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Wednesday, 11 May 1994
Page: 627

Senator LEES —My question is also directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Human Services and Health. It has three parts. Firstly, does the minister acknowledge that the money set aside in the federal budget last night for mental health, while of course welcome, is only $40 million a year compared with the $200 million a year recommended in the Burdekin report? Secondly, does the minister acknowledge that the public hospitals have been completely ignored, with no new funding for much needed capital works and no new technology acquisition money whatsoever? Finally, again on the issue of Aboriginal health, does the minister acknowledge that the problem is that there is only an extra $25 million per year to be spread over 98 Aboriginal medical services, that this will barely keep the doors open—indeed, barely maintain existing services—and that it will do little, if anything, to address the underlying problems facing the Aboriginal community and very little to improve the health status of Aboriginal people?

Senator CROWLEY —I do not accept most of the premises in Senator Lees's question. First of all, it is very clear, if we look at the mental health allocations, that the 1994-95 budget provides $133.6 million—about $134 million—over four years for the national mental health strategy. That more than doubles the previous Commonwealth commitment in this area. Indeed, it is a very significant recognition and response to the wide-ranging and perturbing responses in the Burdekin report.

  The government is very alert to the references in the Burdekin report, and that is why this extra money, almost doubling the previous allocation by the Commonwealth, is in this budget. That money will be going to improving access to mental health promotion and prevention, to better coordination of services and, in particular, to picking up the importance of education and any steps we can take to reduce the stigma attached to psychiatric illness, which is also a very significant part of the challenge of our community in mental health services.

  But it is not the only thing we are doing in the mental health area. I certainly think that some of these things may not be known to honourable senators. Some $22.8 million has been allocated to continue funding for the specialist vocational rehabilitation psychiatric units under the Commonwealth Rehabilitation Service. We have allocated $12.3 million to expand and enhance the national action for dementia care, which is also a very significant part of this area. We have also seen the allocation of $12 million from the Commonwealth as part of the national prevention strategy against child abuse and neglect; and that was highlighted by Burdekin as one of the contributing factors to, if not one of the causal factors of, mental illness in people of an older age.

  Those are some of the areas that have got more allocations under this budget in the area of mental health. It is quite clear that this government had made a commitment to improving the mental health status of people and to recognising the importance of a Commonwealth-state project working together in this area. It cannot be something that only the states can be left to do. That has been clearly insufficient. It is a doubling of money from the Commonwealth's commitment, and I think it is very significant.

  Senator Lees asked whether the allocation in the area of Aboriginal health is $25 million. This year it is $25 million extra, and that is only in the community services and health area. For Senator Lees to say that that would not make a difference seems to be a remarkable claim. I would have thought that $25 million per year on top of the money already allocated in that area is a very significant increase. The commitment is there; the improvement is there; and the targeting of those services has improved dramatically with that very significant allocation. It is not an allocation for one year, but an ongoing allocation of that money. So it is a bit mean, a bit negative, to suggest that this government's commitment to mental health and Aboriginal health is not in this budget; indeed it is.

Senator LEES —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. The minister has ignored public hospitals, but I will leave that out for now and go back to mental health. The Burdekin report identified the fact that 250,000 Australians are suffering from severe mental illness. Other reports have identified the fact that less than half receive any treatment at all. The Burdekin report states:

. . . and approximately one in five adults have or will develop some form of mental disorder.

We are looking at $40 million instead of $200 million. How is that adequate for this? On the question of Aboriginal health, we are looking at the total expenditure. Aboriginal people who use medical services cannot tap into Medicare. If there is bulkbilling by these services, that comes off their budgets. We are looking at less per head of population for Aboriginal people than we are able to enjoy as non-Aboriginal people. How will this tackle the severe underlying problems faced by our Aboriginal community?

Senator CROWLEY —I can really do no more than reiterate that in relation to funding in the mental health area, we need to ask: how much is enough? What is most important to acknowledge is the dramatic increase in funding this year, almost doubling the previous Commonwealth commitment in this mental health area. I think that should be a very clear indication of the Commonwealth government's commitment. This is a commitment and a very significant doubling of the funding that was previously given in the Commonwealth mental health area. I am a bit surprised that Senator Lees would want to carp and complain because here is the commitment and here are the dollars. Here is the recognition that what we have had to this point from the states is not sufficient.

  As to the Aboriginal health area—and we may go through this in more detail—Aboriginal health services are not provided only through money specific to the Aboriginal health area: they are also provided under Medicare, women's health and more. (Time expired)