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Monday, 18 August 2003
Page: 18744

Ms JACKSON (5:14 PM) —I rise today to join my voice with the organisation known as SANE Australia to urge the Treasurer to apologise for the misuse of the terms schizophrenia and schizophrenic in this House on 13 August this year in question time. SANE Australia has publicly urged an apology from the Treasurer. The Executive Director Barbara Hocking said:

The Treasurer's speech perpetuates the idea that schizophrenia means a split personality, and is inaccurate.

Mr Costello's flippant use of the term “schizophrenia” as a cheap insult has itself insulted and hurt the hundreds-of-thousands of Australians who either live with this condition or care for someone who does.'

In calling for the Treasurer to apologise I note that, unfortunately, he is not alone in this kind of insensitive behaviour. Indeed you may recall that in October last year the Minister for Revenue and Assistant Treasurer, Senator Helen Coonan, similarly attracted criticism from peak mental health bodies over her views on people suffering from anxiety and depression as being malingerers. For those of you who do not recall, on Radio National in October 2002 she said:

But people who might be just malingering, if you like, or just have an anxiety condition or depression that they really do need to get over and get back to work—well obviously they're not going to be compensated just to stay out of the workforce.

On that occasion the Mental Health Council of Australia, which was established to represent and promote the interests of the Australian mental health sector and the mental health of all Australians, called on the Prime Minister to immediately dismiss Senator Coonan from her ministry and to apologise to the public for the highly insulting and derogatory comments made by her about people suffering from anxiety and depression.

I said that, unfortunately, the Treasurer was not alone in his comments and I referred to Senator Coonan, but one could also refer to the comments made by the Minister for Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs, Philip Ruddock, concerning comments by mental health bodies in Australia about their concerns in respect of Australia's detention centres. You might recall that Minister Ruddock was interviewed on the SBS television program Insight on Thursday 8 May and said that he did not think depression was seen as a mental illness by the broader community. It is of great concern that his department does not recognise that depression is a mental illness. Indeed it causes me great concern about the mental health care of asylum seekers in Australia's detention centres.

I do not lightly bring forward my criticisms and these examples of government ministers regarding this area of mental health. This is a very serious issue to me. I think it demonstrates very poor leadership on the part of these government ministers. Not only that but also, as I read their comments, in each case they breach the Commonwealth government's own guidelines with respect to referring to mental illness. That, if no other reason, should be grounds for the Treasurer to come into this place and apologise for his inappropriate use of those terms. What is the point of having guidelines in areas like this if people as senior as the Treasurer have no intention of following them? People with mental illness need support. They already put up with a sometimes extremely debilitating condition. They face chronically underfund-ed mental health services throughout Australia. They are often the subjects of discrimination in our community and they face a profound stigma as a result of their illness or disease. That is why it is entirely inappropriate for people, such as the ministers I have referred to, to denigrate them in this way.

It might be of some interest to many of you in the House to know that mental illness affects at least one in every five Australians. I think you can fairly assume that for every person suffering from mental illness there is at least one other person providing care and support for them. To that extent, mental illness is something that touches almost half of all families in Australia. It is hard and it is heartbreaking to have to deal with. Indeed, I speak from personal experience having had mental illness touch my own family. I have recently been dealing with my stepson as he goes through a very difficult time in his life adjusting to his mental illness. Others in my family have similarly been affected. I could not sit by and allow the comments made by the Treasurer last week to go without comment. I can only assume that the Treasurer has never had any contact with anybody who has some sort of mental illness, and particularly not with anyone who is a schizophrenic. In my own day-to-day work in my constituency I regularly come across people who are carers for people suffering from some sort of mental illness. I also have the pleasure of dealing with an extraordinary number of support agencies, particularly community based support agencies, that try to provide support and assistance to these people.

Recently I was pleased to read a report by the Mental Health Council of Australia called Out of hospital, out of mind. I was pleased to read the research that had been undertaken but was not pleased to read what it summarised as its concerns about the implementation of the National Mental Health Strategy. Indeed, as part of its research it found that there is still a grossly unmet need for basic mental health services in Australia; there is a grossly inadequate growth in expenditure on basic mental health services in Australia; there continues to be restricted access to existing mental health services in Australia; there are ongoing human rights abuses and neglect amongst people with mental illness, be it in their employment or other areas; and there is an increasing demand for mental health care. So far we have not seen any great steps forward in dealing with this significant illness in Australia. I have already told you how many people are likely to experience mental illness in Australia—that is one in five—and all the research currently being undertaken suggests that that figure will increase steadily over time.

It seems to me that the Mental Health Council of Australia's report raises four pretty significant questions that ought to be put not only to the Commonwealth government but also to state and territory governments. I will repeat those questions here. Has the proportion of total health expenditure on mental health been increased by at least one per cent—a target of the National Mental Health Strategy? The answer is no. Has access for people in need of primary care, emergency care, specialist care or ongoing community support improved? The answer is no. Has the quality of mental health care improved, as determined by a reduction in adverse incidents as well as increases in the rate of provision of effective forms of treatment and the consumers' experience of care? Finally, have the reports of human rights abuses and neglect diminished? I suspect not. It is time for us to very seriously tackle this issue of mental health care reform in Australia and to take a broad and responsible look at what needs to be done.

In the last minute I have remaining, I think it is important for me to record my great thanks to the organisations that work within my electorate and within Perth providing services and support to people who suffer from mental illness and to their families and friends who care for them. In particular, I wish to acknowledge those services in the eastern metropolitan region which recently produced a wonderful directory of mental health services available to people in my community. I applaud you for your work. Keep it up.