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Thursday, 22 March 2012
Page: 2681

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS (New South Wales) (19:33): I would like to make some comments in relation to not just some of the circumstances following the release of this final report but also what we are now seeing in terms of the repercussions of the government's decision. Recently we saw the roadmap released, which has been heavily criticised in the mental health sector. The roadmap appears to be little more than a wish list with little detail, and some criticisms that have been levelled at it. It comes on top of the 2011 year, when the government made announcements of what appeared to be substantial budget initiatives in relation to mental health but all they were about was to rob Peter to pay Paul. The $583 million cuts to the Better Access program was shifting moneys from one side of the mental health portfolio to the other.

We then had the disastrous nomination of Monsignor David Cappo as the Chair of the Mental Health Commission. Within days he was forced to stand down. Then, as I said, we had the cuts to Better Access. Because those cuts to Better Access were undertaken with little or no consultation with the sector, and especially without consultation into relation to the effect it would have on patients, we now see Minister Butler having to backflip with a reinstatement of those sessions at least until 2012.

Let me go back to the roadmap. We saw it released in January basically under cover of the vacation period, which gave people little opportunity to comment. I will come to some comments made in relation to the survey instrument that was used, which was criticised by the Australian Counselling Association. Apart from the artificially tight time for consideration and consultation, they state that they were also concerned that the online survey instrument provided by DoHA to respond to the draft was an inadequate vehicle for detailed comment. Whilst the roadmap has been described as 'a start', Professor John Mendoza in an article in the Australian of 18 January stated:

This roadmap begins that process, but there needs to be a lot more work that brings together governments and the sector to make sure this plan lives and breathes.

In fact, that comment was made by Frank Quinlan, chief executive officer of the Mental Health Council of Australia. But I would like to come to an article that Professor Mendoza wrote on 16 February 2012, headed 'Mental health reform: we're on a road to nowhere …'. He starts the article with an observation—he had just come back from summer vacation—and he talks about his recent road trip. He says:

So when I got back from the summer holiday and heard that the Federal minister for Mental Health and Ageing, Mark Butler, had released a consultation, a Ten Year Roadmap for National Mental Health Reform, I thought great. Not another plan (to go with the four earlier five-year plans), not another policy or strategy or implementation plan, but a roadmap.

As I read and reread the Roadmap for National Mental Health Reform, the lyrics from the Talking Heads classic (part of my road trip music selection) went round in my thoughts: We're on a Road to Nowhere.

I attempted to critique the document and provide feedback by way of the survey monkey questionnaire set up to elicit comments from interested members of the community, but I simply gave up. How was a forced choice really allowing me to say what I thought of this document?

Again, it is a sort of Clayton's consultation that you have when you really do not want a consultation—you give people only two weeks and you do it over the Christmas vacation period.

Interestingly, Professor Mendoza continues:

The Roadmap for National Mental Health Reform, as it stands, is more like one of those bright, cheery tourist maps one picks up at a theme park where it doesn't seem to matter which way you orient the map, all roads lead to the souvenir shop or the food stalls where you can part with more money and the distances between exhibits or rides are just vague approximations.

On a more serious note, Professor Mendoza states:

This roadmap fails dismally on all the features one finds in a modern roadmap or GPS. Leaving the analogue aside momentarily, it fails to follow the evidence when it comes to effective public policy—clear articulation of the problem or challenge, clear goals or destinations, clear priorities, actions, milestones, timelines, resources and/or responsibilities.

In short, he says:

… it fails to articulate a destination or even a starting point. As I read, that song again: Road to Nowhere

I would like to remind the Senate that Professor John Mendoza was the Rudd government's hand-picked choice to be the inaugural chair of the National Advisory Council on Mental Health. He departed in disgust, mostly due to the neglect of mental health policy, and he made his views in relation to what the Rudd government was not doing very, very clear when he left in such utter disgust. In his article he states:

Critical to the journey of reform is what are the other key areas of reform—who else is on a reform road trip?

And then he makes reference to COAG. Surely COAG must part of this.

We know that in 2006 a substantial amount of money—$1.9 billion—was funded for mental health by the then Howard government. Up to a certain period there were progress reports but my recollection is that, since this government has been in power, we have not seen any progress reports on where that COAG money is being effectively spent. This is the criticism that was levelled by Professor Sebastian Rosenberg, Professor John Mendoza and Dr Leslie Russell, who, I would remind the Senate, is a former adviser to the then shadow health minister Julia Gillard. This article, which was published in the Medical Journal of Australia on 20 February 2012, is very critical of spending and very critical of the lack of progress and effective funding.

I will return to Professor Mendoza. Again, he goes back to the road map and says:

Or what about all those on the eight-lane health reform expressway—crikey, I can see they've got a traffic jam over there—a huge number of Medicare locals, local hospital networks, a couple of special vehicles it looks, the national pricing authority, the national performance authority, national preventative health agency and more.

He then talks about the red tape and all the new bureaucracies and basically concludes that this is a road to nowhere. (Time expired)

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT ( Senator Stephens ): Order! Senator Fierravanti-Wells, your time has expired.

Senator Fierravanti-Wells: I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.