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Wednesday, 10 October 2012
Page: 7861


Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS (New South Wales) (16:00): I start my comments on this matter by pointing out that today is World Mental Health Day. It was interesting to see in question time that it was the coalition that led with a question on mental health on this very important day, whereas those opposite left it until the last question. In fact, they were very lucky to actually get their last question on mental health in. What does that tell you? That tells you that for us on this side mental health is a priority, but those opposite left it until the last question of the day. That tells its own story of where their priorities are.

Let us look at what has been happening in mental health in recent years. The government was finally shamed into doing something—and I underline 'something'—on mental health in the 2011-12 budget. That came after sustained coalition pressure and it followed two motions in 2010, one in the Senate and one in the House of Representatives, in October and November respectively. I remind the Senate that the Australian Labor Party and the Greens—the sanctimonious Greens—voted against these motions and therefore ignored the will of both houses even though the motions were passed.

So what was this so-called mental health reform package all about? The package is another that is really smoke and mirrors—an illusion. When you actually read the fine print, it has all the hallmarks of the classic smoke and mirrors so typical of many of the things that this government says that it has done. It has the typical big spend, the big headline of $2.2 billion, but when you look at the fine print it is tainted with the never-never brush of so many of the Gillard promises. We have this net spend over forward estimates which is really $583 million only, but then you have $580 million ripped out of general practitioner mental health services and allied health treatment sessions from the Better Access program. With no consultation whatsoever with the sector, it has caused enormous widespread concern in the sector.

Then, of course, despite the big headline figure, which those across the chamber are very good at talking about, in reality it was only $47 million in spending and $62 million cut in that first year. Regrettably, 18 months on, it is little wonder that those who previously stood alongside the Australian Labor Party are now justifiably critical of the government for its lack of action. After the budget the coalition successfully established an inquiry into the funding and administration of mental health, and this inquiry received over a thousand submissions. All were very critical of the cuts that the government had undertaken. Of course, if those opposite had not squandered billions and billions of dollars on useless things like pink batts and Julia Gillard memorial halls then we would not have had to cut funding to the most vulnerable in this country—that is, the mentally ill.

Let me remind the Senate of the statistics. Sadly, six Australians commit suicide every day and more than 200 attempt to take their own lives—and this is only the official statistic; it does not reflect the statistic in the 2007 National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing, which talked about the over 360,000 people who had contemplated suicide that year. One in four deaths among young people occurs through suicide. Suicide is the leading cause of death for 15- to 24-year-olds each year and suicide is the biggest killer of men under 44 and women under 34. Suicide ranks 15th in the overall causes of death in Australia, and we know the many confronting statistics which I have spoken about and which experts have repeatedly brought to the fore in relation to depression, anxiety and bipolar, personality and eating disorders.

One in five Australians need help now. Forty-five per cent of Australians will face some form of mental health problem in their lifetime. As I said, today is World Mental Health Day. The theme, which those opposite could not even get right in their notice of motion, is 'Depression: A Global Crisis'. I remind the Senate that, according to World Health Organization statistics, one person every 40 seconds worldwide commits suicide—a startling statistic. We have seen the many great initiatives in this area over recent months and we have spoken about them here in this place.

So what has happened with this so-called mental health money? Take, for example, the big promise in the 2010 election of $277 million for suicide prevention. Where is the money?

What has happened? Have the programs been rolled out? The answer is no, they have not been rolled out. This government have been extraordinarily slow at rolling out these programs and this is why they are attracting the criticism from those who previously stood by them and advocated, and were so glad to see something finally happening from those opposite in the mental health area.

We have also seen the cuts to the successful Mental Health Nurse Incentive Program. This program has been operating successfully for five years. What have seen a funding freeze. It is little wonder that eminent experts such as Professor Ian Hickie, Professor Patrick McGorry and Professor John Mendoza, the former chairman of the government's National Advisory Council on Mental Health, have been critical of the lack of progress in tackling vital mental health issues. But, like most things that this government does, it has the brush of the never, never.

There is the draft 10-year road map on mental health reform. During the last Christmas vacation period the minister announced the draft for the 10-year plan and gave the sector two weeks during the Christmas break to consult. Why? So they could say that there has been proper consultation. Ten months on and it is still a draft, and we are still waiting. It is little wonder that this draft road map has been so heavily criticised. As Dr Sebastian Rosenberg so aptly described it, it is a road map to nowhere.

Even with the latest iteration, which apparently emanated from the COAG process, the stakeholders in the sector were given only four working days to provide comment to the government on this very important area. That just goes to show the disdain that those opposite have for this area. If they really cared about the mentally ill in this country they would roll out these programs and not at the snail's pace like they are doing at the moment—they would put their heart and soul into it and respond to the needs of the sector, to what the experts have been telling them for years and years, and undertake the reforms that are so badly needed in this area.

Professor Rosen has called this 10-year road map another illusory, false start. Professor Mendoza said:

The Roadmap is yet another PollyAnna document from our Federal health bureaucracy that commits no one to anything.

Professor Ian Hickie said:

As a result of the mess left at the end of the Rudd era, key structural issues in mental health services remain unresolved.

Professor Rob Donovan said that this is a 10-year program but:

… there is no time line for the proposed actions.

It is little wonder that the government has many critics for its failure to take decisive action. (Time expired)