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Tuesday, 22 May 2012
Page: 5124


Mr IRONS (Swan) (16:18): I rise to talk about a failure of the Gillard government that again affects the people in need in the great state of Western Australia and that flies in the face of the role description of the relevant minister and his portfolio. As the patron of SIDS and Kids Western Australia, I attended a fundraising event on 3 May and was listening to 6PR in the car on my return to Perth. I heard the voice of Tina Gunter, a girl I had met through the Esther Foundation, talking on the Howard Sattler program about her experience with the naltrexone program, which is run by George O'Neil, called Fresh Start. I realised some funding had been withdrawn by the federal government for this highly successful program. It is the only one in Australia that actually takes opiate addicts off opiates—but then this government continues to fund programs that supply free needles to opiate users. Dr O'Neil's program had been dependent on the only $200,000 that is provided per annum for its counselling service by the federal government for over four years. The program run by Dr O'Neil has been universally recognised for its good work and recently even by Minister Plibersek, who wrote a letter to Dr O'Neil saying that the prevention pharmacology program was helpful. How then could Minister Plibersek work with Minister Butler to withdraw funding unexpectedly and out of the blue? As Dr O'Neil said in an email to me and the member for Curtin, 'You can't stop funding the only service in the country taking opiate addicts off opiates if you say it's a good service.' We see the Minister for Health withdrawing funding from a successful mental health program, and as Howard Sattler said, 'The minister claimed it was a state issue.' I ask the Minister for Mental Health and Ageing: since when has mental health become a state issue? If it is, what is your role, and why do you even need to have a portfolio?

Dr O'Neil has said that no-one from the Department of Health and Ageing with medical qualifications or any interest in relapse prevention pharmacotherapy has ever visited the program representing the minister for evaluation. The sudden decision to withdraw funding has affected counsellors employed and patients and is a 'very bad management style'. Dr O'Neil goes on to say that he would not have minded having to apply for funding and having appropriately trained people evaluate the program, but this never happened. I agree with Dr O'Neil and his recently published research shows that the program can reduce the risk of opiate overdose deaths post detox by 2,005 per cent. I urge the government to reconsider its decision which has clearly been made arbitrarily and with only the paper surplus in mind.