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Monday, 14 March 2005
Page: 56

Mrs ELLIOT (3:56 PM) —I rise to support the motion. Mental health is, indeed, an important health issue within our community, but it is one that has been overlooked and underfunded by this government. As we have heard here today, one in five Australians will suffer from a mental illness at some stage in their lives. Despite this, the government has committed only $110 million over four years to provide mental health services. Indeed, almost one-third of this funding will go to one organisation, Beyond Blue, a worthy project dealing with depression.

Mental health services have been chronically underfunded for the past nine years under this government, leaving the burden to be carried by the states. Mental health experts, like the Mental Health Council of Australia, say that a $1 billion investment is required to get services back up to scratch. The $110 million commitment over four years from the government falls well short of what is needed. The federal government should be taking national leadership on this issue. Instead, they are neglecting their obligations to mentally ill Australians.

During my time in the police, I saw first-hand the demand for mental health services on the ground and the effects on individuals, their families and the community. In the police I often had to deal with mentally ill people who went untreated because services simply did not exist. Mentally ill people would be taken to hospital only to be released a few hours later. Of course, there was no emergency or other housing available, and many would end up on the street only to find themselves caught on the same merry-go-round days or weeks later. Homelessness for mentally ill people is a major issue within our community and one which people speak to me about regularly.

The issue of mental health services in Australia should be above politics. It should be about finding adequate and appropriate methods of care across all levels of government, particularly when it comes to our youth. Young people, particularly those living in rural and regional areas like the North Coast, are at high risk of suffering from a mental illness. The National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing found that 14 per cent of young people aged between four and 17 suffered a mental illness. Three out of four of these are not seeking treatment, either because it is unavailable or because of embarrassment or shame. It is encouraging to see that the youth suicide rate both nationally and in New South Wales is declining, but one young person’s suicide is one too many.

The federal government needs to look at the causes of depression in young people, particularly in regional and coastal Australia. I know from my time as a police officer often having to deal with families of children who have committed suicide the drastic effect upon them and their communities. Of course, high unemployment is an area that needs to be addressed by the federal government and that can have a direct influence on the wellbeing of young people. By providing young people with employment opportunities and simply something to do, the government can help reduce youth suicide in our regional areas.

This week is Seniors Week, and I think it is important to highlight that our seniors can also suffer from mental illness. Loneliness and illness can come with old age. Many elderly people move to my electorate to retire, leaving behind their support network of family and friends. Unfortunately, some of our elderly residents are simply forgotten and, because of frailty, are unable to seek human contact. Depression in our elderly is certainly an area that has been overlooked. As a community we need to make sure that our elderly are looked after. The government need to take some leadership on this very important issue. For too long they have buck-passed to the states on mental health. It is time they listened to the experts and adequately invested in mental health services.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Jenkins)—Order! The time allotted for this debate has expired. The debate is adjourned and the resumption of the debate will be made an order of the day for the next sitting.