Home - Claire Moore - Labor Senator for Queensland

World Mental Health Day

We have been reminded consistently today that it is World Mental Health Day and also that this month we are looking at the issues around mental health and discussing the fact that we are working together. These debates at this time of the afternoon are always confronting. Instead of having a clear debate about an issue, we get a political attack-even this notice of motion is phrased in such a way that it is just a clear political attack. We saw that this afternoon with the notice of motion on mental health when we tried to pull together a statement that we could use as a group across the parliament to say what is happening in mental health. It was not for us-we have our job, our issues and our concerns; it was for the stakeholders in this country who care about mental health.

I am sorry because I am trying very hard not to make this a one-on-one discussion between myself and Senator Fierravanti-Wells, who is no longer in the chamber. However, her last comments about disdain for people in this community with mental health issues are just not appropriate. We can have our differences-and we do-about policies and about time frames, and we can discuss those. But this Senate, after hours of discussion to develop wording that we can share and could not do so, actually gave the opportunity yet again to someone who is running a particular line to stand up and have another go-another go about a process around mental health that is government policy.

All of the issues raised have the opportunity to be considered and debated. In fact, the government is more than prepared to do so and we want to do so. But it is galling when we look at the history of mental health and the responses of governments in this country to be consistently attacked by the Liberal-National Party when we can say that in 2010 we had a process, a policy and funding into the future for mental health programs. There is this acrimonious process even today when, instead of focusing on the issues, we get into the political cut and thrust.

If we look back to 2006, those of us who were in the chamber at that stage when the then Howard government introduced a long awaited and much supported mental health program into this parliament, there was cross-party support. We had issues about what was in there and we had questions, but the process was welcomed. That has been unilaterally lacking in the process around our 2010 package, which our government brought to the budget and then into parliament and which was passed.

I note Senator Fierravanti-Wells's concern with the statement that she carefully described as cynical and said that it received support across the parliament. It did. It was voted up. Any of the legislation that came through in our package received affirmative votes in this place. I would have thought that that indicated support in the parliament. Nonetheless, it was a good chance again to have on this day a two-minute grab to say how long our government has been around mental health.

There will always be concerns about any mental health policy that is brought in because, as I have said before in this place, no government will ever be able to put enough funding into what is needed for full mental health care in this country. I wish I could say differently but I cannot. We have never pretended that we would have a panacea and a response to all issues. What we set out was our program over a five-year budgeted stage.

The other night I heard, and I have seen it attacked in the media by the LNP, that this is somehow an erroneous process because we put the funding in over a five-year period. It was publicised: each of the figures was there; there was no confusion across each budget line. Over a five-year period we put out what our initial plan-over $2 billion-was going to be. Somehow, because that was not done over four years, that gave the people who wished to have an attack a reason to say that it was not fully funded.

In terms of funding cycles and commitment to budget, governments set out the expectation of funding that they will put into the program. Sometimes they meet it, sometimes they do not, but at every stage there must be accountability and transparency, which is why we have the Senate estimates process. It is why we have a minister who is open and on record saying that anyone who has a question on these issues is welcome to contact the office to be involved. It is why we have ministerial advisory councils and a consumer advisory council on mental health-a wonderful issue and one of my favourite types of the program. It is funded into the future, is allocated this year and is already starting its work. It is a core component of our mental health program. There was no confusion over the way the funding for this process would operate. The figures are in the budget papers, open to scrutiny, and they can and should be scrutinised.

Another of the key issues we put forward was the National Mental Health Commission. There were consistent attacks from people across the chamber on the way that we were presenting a commission: it was not good enough; it was not effectively structured; who was going to be on it? Not, 'How was it going to work?' But the commission has been set up; it is working. Its first report card on mental health in this country-determined independently by them, not including input by government, but the first-ever independent assessment by a mental health commission-will be brought down at the end of this month.

This is a very important time for mental health in our country. This will not be a slap-dash, tick-and-flick exercise. This will be a confronting document owned by the community, looking what is happening with mental health in this country. I hope it will stimulate more debate in this place, hopefully not with an attack to say why the government has failed but rather about what is in that report. How has the program of mental health funding been working-our plans, our strategies that were put out in the budget papers last year? What difference are they making? No policy program can be only on paper. People who live with mental health issues-their families and their carers-assess the way that things are working and assess what is the change for them

There will be some good news, I know. But I also know that there will be some confronting statements back to us saying what has not been working the way they hoped it would be. That will be the document's feedback. That will be the assessment by our mental health commission, which was a core-disputed-component of our mental health package that will give us the steps to the future.

