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Thursday, 21 June 2012
Page: 7538

Mrs MARKUS (Macquarie) (09:36): I rise today to speak about a very important issue across this nation but particularly in the electorate of Macquarie: access to mental health services. Almost half of all Australians will experience a mental health disorder at some point in their life. Many more will be impacted as families and friends grapple with how best to support someone close to them struggling with a mental health disorder. On this point I would like to particularly recognise National Carers Week this week and acknowledge the challenging and often unrecognised carers across the Australian community.

This month I was contacted by a member of my community, Mr Michael Farrell-Whelan with regard to his concern about the federal Labor government's plan to cap the Mental Health Nurse Incentive Program. Mr Farrell-Whelan has worked within the New South Wales health department for more than 30 years and his wife, Wendy, is also a mental health occupational therapist. They both operate out of Katoomba in the Blue Mountains. As the parliament may be aware, the people of the Blue Mountains have a range of barriers to accessing health services—challenges such as transport and financial burdens to name a few.

As a part of this budget the Labor government has declared that services under the Mental Health Nurse Incentive Program will be maintained at 2011-12 service levels while they conduct an evaluation of the program. But the Labor government had already reduced the better access rebate that encompasses this program for the previous financial year, so practitioners and patients were already doing it tough. The fact that all organisations that are currently part of a program must maintain client services at existing levels and that no new organisations can join the program means that there is greater pressure on these vital organisations as more people are diagnosed with mental health illness every year. This directly impacts families as they continue to struggle to get access to the services they and their loved ones need.

During the community services Senate estimates committee hearing in May, this government failed to present a clear picture of who will be affected by the freeze, when that may occur or how its impact will be monitored. Even a couple of days ago the Minister Assisting the Prime Minister on Mental Health Reform, the member for Port Adelaide, was asked about the program. He had to take the question on notice and could not provide sufficient answer. This creates further uncertainty amongst people who currently benefit from this program, as they continue to battle with how they can best serve their community.

This government continue to add pressure to the families of the Blue Mountains. Just last sitting period I rose to speak about another cut to funding for One80TC located at Yarramundi. The minister needs to give account particularly to the residence of Macquarie who have inquired about this Labor government's cut to further vital health services in the local community—they deserve an explanation. I ask the minister to reply; I invite the minister to contact my office to organise a meeting in respect to both these matters.