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Wednesday, 11 May 1994
Page: 684


Senator WEST (7.06 p.m.) —I have read some parts of the Burdekin report and I have discussed mental health with Mr Burdekin. It is an issue about which many people have a great deal of concern. It is an issue towards which the Federal national area has only just turned its attention, for the very simple reason that responsibility for the administration of mental health falls within state jurisdictions. Only in recent years have we been able to get the states to come together to consider a national policy.

  The problem is such that we must get our opposition colleagues to go back to their wonderful Liberal-National Party coalition state governments in Victoria, New South Wales and these sorts of places to get them to deal with some of the issues that they have not addressed and which they are changing. We have to be conscious that, for example, it is the New South Wales government that registers health care providers. The states have responsibility for the registration of psychiatrists, mental health nurses, psychiatric trained nurses and psychologists. And in some states we even have differing qualifications and requirements for the various health providers. This all has an impact upon the provision of mental health services.

  Before opposition members come in here and seek to criticise the federal government, they should start with the state governments because they are the ones that have the responsibility. It is the states which have the institutions and they are at various stages of deinstitutionalisation. The New South Wales government is closing institutions because 150 years ago when these institutions were sited at Rozelle and Gladesville, those areas were well away from where people were living. However, those institutions are situated on prime pieces of real estate on the Parramatta River. So what is happening? Without any great concern for the sorts of services provided for the mentally ill in New South Wales, the government there is closing down and selling off that real estate to obtain money to put into its coffers.

  Earlier today we heard about underspent budgets. Let us look at how much the New South Wales government and its health department have returned to consolidated revenue. Two years ago the figure was $52 million—$1 million a week of its health budget that it did not spend. Yet it can go out and sell off these institutions without offering a great deal in return for people with psychiatric and mental health needs in that community.

  The New South Wales government has done nothing to attract psychiatrists, mental health nurses and psychologists to country areas. When I spoke to Mr Burdekin, he told me that a significant number of people with intellectual disabilities also have mental health problems. Yet in New South Wales the services for the intellectually disabled and the mentally ill are separated. I am not saying that is a bad thing. However, there has to be communication between those two groups of service providers so that those working with and helping those with intellectual disabilities can involve the mental health providers in the provision of those services.

  It is very easy for people to come in here and say, `The federal government is doing nothing. It is not spending enough money.' However, people should be aware that it is the states that have the prime responsibility for the provision of those services, and for the training and registration of the people who actually provide them.

  In some areas the states have been deleterious in looking at that issue—very much so. If a Labor state has been deleterious we will have to take the blame for that. Certainly in New South Wales, the state with which I am most familiar, the Liberals have been in power for over six years and they have to wear all of these sorts of problems. Those opposite should not come in here bleating about how bad we have been. Senators opposite should go back to their state colleagues and tell them that they have to pull up their socks; they have to do something about training and they have to do something about the maldistribution of the professionals, the care providers and the service providers. They have to start to have some caring attitudes and some caring policies.

  If we are not careful the states will totally abrogate their responsibilities and walk away from the delivery of mental health services and put it all onto the federal government—but not hand any money back, of course. Like New South Wales, they will continue to put their health budget into consolidated revenue.(Time expired)