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Wednesday, 10 October 2012
Page: 7871


Senator FAULKNER (New South Wales) (16:43): I welcome the opportunity to debate the government's record in the area of mental health reform, which I acknowledge is particularly relevant today on World Mental Health Day. As we know, Mr Acting Deputy President, mental illness does not discriminate. It affects the lives of many Australians from all backgrounds. It also impacts on the lives of friends, family and work colleagues of those affected. One in five people and one in four young people will experience a mental health issue in any given year.

But only 25 per cent of 16- to 24-year-olds who experience mental health issues will get help. Sadly, we know that mental illness disproportionately affects the lives of our most vulnerable—people from lower socioeconomic backgrounds, particularly the homeless, migrant communities, regional communities and Indigenous Australians and Torres Strait Islanders.

The government's $2.2 billion mental reform package over five years is delivering real assistance and real improvements to the lives of those thousands of Australians with mental health issues. What this means is that the government has been able to deliver vital programs—and I thought today in my contribution I would give five examples. Firstly, headspace, the National Youth Mental Health Foundation, is tackling mental health issues early for our young people, particularly in regional areas and on the city fringe, with new centres being opened in Werribee, Liverpool and Rockhampton—bringing the total number of operational services to 40, with a further 30 announced sites in development. At the end of the 2011-12 financial year, more than 67,000 young people had been assisted by headspace, with more than 700,000 occasions of service delivered. Secondly, there is KidsMatter. KidsMatter is a mental health and wellbeing framework for primary schools and early childhood education and care services that promotes mental health and early intervention for children. As of the end of July this year there were more than 815 primary schools around the country participating. Thirdly, the government has made big investments in online mental health support with online services such as eheadspace, ReachOut.com and myCompass. Fourthly, the mindhealthconnect portal went live on 29 June this year, on time and to schedule. In its first month of operation, more than 37,000 unique visitors had accessed the portal. That is an average of 1,258 Australians each day seeking a range of information on mental health matters. Finally, the National Mental Health Commission is up and running—again, on time and on budget. The commission has met seven times to develop Australia's first ever national report card on mental health and suicide prevention. The commission met with more than 400 key stakeholders, carers, and consumers in every state and territory. The government does have a strong commitment to working closely with key stakeholders such as community and advocacy groups, states and territories, local government, NGOs and communities to provide support to those vulnerable members of our community at mental health risk.

In May this year I attended an event marking the 20th anniversary of Suicide Prevention Australia. That organisation has been very important in ensuring that we remain vigilant and continue to prevent suicides and attempted suicides and support those whose lives have been affected by suicide. The development and funding of initiatives like the Taking Action to Tackle Suicide package and the National Suicide Prevention Program are critically important to organisations like Suicide Prevention Australia.

Last year the government established the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Suicide Prevention Advisory Group to guide the development of Australia's first national Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander strategy. There has been $24 million provided to boost the capacity of crisis hotlines such as Lifeline and to help train front-line community workers in suicide prevention through the Mental Health First Aid program. Safety is being improved at suicide 'hot spots', where community prevention activities for high-risk groups are being supported and suicide postvention outreach teams to schools are being funded.

Together with a range of organisations, the government has been focusing on building national suicide prevention sector networks. It has also been creating and disseminating suicide prevention information and doing other a range of other very valuable work through its joint membership of the National Committee for the Standardised Reporting of Suicide. The government's $2.2 billion five-year mental health reform package and its continuing support for organisations such as Suicide Prevention Australia are making a real difference for vulnerable members of our community and, more broadly, for public health in Australia.

I think that on a day like World Mental Health Day it is important to stress that nationwide mental health reform needs ongoing bipartisan political support. It deserves ongoing bipartisan political support, something that this sector has called for for many, many years. Previous governments, I acknowledge, have made significant inroads in mental health reform, and I believe that the current federal government's package is another significant step in providing the quality services and support that are so critical to so many of the most vulnerable in our community.