Labor is pleased that the government has finally responded to the National Mental Health Commission review into mental health programmes and services one year after it was provided to them.
The mental health sector has been in a state of limbo since this report was commissioned in 2013 and there will be some relief for the sector following the release of the government’s response today.
In broad terms Labor supports the general direction of devolving mental health service delivery to a regional level through the network of PHNs.
This is something Labor called for during mental health week in October and it is pleasing to see that the government has endorsed this approach.
Unfortunately, the government’s response is light on detail and provides very little information of funding allocations and the timeframes for implementation. It is very difficult to see how many of these reforms can be implemented without additional funding.
One obvious gap in the government’s response has been the lack of priority for Australia’s suicide crisis. Every year 65,000 Australians attempt suicide and every year 2,500 lose their lives to suicide. The Mental Health Commission recommended a 50% reduction target in the rate of suicide be set.
Labor has already endorsed this target but the government has failed to agree to a target or prioritise suicide prevention in its response today.
Also concerning is the ongoing lack of funding certainty for mental health services. These are essential services for people living with mental illness across the country and many are operating with only 6 months left on their contracts. Staff are already leaving the sector due to this funding uncertainty and nothing in the government response address this today.
As part of Labor’s interim response we commit to the National Mental Health Commission’s target to reduce suicides by 50 per cent over the next ten years through:
- The development of the Fifth National Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Plan.
- The development and implementation of a National Suicide Prevention Framework which establishes clear incremental targets and measurable outcomes.
- The establishment of 12 suicide prevention initiatives – six urban, four regional and two remote – for place based initiatives tailored to local community need.
- The development of an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Mental Health Plan to improve mental health and prevent suicides of Indigenous Australians.
- The establishment of the first national minimum data set on deaths by suicide and suicide attempts to build an accurate picture of the problem and the effectiveness of prevention initiatives.
Labor has a strong record in mental health and, in Government, increased funding for mental health by 357 per cent to around $2.4 billion from 2011-12 to 2014-15 compared to $516.3 million provided in the four years 2004-05 to 2007-08.
Labor’s interim announcement is available here.