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Thursday, 13 September 2007
Page: 77

Senator BERNARDI (2:25 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Community Services, Senator Scullion. Will the minister update the Senate on the programs delivered by the Australian government that are assisting people with mental illness? Specifically, will the minister provide an update on the valuable Personal Helpers and Mentors program?

Senator SCULLION (Minister for Community Services) —In May this year, as Senator Bernardi would be aware, the Prime Minister announced 28 demonstration sites for an innovative new program called Personal Helpers and Mentors, or PHaMs. The PHaMs program assists people who cannot manage their daily lives as a result of mental illness. It helps people by pairing them with a mate who can advocate for them, help them access services, help them integrate with the community and help them live independently.

I met with some service providers this morning from the first 28 PHaMs providers. These are the pioneers of the program and I am delighted to report to the Senate that they have done an absolutely fantastic job. They are very supportive of the program. I was able to let them know this morning that we are expanding the program with an extra 48 sites across the country, at a cost of some $60 million. Altogether, the Australian government will fund around 900 new personal helpers and mentors over five years as part of COAG’s National Action Plan on Mental Health.

Senator Bernardi asked how the government’s commitment compares with that of others. The Personal Helpers and Mentors program is a clear demonstration of our commitment to people with mental health issues, but I wish I could say that about the Labor Party in your home state, Mr President. They cannot demonstrate anywhere near the same support. They have cut funding to disability advocacy services in South Australia. In a recent letter to the Brain Injury Network of South Australia, Jay Weatherill, the Minister for Disability, acknowledges that there is increasing demand for disability services and he uses this as the justification to cut funding for disability advocacy services. The letter says that the federal government has similar concerns about advocacy services and has put in place a national disability advocacy program. Yes, Mr President, we had concerns that the demand for disability advocacy services was on the rise, so we expanded them—instead of reducing them as the South Australian government did.

For the information of senators opposite, should they be interested, the National Disability Advocacy Program has been in place for more than 20 years. In this year’s budget, the government announced an additional $12.2 million to be provided to the sector. The minister’s letter infers that South Australia was able to cut its funding because it knew that the Australian government would take up the slack. There is a continued unmet need for services in the community. This government is showing leadership by helping people through programs like the PHaMs program. It is an absolute disgrace that the Labor government in South Australia has cut its programs. It is a further slur upon those opposite, because they will not stand up to their Labor friends in South Australia and because of their abandonment of the most disadvantaged Australians.