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Thursday, 12 May 2011
Page: 3859


Mr MELHAM (Banks) (14:40): My question is to the Minister for Mental Health and Ageing. How has the government's record investment in mental health been received? How have key stakeholders been involved in the development of this package?

Mr BUTLER (Port AdelaideMinister for Mental Health and Ageing) (14:40): I thank my good friend the member for Banks for his question. This week's budget delivered the largest mental health package in our history. It is a balanced and a comprehensive package targeted across the life span. It is important to acknowledge that this was the result of the work of an expert group appointed by the Prime Minister to work intensively over the course of summer to develop the best directed, best targeted package possible. This group included well-known figures like Pat McGorry, Ian Hickie, Monsignor Cappo and Christine Bennett; consumer and carer representatives; and paediatric, GP and psychological experts, as well as Mission Australia and Employment Services Australia.

It is perhaps not surprising, given that stakeholders largely designed this package, that they have warmly and overwhelmingly welcomed it. Frank Quinlan, the new head of the Mental Health Council of Australia, said:

Today is a very good day for the mental health sector—increased investment, reform and better governance and accountability in mental health …

I could read many other endorsements, but I will resist labouring the point.

There have only really been two opponents to our package—the opposition and the AMA. The opposition has been out there suggesting, among other things, that this $2.2 billion is back ended. It is natural, of course, that transformative reform will involve an element of scaling up, but the parliament should be very clear that the two biggest injections of new money in this package are in year 1 and year 2, and the new money in year 5, out of the $2.2 billion, is just $50 million, about two per cent of the total package.

The other voice of protest is the AMA. The recent evaluation of the Better Access program clearly showed that GPs have been getting paid over the odds under that scheme. For a referral consultation under Better Access, which data shows us takes on average 28 minutes, they have been getting $163. For a standard consultation under Medicare that lasts more than 40 minutes, a GP will get $99. That is two-thirds more money under Better Access for one-third less time. This budget brings the Better Access rebate back into line with a standard-time consultation under Medicare, but it still gives GPs a 27 per cent premium on top of that if they have done six hours of mental health skills training.

In anyone else's book—maybe not the opposition's and maybe not the AMA's—that is a good deal. That is a fair deal for general practitioners. That is why this redirection has been supported by, among others, the Consumers Health Forum, the Australian General Practice Network, Professor Patrick McGorry and Professor Ian Hickie. This package will make a real difference, and perhaps it is time that the opposition came in from the cold and got behind it.