Mental Health

08 May 2006 questionsarchive

I seek leave to make an explanation before asking the Minister for Mental Health and Substance Abuse a question about mental health funding.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK: At the COAG meeting, which was held on 10 February (some 1½ weeks before the election was formally called), it was much anticipated that high priority would be given to mental health. Indeed, at the time the Prime Minister said that extra commonwealth funding would be available for mental health services but must be matched by the states. Indeed, the communiqué which was signed by all jurisdictions, including Premier Rann, under the heading ‘Mental Health’ states:

COAG acknowledged that governments have made significant recent investments in the area but also noted that additional resources will be required from all governments to address the issues.

Then on 5 April we had an announcement from the Prime Minister and the parliamentary secretary for health Christopher Pyne of $1.8 billion for mental health funding. I note that at the press conference the Prime Minister said:

Well these things can happen without the States but you won’t fix the problem without the States. You need both. I’m not saying it’s their responsibility alone, I’m demonstrating that today, any more than it’s ours, but this is an area where the Commonwealth and the States share the responsibility and these are areas where the public is sick and tired of any buck-passing. And what I’m saying today is we will do these things whether or not the States respond. But I believe they will respond and the area where they should direct their response in my respectful submission is in the area of supported accommodation.

The following morning, the minister was interviewed by Pilkington and Conlon on Radio 5AA. Conlon said:

Can we just get off the political platform for a minute here? This has all been part of the campaign and it is good news from the State.

Can we talk about what you would like to find out more about from the Federal package because this is a massive package. Can we just get to that?

The minister replied:

I’d be glad to talk about the details of the Federal package except at present there aren’t any.

Conlon said:

Do you want me to tell you about it?

In other words, providing advice to the minister. In a later interview that same day Dr Jonathon Phillips, the former head of mental health in this state, said:

. . . if people don’t have proper accommodation in the community and proper respite accommodation if they become ill. . . you add millions of dollars to your mental health costs because people recycle through the hospitals.

Further on he said:

The money on one side’s not going to do it—

in other words, from one level of government—

This will help and it will certainly improve care at the GP end. . . but down on its own is not enough, you have to have that other side which includes really good community and mental health services, crisis services and as I’ve been pushing, accommodation.

As we know, he resigned due to his frustration with the system.

The PRESIDENT: That is very opinionated.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK: I think he said that on the public record, Mr President.

The PRESIDENT: And it is a very long explanation, as well.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK: I will try to keep it shorter in future.With your indulgence, Mr President, my questions are:

1. Has the minister been indicating through her refusal to reply on the issue of supported accommodation that it is not a responsibility or a priority for the South Australian government?

2. When will the government provide a formal announcement in response to the commonwealth offer?

The Hon. G.E. GAGO(Minister for Mental Health and Substance Abuse): On 5 April 2006, the Prime Minister announced that the commonwealth would provide $1.8 billion in funding over five years nationally for the mental health initiative. The announcement included additional funding to Lifeline for telephone services, funding for NGOs to improve personal helpers, skill development for drug and alcohol treatment workers, money to help young people with mental illness transition from education to employment, day and night respite places, additional university places for mental health nurses and psychologists, community awareness raising programs, mental health nurses and psychologists to work alongside GPs, and a number of other initiatives.

I have written to the federal Minister for Health requesting details, but no details whatsoever have been provided by the commonwealth except for this list of services. We do not know how much of the $1.8 billion is to be spent on South Australian services or what types of services will be placed where, or even here, in South Australia. We do not even know how much money we are supposed to be matching.

None of that information is available.

Obviously, I welcome the additional commonwealth support for mental health. I would think that, if Christopher Pyne has time to get on radio and spruik, he should be getting on radio and trying to make sure that South Australia gets its fair share of that $1.8 billion—because there is no guarantee we will. He might do something helpful for a change. The commonwealth decision to fund psychologists and mental health nurses to work alongside GPs—and this is quite an important point—is similar to the Rann government’s election commitment that was announced at election time to fund 30 psychologists, mental health nurses, social workers and occupational therapists to work with its GP-shared program or with GPs in local communities.

One of the obvious problems that already springs to mind is that, clearly, there could be duplication, given that, suddenly, the federal government without consultation has announced a similar sort of program. Those sorts of things needed to be sorted out. I have written to the commonwealth asking for specific details about how these programs will be allocated in South Australia and exactly how much funding will be coming to our state. I am very keen to ensure that South Australia gets its fair share of funding. We also need to be careful that the services are integrated and that when the commonwealth funds psychologists through Medicare, as it announced, it does not lead to a situation where professionals actually leave our public system where they are often serving clients who have no choice but to receive public care. They do not have the finances or the options to choose other privately-funded services. We need to ensure that that situation does not result in a group of professionals moving out of our public health system into the private system, or that these psychologists end up providing private services to those in wealthier areas. That is also a very important consideration for South Australia.

The South Australian government has made it clear that it has an agenda to improve mental health services in our state. Clearly, I will work with the commonwealth to do this.

Considerable work is already under way in terms of supported accommodation. The Minister for Families and Communities recently announced a series of programs that will be implemented in the foreseeable future. Minister Weatherill has responsibility for that, and I will be working closely with him to ensure that we deliver the best services possible to people with mental health needs. This government has already shown its bona fides in its commitment to mental health.

I have mentioned before in this chamber, but I mention again, that it has increased spending over the past four years by $35 million. This does not include increases that have occurred in housing and social inclusion programs. It does not include, for instance, moneys committed through the Social Inclusion Unit to the issue of homelessness. During the election, we committed to a further $20.5 million in spending over the next four years. Members opposite know that any funding announcements that have budgetary implications go through a budgetary process. That process has to occur, it has always occurred, and the Treasurer will let us know the outcome.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK: I ask a supplementary question. The minister used the word ‘duplication’. Will she indicate whether the mental health funds which have been allocated (both during the election and in the last budget) will be quarantined and continue to be provided for mental health services rather than be subject to budget cuts?

The Hon. G.E. GAGO: We will uphold our election commitments.