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Thursday, 16 February 2006
Page: 110

Mr WOOD (9:33 AM) —The ancient Greek physician Galen said as far back as 172 AD, ‘Employment is nature’s best physician and is essential for human happiness.’ Imagine what Galen would say if he knew that in Australia 75 per cent of people with a mental illness were unemployed—I repeat: 75 per cent. This is truly disturbing when you realise that people with a mental illness are 12 times more likely to be unemployed than people without a mental illness. Two-thirds of people with a mental illness desperately want to get back into work, but there is a range of complex reasons why it is difficult for them. In financial terms, there is also a huge cost to taxpayers as people with mental illness receive disability support pensions.

In La Trobe I have had meetings with locals with mental illness where they have told me, ‘All I want is a job; that is all I want’. Why do people with a mental illness have difficulty obtaining jobs? Sometimes it can be at the interview, where they are too honest about their mental condition or signs of mental illness become apparent. There are also no guarantees that, even when a person with a mental illness on the right medical treatment gains employment, sooner or later they will not have a bad day at work. A bad day at work may include bizarre behaviour that will probably end up costing them a job or simply the person does not meet the productivity required when compared with a so-called normal employee.

So how do we help people with mental illness obtain jobs in the first place and, more importantly, keep jobs even when they have had a bad day at work or cannot cope with a full day? That brings me to what is called a social firm, which is an exciting development in psychiatric rehabilitation and reintegration. It is a supportive work environment with approximately 40 per cent of its jobs designated to people with disabilities. These workers are integrated with workers who do not have a disability, so workers without a disability can work around others on those slow or bad work days, knowing that things will be right tomorrow or in a day or two.

On 30 January, along with Tony Smith, the member for Casey, who is also a strong advocate for people with mental health issues, I attended a meeting focusing on what is known as the ‘imagination tree’ in Monbulk. Social Firms Australia was also present. We were looking at obtaining a Regional Partnerships grant to assist buying a business which focuses on cultivating bonsai trees. Also present at the meeting was Carolyn Crosse, David Young and Andrea Tindall from Social Firms Australia; Paul and Trish Sweeney, the owners of the business; Michael Traill and Jane Laity from Social Ventures Australia, SVA, who are putting the business project together; and SVA business consultant, Mike Kerr. I am a strong advocate for this project. So is Tony Smith. I also acknowledge the Howard government’s great work on mental health. (Time expired)