Impact of the Budget on mental health
Senator WRIGHT: I come back to some questions in relation to advice. There have been a lot of concerns raised about the potential effects on mental health and mental ill health of young people particularly who will be subject to proposed changes under the budget in terms of not being able to be in receipt of payments under Newstart and so on. I am interested in what consultation and work might have been done between the Department of Social Services-who have the carriage of that particular legislation, of course-and the health department in relation to those proposed changes to welfare and the impact those changes will have on people with episodic mental illness, for instance. Was there any consultation undertaken? Was there any advice sought from your department?
Mr Booth: Again, I would need to take that on notice. As you said, this is an initiative that other agencies do, and I know that they run a number of their own mental health services in various areas, but I do not have the answer to that question, I am afraid.
Senator WRIGHT: I am trying to work out how executive government operates, I suppose. I am interested in the consideration of those budget measures which were proposed in the budget. Was there any procedure in place whereby the Department of Health, which is the federal government department that is responsible for mental health programs and mental health data, had its advice sought-or was any modelling done-from the department of social security or the government in terms of those proposed budget measures?
Mr Booth: Again, I would need to take that on notice. I do not know the answer to that. In terms of general budget areas, it is not this division that would look at issues around general budget issues or decisions.
Senator WRIGHT: I suppose it is not specifically, necessarily, a financial issue.
Mr Booth: Yes, there is the impact.
Senator WRIGHT: I am interested in what, I think, people increasingly are seeing as a concern, which is the silo approach to governing, whereby something that seems like a good idea to some people might have predictable flow-on effects-not just financial but human. That is why I am interested when you respond and say there may be some NGOs or some other organisations that are doing this work. I am also interested in understanding what the role of the Department of Health is in terms of that work or pulling that information together and giving good advice about policy. If you could take that on notice, that would be good.
Mr Booth: Yes.
Senator WRIGHT: Does the Department of Health plan to offer any programs or any training to the department of social security in relation to young people with mental illness to ensure they are not improperly cut off from their benefits? Would it be envisaged in any way that the expertise that the Department of Health might have could be utilised in that way?
Mr Booth: There are no specific plans for training to be offered by the Department of Health to other departments in that way. We would not do that kind of training, no.
Senator WRIGHT: I am interested in whether the department, or indeed the minister, is aware of recent research which indicates links between austerity measures-which have been undertaken in other countries, for instance-and an increase in suicide rates. There are some publications that have come out recently. Is any work being done in that area, or is there any information that is known to the department or the minister?
Mr Booth: As you know, the issue of suicide is a kind of multifaceted issue. Really, suicide rates, we know, are impacted by a whole host of different societal areas. We are aware of research that is done both within Australia and internationally around suicide rates, particularly among different groups in different areas. As you know, the government, through its Taking Action to Tackle Suicide policy and the Suicide Prevention Program, funds a number of different organisations-quite a large number of organisations-to work within different groups in society and also within different areas to try and minimise the impact and to do as much work on suicide prevention as possible. It is quite a wide question as to research that has been done. We are aware of a lot of research that has been done, and we use that to inform policy and to inform policy advice to government.
Senator WRIGHT: I am interested in what policy advice to government has been requested. The reason I am asking it is that there has been significant concern raised by credible and experienced mental health commentators throughout Australia particularly in response to the proposed changes to Newstart for young people under 30 and, if the legislation were to be passed, the consequences for them not being in receipt of income for periods of up to six months. It is a really important issue to know whether or not the Department of Health has had any input or is using any of its resources to talk not generally about suicide-because of course we are all concerned about suicide strategies-but about the fact that there may be a government policy that could inadvertently lead to such a significant consequence. I do not get the feeling that you are going to be able to answer my question in any more detail at this point, but I am specifically asking about research in Scandinavia and other places that have linked austerity measures to an increase in suicide rates among the population. You are not aware of anything like that, specifically, as I understand it.
Mr Booth: Certainly we are aware of research that links suicide rates through to different areas and different situations.
Senator WRIGHT: What about that particular issue?
Mr Booth: Off the top of my head, there is nothing that I have read or looked at very recently from the Scandinavian research in particular. As I said, there is a lot of Australian research and that kind of thing that we do look at, but I am not aware of the Scandinavian research. Having said that, I am not across all the research that comes into the department. I can certainly have a look and get some advice from our experts in the mental health area to see if they are aware of research that has been done overseas, particularly in Scandinavia, to do that. The other comment I would make is that there is often interdepartmental work being done on some of these issues but I do not know the specifics around that particular area as to what work has been done and what has happened there, so I would need to look at that.
Senator WRIGHT: You will take that on notice for me; thank you. That is really what I would like you to do. Also, perhaps you could help me understand whether this is the sort of situation where-and forgive my ignorance of how government departments work-you would have to wait to be requested to provide that kind of input, or it is one where, if people within your department were concerned about that and it was within your bailiwick, I suppose, they could offer to provide information or policy advice to another department. How would that work?
Mr Booth: I will have a look at that, Senator.
Senator WRIGHT: I would like to come back to those other questions at some point. I will quickly get them, but I will pass now.