Michelle Lensink


This speech is in regards to budget.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK: It givesme great pleasure to follow such a luminary new talent on the Labor benches. I confess that he has caught me out for not having updated my website post election, and I concede that he is the newest and youngest member of this chamber, but with perhaps the ‘back to the future’ vision for the Labor of the future, because I think he belongs to what we might describe as the democratic Labor faction of the Labor Party. Indeed, I found his contribution had much the same standard as the last time we were opponents, which casts me back many, many years to when I was a Young Liberal and he was a member of Young Labor. His level of substance has not changed much since our days together in mock parliaments. I just wonder what value all these retired unionists across the way add to this chamber, when they are provided with some speech notes by the relevant minister that they just prattle—

The Hon. B.V. Finnigan: Whose handwriting is this?

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK: Oh, you can write? That’s fantastic. They make no contribution of any substance to the future of this state.

An honourable member interjecting:

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK: Well, I’ve got one, and I have a trainee. How many does he have?

The Hon. G.E. Gago: That’s one more than he’s got.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK: He can get himself a trainee if he is so much in favour of the future of young people.

The PRESIDENT: Order! The honourable member will stop debating across the floor and continue with her speech.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK: I apologise, Mr President. In this budget the increase in revenue is some $2.7 billion, largely courtesy of Canberra with the GST and property taxes and taxes on business. It is an increase of 25 or 30 per cent from when we were last in office. Quite frankly, a drover’s dog could balance this budget. Members opposite should be surprised that they have had to—

An honourable member interjecting:

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK: The honourable member mentions this, so can I just say two words: State Bank, which is a huge convenience—

The Hon. B.V. Finnigan: One word: ETSA.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK: Well, ETSA actually contributed to reducing the debt. Perhaps members opposite could take a lesson in basic arithmetic. I will show them how to set up a spreadsheet on their computer, and they can plug in the $8 billion figure so they can see what it does to a government budget.

I turn now to some portfolio areas for which I have responsibility, areas about which we should be particularly concerned. There are some things in the budget that I commend but there are others where I believe this government has missed opportunities. I also note that some concern is being expressed by the business community and also very eloquently in The Financial Review. I urge honourable members to have a look at the edition of Friday 22 September. It forewarns that South Australia’s revenue boom has well and truly peaked and that the state faces a decade of more ordinary growth. It goes on to state that South Australia faces some significant challenges in both the short and the medium term. Clearly, there will be a large impact from the drought.We will not blame Mike Rann for that but we also will not allow him to take credit for future infrastructure projects, such as the air warfare destroyers. Fair is fair, Mr President.

I turn now to the areas for which I have responsibility on behalf of the Liberal Party. The budget has ignored the crisis in mental health. All members would no doubt have a strong awareness of the increased prevalence of mental health in our community. All too often we are personally touched by having friends, family or colleagues who suffer some form of mental illness. This is a significant area in which today’s dollar will save $10 next year and into the future.

There is a reform agenda which was started under former health minister, the Hon. Dean Brown, where funding at Glenside effectively took up some 50 per cent or more of the mental health budget. This reform process was to shift acute beds into metropolitan hospitals and also provide services ore at the community end. The Liberal Party commends that—obviously it was our policy to start with—and we wish or that to continue. However, this reform is now incredibly reliant on what Monsignor Cappo will come up with in his report, which is due out at the end of this month. There is also a very dispersed leadership structure within mental health. We have a Minister for Mental Health for whom, in some ways, I almost feel sorry, because she does not have complete control of her portfolio. The Minister for Health has significant control over her portfolio, as does also Monsignor Cappo.

We saw recently that the Director of Mental Health Services in this state (Dr Jonathon Brayley, a highly credentialed and well-respected professional) is to have his role split in two, so that there will be a policy director and an operations director. So, the line of command, if you like— where does the buck stop—is even more confused than it was previously.

