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Tuesday, 23 September 2008
Page: 8316

Mr IRONS (8:48 PM) —I rise tonight to talk about the challenges facing those relying upon mental health care in my electorate of Swan. There are numerous types of mental illnesses with varying degrees of severity. Examples include anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. Mental illness is widely recognised as a major health concern in Australia. Mental health illness affects a large number of Australians across the nation. It surprises many people to find that one million Australians experience some form of mental health illness. One in five Western Australians will suffer from mental illness in their lifetime. There can therefore be no doubt that mental health is an important issue at a both a state and a national level.

When I was campaigning as the Liberal Party candidate for Swan back in November, I met a lady called Mary. Mary is a recovering schizophrenic and she told me about her concerns about the local mental health services. At the time, I said that, if elected, I would raise the issue of mental health in parliament. Following the budget announcement in May, Mary contacted me again about the Rudd government’s proposed cuts to the funding of the mental health system and made the following points. First, there are not enough rehabilitation centres at present. People are pushed too soon to live independently, and this often has disastrous consequences. Second, while people are forced to function independently, there are not enough community nurses. Third, staff in hospitals are overworked and cannot devote the one-to-one time that patients need.

Unfortunately, the Rudd government’s cost cutting means that $244.3 million will be taken out of mental health services over the coming four-year period. The spending cuts look set to exacerbate the problems Mary raised. As the member for Sturt recently stated, we need to recognise the importance of providing state-of-the-art mental health care for the mentally ill and acknowledge that the way to help the mentally ill to be rehabilitated from their illness is to improve mental health services, not cut them.

Having spoken with the Hon. Helen Morton, West Australian MLC for the East Metropolitan Region and the new Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Mental Health and Water, I am disappointed to report that the inaction of the Labor federal government has been matched by the state Labor government. Incredibly the Carpenter government failed to provide a safety net of services for people with mental illnesses. Patients are dying and families are suffering because Labor has failed to implement self-harm risk management guidelines in hospital wards and emergency departments despite these guidelines being established in 2000. Supporting Mary’s point, Helen Morton said that patients are often discharged from treatment before they are ready and that there is an absence of proper planning for the transition of patients back into the community.

The responsibility for caring for seriously ill patients is being pushed onto the community and prisons, which are ill-equipped to manage the medical and psychological needs of patients. The result of Labor’s careless discharge of seriously ill patients is the staggering rate of readmission. Rates of readmission within 28 days of discharge are up to eight times higher for mental health patients than for recipients of other health services in Western Australia.

The human toll of Labor’s deficient mental health system extends beyond the high rate of suicide, which is greater than the total number of deaths on the road in WA. Eight active patients of mental health services die each week in WA. I am informed by the Hon. Helen Morton that the WA Labor government has been unable to provide specific information on the causes of these deaths. Despite a $2 billion surplus, the state of mental health in Western Australia is disgraceful. I hope that the incoming state government in WA, being sworn in today, will mark a turnaround for the state and propel Western Australia to international best practice.

Labor’s inaction is in sharp contrast to the progress made by the Howard government in improving support and services for people with mental disorders and their families. The investment of $1 billion in the Commonwealth’s mental health reform package in the 2006 budget represented the biggest government investment in mental health in Australian history.

New Medicare services for people with mental illnesses commenced on 1 November 2006, including better access to mental health services provided by psychiatrists, GPs, psychologists and other allied health professionals. The strong uptake of these new services shows that it is an area of previously unmet demand within the community. The provision of $18 million to Lifeline has significantly enhanced telephone counselling services for individuals experiencing a psychosocial crisis. The announcement of community grants totalling $23.5 million has reinforced the Commonwealth’s suicide prevention efforts. The new funding also allows an additional 1,800 people, mostly from overseas, to receive specialised torture and trauma services each year. I call upon the Rudd government to match the vision and intent of this policy.

In summary, I have outlined the challenges facing people relying upon mental health care in my electorate of Swan. I urge the Rudd government to abandon their spending cuts, which have led to great concern among people in my community. I urge them to cooperate with the new WA government and to properly address the issue of mental health. Too many lives in my electorate and in Western Australia depend upon it.