATAPS program—for example, because there are suggestions that Better Access has not reached hard-to-reach communities such as lower socioeconomic groups or those in rural and remote areas as well as ATAPS has done—it is clear from submissions received from many organisa­tions and practitioners that the result of these reduced sessions will be that there will be clients who have a compelling need for treatment and, where practitioners have clients like that, naturally they use the mechanisms available to help them. They are extremely concerned at the possibility that many of those clients will not be able to access treatment if these changes go ahead.

There is a need for the government to better identify the objectives for Better Access, in my view. And, like my colleague Senator Siewert, the chair of the committee, in her additional comments, I urge the government to delay the implementation of the Better Access changes until it is clear that other programs such as ATAPS can provide treatment to people with severe or persistent mental illness.

I would like to thank the secretariat for their diligence in dealing with the amount of correspondence generated—as has been said, there were over 1,500 submissions, so clearly it is of great concern in the community—for their handling of some contentious issues which are discussed in the report and for their accurate and thorough compilation of the evidence received. I seek leave to continue my remarks.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.

Sitting suspended from 18:29 to 19:30