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Wednesday, 11 May 1994
Page: 685

Senator KNOWLES (7.11 p.m.) —Mr Acting Deputy President, we have just heard another breathtaking exercise from Senator West—breathtaking in its ignorance about the whole exercise. She talks about the state governments. Her memory is so short that she has forgotten that most of the states have been run by Labor governments for over a decade. Senator West conveniently forgot to mention what old can't-recall Carmen did or did not do in Western Australia. I am sorry, I will correct that: the current Minister for Human Services and Health, Dr Lawrence. Dr Lawrence did absolutely zilch in Western Australia, but Senator West conveniently forgets that.

  Senator West also conveniently forgets what happened in South Australia. Your own state, Mr Acting Deputy President, only went into Liberal hands last December. What has been done there?

  This response to the Burdekin report is absolutely and utterly appalling. To have only—

Senator Tambling —Thirty-nine pages.

Senator KNOWLES —To have only 39 pages in response to such a significant issue is nothing short of disgraceful. I have had a constant stream of letters into my office from people who are concerned about the government's inaction and inactivity in this whole area of mental health.

  My main area of concern is among those with non-English speaking backgrounds. Mr Burdekin raises some very special issues in connection with people with non-English backgrounds and mental health. I note that in the budget $3.6 million has been allocated to assist refugees and migrants who are the survivors of torture and trauma. That is a program that has been running for quite some time, and it is certainly one that I would not necessarily oppose in any form whatsoever. But how about the rest of them?

  So many people are having difficulty obtaining government services. These people are having difficulty finding doctors who can communicate with them. When they are institutionalised, they are having extreme difficulty in a cultural sense, in a language sense and also, because of the lack of English, they are having difficulty with medical information.

  There is absolutely nothing in this response that goes to the heart of addressing those very basic and fundamental problems that are being experienced by those with non-English backgrounds. There is a recommendation in the Burdekin report about the appropriate use of interpreters; that there should be standard procedure in hospitals and community mental health centres. This government would say there are, but there are not. There are many people being admitted to hospitals and being institutionalised who do not have access to interpreters. What has the government done about that? Absolutely nought!

  Another recommendation was that the composition of mental health review and guardianship bodies should reflect the multicultural nature of our society. The only thing that this government is currently doing of a multicultural nature is branch stacking, using the ethnic communities in New South Wales and Victoria. The government is not doing anything constructive for these people. It is very, very sad.

  A number of these things are state related and one would not turn a blind eye to that, but this report relates to those issues that are of a federal nature. This response by the government does not go even part way towards addressing those problems.

Senator Tambling —It does not give an excuse.

Senator KNOWLES —Exactly, Senator Tambling, it does not give any excuse whatsoever. What general practitioners, nurses, psychiatrists and mental health care workers have sought for quite some time is that they should receive appropriate training in cross-cultural issues, particularly those problems being faced by many older women—it happens not as often to men—who revert back to their mother tongue as they get older or as they go into some form of mental illness. It is a very sad indictment of this government that it has overwhelmingly rejected a very comprehensive report and leaves people up in the air with no improvement to the system whatsoever.