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Thursday, 28 June 2012
Page: 8321


Ms RISHWORTH (Kingston) (09:20): On behalf of the Standing Committee on Education and Employment I present the committee's report entitled Work wanted: mental health and workforce participation, together with the minutes of proceedings and evidence received by the committee.

Ordered that the report be made a parliamentary paper.

Ms RISHWORTH: by leave—As many as one in three people have or will experience a period of mental illness in their lifetime. This is reflected in the fact that 30 per cent of people on the disability support pension have a mental illness. This is not the first report to note the entrenched stigma surrounding those with a mental illness. Nonetheless, the committee was struck by how pervasive stigma remains. Our leading recommendation is that the Commonwealth government coordinate a comprehensive, multifaceted national education campaign to reduce the discrimination against people with a mental illness in Australian schools, workplaces and communities, with inclusion of less well understood mental illnesses such as psychosis.

National antidiscrimination campaigns in other countries have succeeded in raising awareness, countering stereotypes and changing attitudes about people with mental illness. Engaging employer associations and employers is a core component. Evidence also points to the benefits of prevention and early intervention. The early psychosis prevention and intervention centre—EPPIC—model was exemplified by Orygen Youth Health and headspace. All help young people with a mental illness succeed with their studies and employment. The committee recommends extending the Commonwealth government's KidsMatter Australian primary schools mental health initiative into high schools because adolescence and early adulthood are where mental illness often first presents, so support is critical.

Students with mental illness need to be supported in tertiary institutions as well. The committee notes both the increasing workload placed on disability liaison officers and the growing number of students with mental illness in tertiary institutions. It is important that educational leaders, rather than leaving these matters to student services, acknowledge the issues and dedicate resources towards the support and teaching of other relevant staff to assist students with mental illness.

While social enterprises and schemes such as supported wage systems have their place and certainly help some people enter into employment, the goal should be that people with mental illness engage with the open employment market. There are a range of supports which already exist to help job seekers and employers alike. Commonwealth government initiatives such as JobAccess, the Employment Assistance Fund and Job in Jeopardy appear to be under-utilised and need to be promoted more widely, especially amongst employers, for greater take-up.

The committee heard much evidence from the supply side of the equation on this issue but less from employers. Employers that participated in the inquiry provided some model workplace strategies for both employing and retaining employees with a mental health condition and, importantly, for looking after the mental health and wellbeing of all employees. Working with employers to promote the business case for employing someone with mental illness needs to happen more in both the public and private sectors. The Commonwealth Public Service is a major employer and should take a lead in this area.

The complexity of the Centrelink benefits system for disability support pension recipients and its interaction with employment services are repeatedly referred to in this report. Assessment processes need to be streamlined so that they are compatible and consistent across the board. A communication strategy which places consumers and the people who work with them at its heart is integral to ensuring that the needs of clients are met. The system must encourage and engage rather than discourage and disengage job seekers. Participation requirements need to be sufficiently flexible for people to venture into employment without the fear of losing their benefit entitlement and in the knowledge that there is a safety net for them should a job not work out.

Employment service providers which specialise in serving clients with mental illness need to be recognised for the qualitative as well as the quantitative results they produce. Disability employment service providers should be required to demonstrate their expertise in helping people with a mental illness find meaningful employment, education and training opportunities, and this should be recognised in the disability performance service framework and star rating system.

One of the main messages to come out of the inquiry is the importance of fostering case coordination and leveraging collaborative partnerships between government and other service providers. To this end, the committee has recommended that the Commonwealth government be always in partnership with the states and territories through COAG to support the individual support and placement model and other service models which integrate employment services with clinical mental health services.

I think that for too long employment services, though they have been solid, have sat separately from clinical mental health services. But this committee saw some models in which NGOs are partnering with state-based mental health services to bring employment and clinical services together. We have seen this happen in a number of ways through the headspace model, and the committee feels strongly that this is the direction which needs to be pursued in the future.

Clearly, a third of people with mental illness being on DSP and not working is an economic impost. There are workforce shortages in parts of the country which need to be filled, and there are economic and social benefits in greater inclusivity generally, not just for people with mental illness. In the current climate and into the future workplaces need to be more—not less—flexible, adaptive and innovative in their approach to retaining a healthy and vital workforce.

It is the committee's hope that this inquiry contributes to a national conversation here in Australia and that it empowers people to feel confident in talking about the issues. Discussions need to involve the public, private and community sectors, educational institutions and employers together with individuals with a mental illness, their families and their carers. The statistics are such that, even if we ourselves do not experience a mental illness, we will certainly know someone close to us who does. It is in everyone's interest to help job seekers with a mental illness secure sustainable employment. They want to work, and work is part of their recovery—and this report shows that there are ways for them to find work.

I thank all the people who provided evidence to the inquiry. We had a lot of very brave people who told us their personal stories, and I thank them very much. I also thank organisations which gave up a lot of time to provide us with submissions and evidence. I thank my deputy chair—the member for Grey—and all the other members of the committee. This inquiry spanned a significant period, and their commitment to the inquiry was very impressive. I thank the secretariat, in particular Sara Edson and Glenn Worthington. This inquiry has been complex and was long in the making, and their work to ensure that we got the information we needed and so could produce this report was very much appreciated. I commend the report to the House.