Recently, we have heard it consistently asked: what is happening with the roadmap to recovery? I am on record that I do not like the title-it is as good as an annual report-The ten year roadmap for national mental health reform, but the roadmap is taking time to develop. There is no surprise about that. It is the first time there has been such a process and, as well, it is not the Commonwealth government's document. The clear indication of this roadmap is that it is a document which engages all the players who have a commitment to this process, most particularly, governments-state and federal-and we all know there is difficulty pulling those people together to come up with a clear commitment. They have made a commitment at the threshold stage about where we should be going with mental health 10 years into the future. However, tying down the accountabilities and the budget will take more time. We are not putting it out or having an agreement until that is tied down. That will involve more consultation, which is still going on. It has been to COAG and needs to go back to COAG.

There has been widespread opportunity for people to be involved in this process. We have heard Senator Fierravanti-Wells talk about her two-week process. The roadmap has been through the websites and since that process started over 1,000 people have put through information about what they felt should be in it. There has been ample opportunity through the Mental Health Council of Australia, through targeted consultation processes, for people to have a say. It could well be that people want more time. They may have missed the timing. Whatever, the opportunity then is to get back into the system and talk to the department about what those concerns are. It does not mean that people will be excluded. In fact, the core aspect is that people must not be excluded.

For too long in our community, in our parliament and in debates people who know about and are involved in mental health have not had a voice-they have been excluded. That cannot continue. That will not necessarily mean that there will be open agreement on every issue. I am absolutely intrigued that Senator Fierravanti-Wells spends so much of her time quoting experts, experts whom we respect and know. Professor Mendoza, Professor Hickey, Professor Rosenberg, Professor Rosenfeld-all men for that group, unfortunately, but there are many people in the area who are women, who I have had the privilege to know and work with for over six years. Their opinions are deeply valued.

Not only are their opinions deeply valued but they are also encouraged and welcomed. Indeed, if their opinions are critical, we must hear their message. No-one is saying they cannot have a say. No-one is responding publicly to them by saying, 'You are not allowed to have these comments-you must agree with the government.' Mental health is a dynamic area. There will be a range of professional opinion. In fact, we often joke when we are having meetings in this area about how, when we have a group of people concerned about this area, particularly those with professional qualifications, it will be surprising if we can get agreement across all of them.

What we do have is an open commitment to the process. There is concern that things may be taking longer. However, that is what happens in the process; things are put out, decisions are made, programs are funded and then it is open for people to say whether they support it or not. That is a positive action in our program which we value rather than dismiss, and these comments are definitely not feared. They will not be closed down and people will not be rejected. In fact, their comments are part of the ongoing discourse, and I can guarantee that those people I have named will continue to be involved in the discussion. They are not turning their backs and refusing to continue in what is their professional area for which they have trained and in which their expertise is acknowledged and celebrated in our process.

We stand by the programs we have put forward. We have funded them, and I will not go into detail in this limited time about the various priorities the government has put out-they are on record. We had the commitment to youth and the headspace program of which we are all so fond has been nurtured and funded by this government and our program. The EPPIC centres, which caused great debate about whether they were the appropriate way to move forward, have also started their development.

We have heard that it is wrong for people to de-fund any element to make savings in the area of mental health. I reject that. In every form of government program there are very tough decisions made about how you fund into the future. There were decisions made-again, not hidden but on record-about changes to the Better Access program, and we spent a fair bit of time in this place discussing that. It is fair to say that we do not agree, but in terms of the government program we believe that money can be redistributed and that different ways of supporting people can be implemented.

We wish that every program could be funded. That will not happen, but the savings we have made, which are clearly identified and which were the subject of a significant Senate inquiry, and there on record and we are working with people into the future to see how their needs and their expectations will work with the government program.

It is important that governments of all flavours continue to be committed to working on mental health in this country. It is a commitment from our government that we will continue to do so. We do not believe that we take a cynical or disdainful approach-in fact, we care and we need to be involved into the future.