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Tuesday, 22 June 2010
Page: 6100


Mr DUTTON (2:59 PM) —My question is to the Prime Minister. Will he explain to the House why his chief adviser on mental health, Professor John Mendoza, resigned in disgust?


Mr RUDD (Prime Minister) —I thank the member for Dickson for his question. Can I say that of course Professor Mendoza has made an important contribution to the public debate on this because mental health is a priority of the government and health reform generally is a priority of the government. The government has many health policy advisers, some of whom have agreed and disagreed with elements of health reform. When it comes to mental health reform, I would simply say to the member for Dickson that the government is currently engaged in a series of measures which we believe improve the level of services for those suffering from a range of mental illnesses. The first relates to the expansion of headspace, youth-friendly mental health services, and that is through a $79 million additional investment, and also expanding the early psychosis prevention and intervention centre—


Mr Dutton interjecting


The SPEAKER —Order! The question has been asked.


Mr RUDD —an expanded investment of $25.5 million.

Opposition members interjecting—


The SPEAKER —Order!


Mr RUDD —Furthermore, there is $13 million over two years to employ 136 extra mental health nurses, $58.5 million—


Mr Laming interjecting


The SPEAKER —Order! The member for Bowman will leave the chamber for one hour under 94(a).

The member for Bowman then left the chamber.


Mr RUDD —directed to deliver care packages to better support up to 25,000 people with severe mental illness, to be delivered through access to allied psychological services arrangements. I further say to the member for Dickson that, as a result of the government’s $1.6 billion investment in sub-acute beds, these will also assist in providing the step-up and step-down sub-acute services—


Mr Abbott —Mr Speaker, I rise on a point of order. The question was: why did Professor Mendoza resign? Presumably he did not resign because of these measures—


The SPEAKER —Order! The Leader of the Opposition will resume his seat.


Mr Abbott —so the Prime Minister should be relevant and explain.


The SPEAKER —The Leader of the Opposition will resume his seat. I have got the point of order. The Prime Minister knows of his responsibilities to be relevant to the question. The Prime Minister is responding to the question.


Mr RUDD —In response to the Leader of the Opposition’s intervention and the earlier question by the member for Dickson, we are all familiar with the printed statement or with the interview, which was printed yesterday or the day before, by Professor Mendoza. This government understands that mental health reform is a complex, hard, long-term task. We understand full well that the challenges of mental health are such that we must take the steps that we have outlined already and this is a further area of reform. I actually welcome the contribution of all those out there who are passionate about mental health reform, and that includes Professor Mendoza and it includes the Australian of the Year. Many of those who have a public voice on these issues will from time to time be critical of what the government is doing and they will from time to time be supportive of what the government is doing. That is because this government is committed to the business of open dialogue with the sector on the future of health reform.


Mrs Bronwyn Bishop —Mr Speaker—


The SPEAKER —Has the Prime Minister concluded?


Mr RUDD —No.


The SPEAKER —The member for Mackellar on a point of order.


Mrs Bronwyn Bishop —Thank you, Mr Speaker. I refer you to page 527 of Practice where it says:

Ministers accept the fact that they must be informed through a check of press, television or other sources of possible questions that may be asked of them in order that they may provide satisfactory answers.

Clearly, this answer is not satisfactory, not explaining why Professor Mendoza resigned, and I ask that he either answers the question or sits down.


The SPEAKER —On the point of order of relevance I have already indicated that the Prime Minister is aware of his responsibility to relate his answer to the question. The Prime Minister has the call.


Mr RUDD —Thank you very much, Mr Speaker. In response to the two interventions by both the member for Mackellar and the Leader of the Opposition and the earlier question by the member for Dickson, I have said that Professor Mendoza’s statement or interview was published in the newspapers. We the government cannot speak for him. He speaks for himself. And I have said further that we welcome contributions to this debate, as we have done throughout the process of health reform.

The minister for health and I have heard, in the various public forums we have conducted around the country on health reform, contributions from medical experts including those in the mental health sector over the course of the last six to nine months, many of whom agreed with the policy directions of the government and many of whom disagreed with the policy directions of the government. That is what the process of public consultation is about. The business of government is to frame a health reform which is fiscally responsible, hence the $7.5 billion expansion in health and hospitals we announced as part of our health reform program earlier on. Part of those investments also go to the question of sub-acute beds in hospital—an additional $1,300 million, some of which can be used of course for patients with various mental health challenges. Also, action on mental health since the government has come to office includes investment in perinatal depression, investments for the workforce, investments in suicide prevention and the establishment of a range of other measures as well. These are steps that we have taken in the overall challenge of mental health reform. There is much more to be done in this area. There is much more to be done in the area of aged-care reform as well. But I make these comments against a background of a government which has brought about a fundamental reform to the system.


Mr Dutton —Mr Speaker, I raise a point of order, on relevance. I could not have been any more specific in the question.


The SPEAKER —Order! The member for Dickson will resume his seat.


Mr Dutton —It was to explain why—


The SPEAKER —The member for Dickson will resume his seat. I understand that sometimes the questioners think that they are offering questions that can be ticked as a multiple choice by one sentence but, as I have indicated, often they are responded to in various ways. It is as long as a response is relevant. The response here is relevant given that it relates to matters of mental health policy.


Mr RUDD —I thank again the member for Dickson for his intervention. I would also note that the member for Dickson has said earlier on, in 2009, when referring to the state of our overall health system and public hospital system, ‘Patients as well would have seen a dysfunctional system over the last 10 years particularly when you talk about public hospitals.’


Mr Dutton —It’s the state government.


Mr RUDD —There he goes: it is pass the parcel and pass the blame to others. The whole function of the reform of the health system, the National Health and Hospitals Network, is to end the blame game so that we can bring about fundamental reform for the system: more doctors, more nurses, more hospital beds, bringing down the waiting time in accident and emergency and bringing down also the deferrals for those who are in the queue for elective surgery. Mental health reform remains a priority of the government. There is more to be done. Aged-care reform—much more to be done. We are getting on with the business of these reforms.


Mr Dutton —Mr Speaker, I seek leave to table Professor Mendoza’s letter where he says that there is no vision or commitment from the Rudd Labor government on mental health.

Leave not granted.