South Australia has very low levels of funding for non government services, with 2 per cent for mental health funding, the lowest in Australia. Non-government organisations were very hopeful that the $25 million in one-off funds provided in a previous budget would be made recurrent, but because this has not taken place they will be unable to make any long-term provision. This means that they will have to manage their case load of clients and staffing of mental health workers incredibly carefully, because they cannot guarantee either a service to the client or continuing employment. This great uncertainty within that sector means that staff are harder to keep. Mental health community services (such as drug and alcohol services) have to compete with the public sector, and public sector wages are inevitably higher, so that means that staff are being sucked out of community services and into the government.

As we also know from this budget there have been further delays—we should not be surprised because it has happened year after year with this government—in mental health capital works in metropolitan hospitals, which are so critical to the mental health reform process that I mentioned before. In particular, I would like to mention the Boylan Ward at the Women and Children’s Hospital. We hear some rhetoric from this government about the importance of young people and mental health, yet the project at the Women’s and Children’s Hospital will not even be pursued.

Another issue which was brought to my attention by some very concerned young people fairly recently is the Headroom Project, a website which provides community services, which is part of the health promotion section within the Department of Health. Again, the mental health minister does not have any say; that one is up to the health minister, thank you very much. Headroom is about to be cut. For the benefit of members who are not aware of it, Headroom is a locally developed website. The text is written by young South Australians for young South Australians. The Headroom group attend things such as the Big Day Out, they have stalls in the mall, they do a lot of promotion at schools, and they produce pamphlets which are distributed through youth groups and schools. It is all written in the sort of language to which other young people can relate. It is very contemporary, rather than the sort of gobbledegook that we hear in question time every time we ask any of the ministers a question. They have some sort of a briefing paper that has been served up to them and stuck in their folder for them which does not tell anybody who speaks plain English anything. The Headroom Project is under threat. I think it has been given a reprieve until June because of poor publicity. It was to close at the end of this year, but I urge the government to reconsider that issue because it has an increasing number of hits every year. It has been operating since 1997, it is well known and it is a great resource for young people to be able to access information about mental health, bullying and other issues in the comfort of their own home where they can do so in privacy.

Another issue in relation to mental health and the budget is COAG. I just love this one. I have sat down and done my little spreadsheet. We keep hearing that the government has provided its commitment to the commonwealth offer. I will reiterate for members the very generous offer that the commonwealth made on 5 April when the Prime Minister announced $1.9 billion worth of funding for Australia for a whole range of areas, the most significant being a Medicare rebate for psychologists, so people will have greater access to psychology services, which is to be highly commended. The state governments, which get all of their money largely thanks to the good economic management of the Howard government and the GST deal that they all opposed, are unwilling to come to the party. The commonwealth has been pretty clear about what it wants, which is for the states to match the funding, and it has also identified, through quite rigorous research, the areas in which it thinks the states need to put in some more funding.

I will list just five of those for the benefit of members. They are: emergency and crisis services, hospital-based services, community-based services, corrections and supported accommodation. In regard to the latter two, corrections and supported accommodation, the state government has not issued one extra dollar whatsoever, which I think is shameful, because we know that mental health in corrections is a huge issue. We also know that there is a lack of a range of accommodation options for people with mental health difficulties in this state, and the state government has just said no, but it does have money for trams.

I will go through the list that the state government published in the National Action Plan on Mental Health, which is the joint state-commonwealth document in relation to the different jurisdictions’ commitment to mental health. The state government claims that it is putting in funding of $116.1 million over four years. I have matched up all of these as to, first, whether the state’s so-called funding is a stateonly priority as listed in the COAG report and, secondly, whether it is new funding, as was supposed to be agreed to, and what the recurrent effect is. It is a very interesting spreadsheet, which I will provide to the commonwealth so that it has the actual facts about what this government is doing. Beyond Blue funding is a reannouncement. Every Chance for Every Child is not mental health funding. Early childhood development centres is not mental health funding. The Healthy Young Minds and CAMHS outworkers is a reannouncement. The government might get a point for its shared care with GPs, because I think that is the expansion of an existing program. Healthy Young Minds funding is again a reannouncement. Coordinated care is a reannouncement.

