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Tuesday, 20 March 2012
Page: 3605

Mr VASTA (Bonner) (22:11): I rise this evening to bring to the House's attention a very important issue in the electorate of Bonner and indeed the wider Australian community, and that is the issue of mental health. Talking with my Bonner constituents when I am out and about in the electorate I have observed a very definite trend emerging. Increasingly my constituents are concerned about mental health and the impact it has not only on their own lives but also on the lives of their families and friends.

Almost half the nation's population—45 per cent—will experience a mental health disorder at some point in their lives. That is one in every two people. One of the big problems facing mental health treatment in Australia is that so often mental health is categorised too simply as a condition in and of itself. In talking to several interest groups in my electorate it has become clear this oversimplification hides the true complexity surrounding the issue.

Another significant challenge that faces these local mental health oriented community groups in Bonner is that of funding. I have been told again and again about the enormous struggle these smaller groups face in accessing funding that will enable them to grow and continue to operate at a grassroots level, with the help of hardworking volunteers. I have observed that, far from having the large-scale funding grants available to larger established organisations, smaller groups and support networks can have a significant community impact with limited funding. The difference this can make in the lives of those experiencing mental health problems is truly amazing. But without this assistance sufferers can be left frustrated and alone in their struggle. I have frequently witnessed the emotion of those battling mental health issues and their pleas for better infrastructure and resources that would make the ultimate difference in their lives and the lives of others.

Recent studies have found that one in five people will experience some form of mental illness in any given year. Yet only one-third of sufferers receive help from health services. A staggering 65 per cent of sufferers battle their disorder alone or with only family assistance. So what can be done to assist those groups in their operations? What strategies will better assist the smaller organisations at a grassroots level to overcome the increasing challenges facing the community in relation to mental health? Mental health care is at a critical juncture. Genuine reform and real action are needed to provide improved access to care, better long-term outcomes for patients and more efficient use of resources. As health minister in the Howard coalition government, Tony Abbott oversaw the biggest single injection of funding into mental health services.

The SPEAKER: The honourable member ought to refer to the Leader of the Opposition by his title.

Mr VASTA: The Leader of the Opposition—yes, Mr Speaker. There was $1.9 billion provided in 2006 for the following five years.

The time to tackle mental illness is when it first occurs. The prevalence of mental health problems declines with age. It is our younger Australians—those between 16 and 24—who bear the brunt of mental illness. Evidence shows that with early and targeted treatment many young people can overcome their problems and lead socially and economically productive lives with a lower incidence of progression or relapse. Delay in accessing appropriate treatment can be damaging for a young person, particularly during adolescence. Maturity can be delayed, social and family relationships can be strained and employment prospects can be derailed. Secondary problems such as substance abuse, unemployment and behavioural problems may develop or intensify and the illness itself may become more deeply entrenched. That is why it is so critical that volunteers on the ground have access to adequate support in order to achieve their local operational goals.

The coalition's Real Action Plan for Better Mental Health includes those support structures vital to achieving local and nationwide objectives. Twenty early psychosis intervention centres, 800 mental health beds and 60 additional youth headspace sites across the country will assist those already founded networks in accessing quality mental health services.

The coalition's Direct Action Plan for Better Mental Health is fully funded and builds on existing mental health funding provided in the previous budget. The coalition will also redirect funding away from new bureaucratic structures, proposed by Labor, to provide additional funding directly to front-line mental health services. These are important steps that need to be taken in order to achieve real impacting change to Australia's mental health system.