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Thursday, 25 August 2011
Page: 5595

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS (New South Wales) (15:33): by leave—I move:

That the Senate take note document.

I welcome the government's response, but let us not forget that the original Senate Stand­ing Committee on Community Affairs report is dated September 2008. It has taken this government three years to deliver a response, but this is business as usual for this gover­nment. It consistently orders reports and then has more conversations with the Australian people while it considers those reports. Mental health is very much like ageing. There were 17 or 18 requests for inquiries into ageing but then the government shunted everything off to the Productivity Commiss­ion. Now that the Productivity Commission has delivered its report we are going to have another national conversation.

Ageing and mental health have been the two areas that this government has well and truly neglected. Throughout that whole health 'reform' process, mental health and ageing well and truly fell by the wayside. Let us not forget Professor Mendoza resigning on 21 June 2010 in utter disgust at this government's position. This February the Prime Minister and the Minister for Health and Ageing forgot to include mental health in the heads of agreement on health reform. Finally, this government was shamed into doing something on mental health.

Let us not forget that in October last year there was a motion in the Senate—supported by senators on the crossbenches but not by the Labor Party or the Greens—that called on the government to implement the coa­lition's mental health policy. As if that was not enough to spur the government on, in the House of Representatives in November last year a similarly termed motion was passed. Again, the government and the Greens voted against that motion. After sustained pressure, the government was finally shamed into doing something in the budget, but it was not because it decided to something, as the government would have you believe.

Let us look at that budget. What an illusion it really is. There is this big spend on mental health, yet the net spend over the forward estimates is only $583 million. That is after you rip out almost $600 million from the better access program without consult­ation with practitioners. When you look at the fine print there is only $47 million in new funding in 2011-12 and $62 million in program cuts over that same period of time.

The minister is very careful because he talks about new initiatives. He does not talk about new money; he just talks about new initiatives. Why? If you go back and look at the evidence given by the Department of Health and Ageing at the last estimates, it was confirmed to me that they are simply refinancing Howard government programs. Let us not forget that the biggest investment in mental health in this country was made by the Howard government in 2006—$1.9 billion over five years.

Senator Wong: Not true! Our package is $2.2 billion.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: Through you, Deputy President, I would invite Senator Wong to go back and have a look at the evidence that was given at estimates. I just heard Minister Butler in the other place and he was going on with his usual waffle. But look at the fine print of what this government has done, because it is all tainted with the never-never, as are all its other programs. This is going to happen 10 years down the track. We are talking about 10-year road maps. One in five Australians have a problem with mental health now. They want action now. They want the government to deliver now. They do not want to wait another 10 years. Sadly for those who do need help with mental health issues, we have seen a another hallmark ALP smoke-and-mirrors budget.

Let us look at the report of the Senate Standing Committee on Community Affairs. The first recommendation of the Towards recovery: mental health services in Australia report was for the government, in consult­ation with the states, to develop a national mental health plan for future years. Let us look at the progress. Minister Butler is talking about COAG. Mental health has finally made it to the COAG agenda again after 2006, when the Howard government made sure that they well and truly invested decent money in mental health. What are COAG now talking about? They have also talked about the first recommendation in the community affairs report. They are talking about it three years later.

Let us look at COAG's progress in mental health and the progress reports that are supposed to be released. The progress report for 2007-08 was not released until September 2009. Today I looked for the latest progress report, hoping beyond hope that they had got their act together. The 2008-09 third report still is not available for inspection. That is the great progress that COAG has made on mental health. This was supposed to be a second-term priority for Prime Minister Gillard. On 27 July 2010 she told us:

I want to be absolutely clear—mental health will be a second-term priority for this government.

You have forgotten to put it on the COAG agenda. Finally it got on the COAG agenda last week. Bear in mind that mental health is not part of the so-called health reform. When you look at the first draft of what Kevin Rudd originally promised—in the full white coat as he travelled around the hospitals and told us that he was going to fix all sorts of things—and you look at what has finally happened at the end, there is not very much for mental health.

It is little wonder that the sheer frustration, the hurt and the disappointment of those suffering in mental health was so clear at the recent Senate hearing. I was very pleased that the Senate agreed to have a wide-ranging inquiry into the funding and administration of mental health services in this country. We have had over 1,000 submissions. There are not many Senate inquiries that get over 1,000 submissions. Why were there so many? Because people are very concerned. They are frustrated because services are just not working under this government. Minister Butler talks about consultation, but I wonder if he has bothered to even look at any of those submissions. If he looked at even a very small portion of those submissions, he would not be telling the Australian public that we are going to have a 10-year road map for mental health somewhere in the never-never and fudging his budget figures. It is very clear that it is not new money. It is simply a rolling over and repackaging of previous initiatives. Yet you have tried to pass this off as some great big spend on mental health.

Go and ask those one in five Australians who need help now and those thousands of people who have in many cases shared their most painful experiences in the confidential submissions. They need help now. It is very clear that, because this government have wasted so much money on school halls and pink batts and all sorts of other things, they are now forced to go and cut programs like better access. You ought to come along, Minister Butler, and listen to what those people are telling us at the hearings and what the impact of that is going to be on the daily lives of those one in five Australians who are suffering from mental health issues. The year of decision and delivery has absolutely come to nothing. (Time expired)

Question agreed to.