In regard to the COAG proposed national health call centre, there is no funding you can allocate to that and, in any case, that is a national program that is quite separate to this process. The Women’s and Children’s 24-hour service is a reannouncement. The emergency department mental health liaison nurses is a reannouncement. The 10 year nurse practitioners is a reannouncement. The 20 additional nurses and allied health professionals is a reannouncement. The hospital at home expansion is a reannouncement. The additional social workers for discharge evaluation is a reannouncement. The peer support workers is a reannouncement. The youth mobile outreach is a reannouncement. The ACIS expansion is a reannouncement. Six new CAMHS workers is a reannouncement. Treatment and support for acute illness is a reannouncement. Psycho-social rehab is a reannouncement. Emergency triage liaison for country areas is a reannouncement. The northern ACIS team is a reannouncement. Peer support workers is a reannouncement. APY detox is DASSA funds (Drug & Alcohol Services). And the intensive support packages is a reannouncement.

These are all things which do not fit the criteria. I am not a big fan of rolling money into four and five year packages, because I think it is just a mechanism to make it sound larger than it is. I like ‘recurrent funding’—back to the good old days of calling a spade a spade. So, when I tallied this up, it came to, in recurrent terms, a bit over $15 million per annum. This falls well short of what the requirement is and, given that we have a crisis in mental health and this government has more funding by some 25 or 30 per cent since it came to office, it is a scandal and a very poor reflection on this government.

Let me read for members some comments of the Mental Health Council of Australia. It is in a position that makes it a bit difficult to argue with, because it is the authority that monitors these things very closely and has a strong interest through lots of professionals and people who have been working in this field for years. Professor Ian Hickey, from the Brain and Mind Research Institute at the University of Sydney, has welcomed the Prime Minister’s involvement in mental health. Indeed, I might add that the former Labor candidate for Hartley, Quentin Black (and I am sure he will not mind my saying this), is a psychologist and gave Vicki Chapman and me a bit of a briefing on the psychology practice bill this morning, and he told us their perspective. He said, ‘You can tell Christopher Pyne that I will never campaign against him again because the commonwealth’s package is about to revitalise psychology in Australia, and it will be such a boon for mental health.’

The Hon. P. Holloway interjecting:

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK: A number of people are about to leave the field, so he tells us. This is your former Labor candidate, so I am not sure whether or not you are about to disown him. Many people were so tired of the red tape that they could not see a reason why they should remain in practice. Some were about to go off into other fields— research, academia and so forth. Yes, he credits Christopher Pyne for this and he is very grateful. He thinks that it will be a very important initiative for primary mental health care in Australia, and I am sure we all have some bipartisan belief in that.

Professor Ian Hickey said that most state leaders have not grasped the issue. He said that mental health reform requires a degree of tough leadership. As I have said previously, it is very hard to understand what the leadership structure of mental health is in this state because it is all over the place: it is the Social Inclusion Board, two ministers and a series of directors in different silos and no-one knows quite where the buck stops. Professor Ian Hickey said: Mental health reform requires a degree of tough leadership. You run into vested interests: it is a long-term, not a short-term investment. Maurice Iemma in New South Wales is the only Premier I have spoken to who seriously understands the issue and is seriously looking at solutions.

Other issues in relation to mental health that I would like to see brought forward include reform through a redrafting of the Mental Health Act.
The Bidmeade report was originally presented to the government in April last year. The government promised to have a draft bill out by the middle of the year. We are now in November and we still have not seen a draft, but then I guess we have been busy, if I can say that with my tongue very firmly in my cheek, dealing with those hundreds of bills that the Premier has promised us. I have also mentioned the delays in capital mental health projects and the lack of funding for non-government organisations. I would also like to put in a bid for country mental health services because, as we know, our rural cousins must deal with the tyranny of distance, and the rural suicide rate is higher than in metropolitan South Australia.
In relation to substance abuse, my understanding is that the non-government sector had hoped for a 10 per cent increase in funding. They tell me that the levels at which they are funded makes it hard for them to match comparable government jobs, and so they expect that they will continue to lose staff to government and that that will put pressure on their viability.

Another concerning development with the way in which this government operates is to in-source services. I believe that the non-government sector provides fantastic value for money. I have been meeting with a number of providers and I would have to commend them for their enthusiasm and commitment—not that government providers are not committed. However, I believe that non-government organisations are much more nimble. They are much less likely to fall victim to decision paralysis, which is often a feature of internal government processes, and so they are much more responsive to their client groups. For instance, when they receive a client referral which is a bit different from the usual client group, rather than saying, ‘I am sorry, we cannot provide a service because we do not deal with that particular issue’, they will find a way to help.

