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Wednesday, 13 February 2013
Page: 1268

Mr HARTSUYKER (Cowper) (09:30): I take this opportunity to draw attention to the great work done by Headspace around the country and in particular in my electorate. It was an initiative of the Howard government and, to the credit of this current government, an initiative that is being continued. My electorate is fortunate to have a centre for Headspace in Coffs Harbour, and it is doing great work. At the end of January a Headspace centre was launched at Port Macquarie, a development which was welcomed by many in the south of my electorate.

However, the problems of access remain. Kempsey Shire Council has been pressing for outreach services to be provided from Port Macquarie. In March last year it pointed out in a letter to the New South Wales Minister for Mental Health and copied to me that Aboriginal people with a mental illness are among the most vulnerable in our community, and Kempsey has one of the largest populations of Aboriginal people in New South Wales. There is also a significant level of disadvantage in that part of the community. The letter also mentioned that 25 per cent of all referrals to the community mental health service were for those aged 12 to 24. The letter said: 'Kempsey also has a high level of youth unemployment and when those two facts are combined, the ability of those most at risk to access services in another centre is low.' The letter concluded that outreach services would provide immense benefits to those at high risk who were unlikely to be able to otherwise avail themselves of the support they desperately needed.

At council's request, I made representations to the federal Minister for Mental Health and Ageing, seeking assurances that funding would be available to provide outreach services for the Kempsey area from Port Macquarie. The response was that not every community was able to secure a physical Headspace site and that work was being done to expand online and telephone advice services. While these services may be better than nothing, they are not a substitute for face-to-face contact with someone living in or near your own community and able to understand the context of your problems. I hope that in the relatively short time available to it before the next general election, the government will see fit to fund both the Coffs Harbour and the Port Macquarie Headspace sites with much-needed outreach services. Problems similar to those at Kempsey also exist in the Nambucca Valley and in the community of Dorrigo. Just because you live in a small country town does not mean that there are not significant mental health issues; perhaps not visible on the street but certainly below the surface.

I commend the work of Headspace in our community but I hope that the minister for mental health will take heed of my contribution today and the urgent need for outreach services for those two Headspace centres in Port Macquarie and Coffs Harbour so that the youth in the smaller communities can have access to the help that they desperately need.