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Thursday, 2 June 1994
Page: 1272

Senator HERRON (7.35 p.m.) —Earlier this week I gave notice of a motion to acknowledge that this week was schizophrenia awareness week. Yesterday my colleagues Senator Tambling and Senator Patterson spoke on this issue in the matters of public interest debate. I thought it was important that I speak tonight because I want to acknowledge the Schizophrenia Australia Foundation's report on care of the seriously mentally ill in Australia. It is a rating of state and regional programs.

  I note from the report that the results indeed are disturbing in this regard. It is a particularly important week for all Australians as mental illness is a disease that is suffered not only by the individual but by the community as a whole. The families and friends of those with mental illness should never by overlooked in the way this government has ignored the mentally ill in Australia. The report looked at staffing, access to day-care facilities, hospital access and general services tailored for the mentally ill. Of my home state of Queensland, the report said:

How many times can we say that a region is a disgrace? If you were a person with severe mental illness in the South Coast region, we would advise you to cross the border and live in New South Wales. It will take a massive effort and a massive amount of cash to improve significantly in the region, and there is no sign of either from the Queensland Government . . . If you have a serious mental illness in Queensland—migrate!

Queensland spends less per capita on mental health services than any other state. The report highlights what are frankly scary statistics, such as the Wide Bay region where there are three staff specialised in mental illness for a region with a population of 100,000 people.

  In Brisbane, the Wolston Park Hospital, the largest mental hospital in Australia, has a waiting list of between two and three years. With Queensland's population growing at a rate ahead of all other states, particularly in the south coast region, the problem of care for the mentally ill in Queensland is even more evident.

  Central and North Queensland areas received even lower ratings than the south-east corner. It is stated that the mental patient facilities in Townsville are `oppressive, over-crowded and rated as one of the nation's worst admissions ward.' One was the infamous Ward 10-B at Townsville General Hospital, which I understand is closed, but the community is still reeling from that recent scandal and inquiry into the abuse and treatment of patients.

  The report concludes that the Queensland government has shown a disregard for the mentally ill and that the state as a whole is no place for a person with serious mental illness. In light of the damning Burdekin report into mental illness in Australia, I would conclude that Australia in general is no place for a person with mental illness. In today's Courier-Mail Human Rights Commissioner Brian Burdekin, in response to the Queensland government budget for mental health, said:

We should not forget that this state, Queensland, has been described as the worst in Australia by a number of independent reports and this Budget fails to live up to the responsibility or reasonable expectations of the community.

In a nation where the number one killer of young men aged 18 to 24 is through suicide, it is important to note that up to 90 per cent of all suicide victims are mentally ill. Given this link, we must ask ourselves: are we going to lose more of the already lost generation to youth suicide than we have through the social and economic disenfranchising policies of this decade of Labor government. There was a moving article in Monday's Australian by a mother of a schizophrenic, and she put it most aptly:

We are not killing the mentally ill, we are letting them kill themselves.

This is perhaps the most telling indictment of the government's inaction in the area of mental health. Some of the major areas that are emphasised by the report in desperate need of attention include rural health services, Aboriginal mental health, rehabilitation programs and integration of mental health services.

  These recommendations have the same condemning conclusions as the Burdekin report outlined in its mammoth report into mental illness. Why must the government continue to vacillate over this critical area of health care? This crisis in mental health care is in some ways even more compelling than the crisis that besets the entire health system in this country. It is more compelling because the victims—that is all we can call them—are so helpless. They do not have lobby groups; they do not have influence; they do not have the electoral power to give them a voice in the government and the bureaucracy; and, to a large degree, the community refuses to acknowledge their existence. All they have is their suffering and the comfort that their relatives and families provide.

  However, just as government, state and federal, must focus on the plight of the mentally ill, of equal importance is support for and recognition of the plight of the families and relatives of the mentally ill. For every mentally ill patient, there are numerous people who are affected by that illness. The suffering of these relatives is so easily dismissed and so often neglected. We must turn our attention

not just to the mentally ill but also to the impact their ill health has on the community as a whole—an impact that is made even more burdensome by the inaction of this government.

Senate adjourned at 7.40 p.m.