It is my understanding that this is happening in a whole range of community service areas. This is not only happening in the area of substance abuse and drug counselling but also the mental health services and services that are provided through the gamblers rehabilitation fund. That is a particular policy that we vigorously oppose.

I turn to the corrections issue. Yes, we are very pleased about the new prison rebuild, and I am grateful to the minister for organising for me and the member for Hammond, Adrian Pederick, to have a recent briefing at Mobilong and view the large paddock upon which the new prisons will be built. A number of people who work in that particular sector are also very pleased that it is finally coming to fruition. They are watching with interest and hoping to participate and to provide guidance on the new services, because it is a very large project and it will result in significant changes to the way things are currently done.

The timetable for the prison rebuild is not to become operational until 2011-12. It is obviously well past the election date and there will be plenty of time for blow-outs but, as long as the current transport minister is not in charge of it, that particular threat might be slightly minimised—but I suspect only slightly. Indeed, I note in the budget papers that there is no allocation in this budget for that project. It is not a difficult thing to make such an announcement without putting much of a commitment in the current budget. There are some smaller projects within DCS’ capital works which have been delayed—a bit like the mental health projects. There are delays in capital works for two years for a number of things. I do hope that that is not a reflection of the manner in which this government will be able to manage such a complex project. We are very anxious to ensure that the attendant services—the police station, the courts and so forth—which will be required by such a new infrastructure project for Murray Bridge will be provided. It will mean a radically different way of doing things for other service providers, defence lawyers and so forth.

I request the minister to ensure that in the consultation process the Law Society is included, rather than its being vilified (as it so often is by this government), and that the local member (Mr Adrian Pederick) is a member of one of those consultative committees. From what he told me last week, I think that he takes a significant amount of the anxiety from the local community in terms of needing to answer questions. I am sure the process would go forth more smoothly if he is well apprised and able to communicate information to people who contact him.

One of my ongoing concerns is the issue of the high level of remandees. I commend the staff of corrections, because they are very committed, and I was particularly impressed with the managers at Mobilong. I think they have the right mix of attitude in terms of their role and I am sure they do avery good job. Even Mobilong, which in relative terms is a newer facility, has double-up cells. The issue with running at such a capacity is that it makes it much harder for correctional staff and the system to manage prisoners through the process of serving their sentence, which (the annual reports regularly tell us) is all geared towards their parole—unless of course you are Bevan Spencer von Einem and you never see parole and suffer a tough sentence in the meantime.

I will get to the issue of overcrowding. We have seen examples of officers within corrections feeling under considerable pressure to the point where they have had to lock down. That is understandable on their part, but it is also massively disruptive to managing the prison environment. The prisoners can become more disruptive and they are not likely to be as cooperative in terms of doing their programs and work. I think that will be an ongoing pressure until the new prisons are operational. Indeed, with the remand centre in its present condition, next to the women’s prison it is the worst facility. The situation is that there are three people to a cell. I was surprised that in the government’s announcement there was no mention of how the remand centre and the remandees will be managed, because it does put so much pressure onto the corrections system.

The other matter, which was highlighted recently and which was mentioned today in a question asked by the Hon. Nick Xenophon, is that the courts in the meantime will be making certain pragmatic decisions, based on the present infrastructure. The case of Andrea Day is a case in point. The courts were unable to impose a custodial sentence because there just was not the capacity within the existing system to manage her appropriately and they were concerned about her health. My understanding is that, if she were to be sentenced as a male, she could be managed appropriately at Yatala but, because she is a woman and the women’s prison is so diabolical and the health centre so completely inadequate—to the point where there are services that the staff would like to provide but there is no space—that is a blow for justice and a blow to the government’s law and order mantra. I think that fairly outlines my shadow portfolios and indicates that I would know what to do if I were the minister; and I would relish the opportunity. I commend the bill to the house. Obviously, it has shortcomings but not all governments are as perfect as Liberal governments, so we will have to bear that.

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