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Wednesday, 15 June 2011
Page: 6227


Mr BUTLER (Port AdelaideMinister for Mental Health and Ageing) (11:22): I thank the member for Fraser for his question but also his advice over the last several months. He has made a number of very important contributions to the public and parliamentary debate around mental health, along with many other members from both sides of the parliament. I particularly remember a speech that he gave reflecting on the experiences he has repeated again today in the chamber about his friend and about suicide prevention, and also the piece that he wrote for the Financial Reviewin one of his regular forays into the Fairfax press. It was a very important piece. I know that he had very good discussions with Professor Patrick McGorry about youth mental health. It was a very thoughtful piece, penned at a very critical time in the debate within the sector about what our focus as a government should be on mental health reform.

This budget does deliver on the Prime Minister's commitment made last year that mental health reform would be a priority of this term of government. As the member for Fraser has outlined, there is a package comprising $2.2 billion of new measures, part of which was announced over the course of the last year and $1.5 billion of which was announced on budget night. The measures announced last year very importantly focus on suicide prevention. Some years ago, only in the middle part of the last decade, suicide prevention from the Commonwealth's point of view attracted probably less than $10 million in a year. After the rollout of the measures announced last year as well as the step up that has taken place since the middle part of the last decade, started by the Howard government and continued by our government, that will be more like $50 million a year—a quintupling of the focus by the Commonwealth on suicide prevention—because all members in this place have experienced either directly amongst their family and friends or among their constituency the tragedy of suicide, which we know is still the largest killer of males under 45 and the largest killer of females under 35.

The member for Fraser makes an important point too, which is that our package does not simply focus on one age group or one part of the community. It focuses on the whole of the life span. It tries to take an approach that is not only health based but recognises that good mental health depends as much on good employment, good housing, good education and training, and good social support as it does on good clinical care through the health system. That is something I think we all understand. Finally, it also rests on the foundational idea that you do not have to choose between health reform and mental health reform, which was at the heart of the Leader of the Opposition's package last year. You can have both and, indeed, you should have both.

I want to take up a couple of points made by the member for Fraser about nought to 12 or early childhood and primary school aged children, because increasingly we understand in the education and physical health space the importance of the first five years. We know that that is where the brain develops at its fastest rate and, increasingly, as the member for Fraser has indicated, we know that good mental health later in life depends on a good experience in the first five years of your life. We have already followed up that intuition through our Perinatal Depression Plan, launched in the very early stages of the Rudd government, with the support of beyondblue and we have followed that up, again, in this package, with strong supports for promoting good mental health among children.

We have decided that the Healthy Kids Check, initiated by this government, will move from four years to three years of age, based on expert advice, particularly from paediatricians, child psychiatrists and the like, that the earliest possible check gives the best opportunity to identify emerging behavioural and other disorders and to identify whether the child is developing well in terms of their emotional and social wellbeing. In the next twelve months we will expand that Healthy Kids Check to incorporate social and emotional wellbeing elements. That was a very strong recommendation from experts in this field. It is also supplemented by a focus on the middle years and the primary school years, again, based on strong advice from the Research Alliance for Children and Youth, ARACY, an organisation that I think all members of parliament are familiar with.

We take a very strong view that good mental health across the life span rests on good foundational mental health at an early childhood level in primary school and in adolescence, which I think has been the focus of significant public debate, as well as on good supports through adulthood. (Time expired)