Mental health funding extension not a long-term solution
Senator WRIGHT (South Australia) (17:05): I do thank the Minister Ley for her response, but in her response to the resolution the minister refers to her decision to give a 12-month funding extension to so-called front-line mental health services. While mental health organisations did welcome this funding extension, it is not by any means a long-term solution. It came far too late for many. In fact, it was cold comfort to those workers who are forced to leave their jobs and in many cases uproot their families and lives, moving back to the city from country areas or giving up well-established careers in the mental health sector because the government could not give organisations the funding certainty that they needed to give staff job security, keep them employed and do the requisite planning ahead for their services.
In fact, when I asked specifically about this 12-month funding extension issue during Senate estimates, no-one in the health department could tell me whether or not organisations would find themselves in exactly the same situation in 12 months time. They are pushed from pillar to post, with funding drip-fed on a 12-month cycle. It allows them no scope to plan ahead or to know what the capacity of their organisation will be in 12 months or two years time. What a way to do business.
Despite this government's rhetoric around mental health system reform, no-one can assure me that the recommendations of the comprehensive National Mental Health Commission's review of mental health services and programs will be addressed or implemented by the time this 12-month funding extension has expired. So while the government is working through the recommendations from the National Mental Health Commission review, another year will slip by without any change, and that is another year that Australians will not get the mental health care they need.
The review found that mental health care in Australia often comes too late, is fragmented, fails too often to prevent crisis situations and often does not take into account a person's broader social needs. It found inadequate responses to significantly higher rates of mental distress, trauma, suicide and intentional self-harm among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and that mental health funding is concentrated in expensive acute-care services and too little is directed towards prevention and early-intervention strategies. These things all paint a picture of a mental health system that is difficult to navigate and does not meet the needs of our Australian population. We need this government to take action on mental health now.