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Thursday, 3 December 2015
Page: 9835

Mental Health


Senator GALLAGHER (Australian Capital Territory) (14:42): My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for Health, Senator Nash. I refer to the coalition government's response to the Mental Health Commission's review of mental health programs and services released last week. Can the minister confirm that the government has not accepted the recommendation of the Mental Health Commission to adopt a suicide reduction target of 50 per cent over the next 10 years?


Senator NASH (New South WalesDeputy Leader of The Nationals in the Senate and Minister for Rural Health) (14:42): My understanding is that that is correct. But can I point out for the chamber that this is a significant change to how mental health has previously been done in this nation. It is changing the way we are approaching mental health, by moving from what is currently a very siloed program system, delivered out of Canberra, to something that is going to become locally delivered and patient centred. I think that everybody in this chamber would agree that that is a beneficial change—that that is something that is good for these people that are now going to have a comprehensive set of packages around them that is going to deal with their individual needs.

We of course have a very significant focus on the issue of suicide prevention, and that will be very much a part of what we are putting forward with this reform. Can I say: I think it is not only the coalition government that recognises the need to do this. And can I say: it took a coalition government to make these changes to ensure that we have got a better system in place.

It has been very well received by those right across the sector. Mental Health Australia said, 'Reform starts today,' when they made their comments when this was announced by the government, and also said:

The Government has provided us with a workable framework for systemic change …

There is a very strong recognition that this is a positive move, including from the Australian Healthcare and Hospitals Association, beyondblue and the Consumer Health Forum—all have been very supportive of this change. And I very much respect that their view is very important when we are measuring whether or not this has been a positive step. (Time expired)


Senator GALLAGHER (Australian Capital Territory) (14:44): Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. With 2½ thousand Australians tragically losing their lives to suicide each year, and a further 65,000 Australians who attempt to take their own lives, does the minister recognise the need to take more effective action to combat unnecessary and tragic loss of life, and on what basis has the government rejected the expert recommendation of the Mental Health Commission?


Senator NASH (New South WalesDeputy Leader of The Nationals in the Senate and Minister for Rural Health) (14:45): I do not think anybody would disagree with the first part of that question. We all want to do a better job in preventing suicide. Everybody in this nation recognises how important it is and how tragic it is that the levels of suicide are where they are. This has been very, very carefully considered by the government, and the recommendations were all very carefully considered, but the government put forward a package last week that we believe is the best way forward—

The PRESIDENT: Pause the clock.

Senator Moore: Mr President, I rise on a point of order on direct relevance. The second part of the question specifically asked on what basis the government rejected that particular point of the Mental Health Commission.

The PRESIDENT: There is no point of order. The minister was certainly directly relevant in the first part of the question.

Senator Moore interjecting

The PRESIDENT: I understand your point of order, Senator Moore, but the minister has been directly relevant.

Senator NASH: There was very careful consideration given to the recommendations. I was very clear in saying that. Of course, it is the government's prerogative to reject or accept recommendations from any reports that we may receive that are presented to government. We believe that the package we have put forward is appropriate. It is sensible, and it is going to deliver better outcomes when it comes to mental health.







Senator GALLAGHER (Australian Capital Territory) (14:46): Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. I again note the tragic toll of suicide, including in remote and rural Australia where the suicide rate is 66 per cent higher than in the cities. Will the Turnbull government reconsider its rejection of the Mental Health Commission's recommendation and join Labor in a bipartisan commitment to a 50 per cent suicide reduction target over the next 10 years?


Senator NASH (New South WalesDeputy Leader of The Nationals in the Senate and Minister for Rural Health) (14:47): I think I have been very clear in relation to the recommendation. This is extraordinary coming from those opposite who said, under the then Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, that mental health was going to be a key second term priority for their government—a second term priority. The senator may not have been here then, and she may not be aware of it, but I think it is appalling for any government to say that mental health should be a second—

The PRESIDENT: Pause the clock.

Honourable senators interjecting

The PRESIDENT: Order, on my left and right!

Senator Wong: Mr President, I rise on a point of order on direct relevance. The minister was asked one question: whether or not the government would reconsider its rejection of the commission's recommendation and join the opposition in a bipartisan commitment to a 50 per cent suicide reduction target over the next 10 years. I fail to see how an answer relating to what Ms Gillard may or may not have said in the first term of the Rudd-Gillard governments is directly relevant to that question.

The PRESIDENT: I will remind the minister of the question.

Senator NASH: Indeed, it was remiss of me—I meant to say 'no'. I would like to point out that this is extraordinary coming from those opposite. At the time, under the previous Labor government, Professor John Mendoza resigned as the chair of the mental health advisory council in 2010, accusing Labor of having no commitment to the mental health sector. So those on the other side should actually pay some attention to what they did not do. They had every opportunity in six years of their Labor government to make some changes to mental health, and they did not. It was not a priority for them. It is for the coalition.