Mental Health & Wellbeing Bill 2022

Ms BATH (Eastern Victoria) (11:34): I am pleased to rise to show my support this afternoon for the Mental Health and Wellbeing Bill 2022. If I had more allotted time, I would certainly take all of that allotted time to thank the various members, both paid and unpaid, of our community that support people with mental health. From the very acute and pointy end of Victoria Police and Ambulance Victoria, who pick people up on the side of the road or in dark places and who answer the call and go into people’s homes or the streets to triage and send them, hopefully, to hospital, to the various and many organisations in my Eastern Victoria electorate, as I said both paid and unpaid, both government and non-government, there are many people out in our state doing the most amazing, heroic deeds every day under stress to support their fellow human beings’ mental health and improve their fellow human beings’ mental health. I want to speak to a couple of those today, but I want to put on the record my thanks to all in this space.

I would not be me if I did not start to talk about Gippsland, and I will. The Gippsland Regional Mental Health and Suicide Prevention: Foundational Plan provides an estimate in a 2019–22 report that almost 24 per cent of the Gippsland population had been categorised as at risk; almost a quarter of people in Gippsland in my electorate have either mild, moderate or severe mental illness, and that is both the reality and the unfortunate nature of mental health. For Latrobe the ABS statistics reveal that approximately 33 000, or 11 per cent of that population, suffer from a mental health condition, which includes depression or anxiety. That same report states that that is 11 per cent, but across the whole of Victoria the percentage of the Victorian population with a mental health condition is roughly 8.8 per cent. So unfortunately again central Victoria is represented in a higher capacity in terms of mental health vulnerability.

The Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System was established in 2019, and my colleague the Shadow Minister for Health, Georgie Crozier, has really in her time advanced our position on a lot of those issues. I thank her for all the work she has done in this space and also our Shadow Minister for Mental Health, Emma Kealy, my Nationals colleague in the lower house. I thank them for their considerable time and effort in delving into this space but also in speaking with the sector, speaking with the very real and vulnerable people and working on solutions.

During the course of the royal commission, the commissioners—there were multiple—went out into the regions. I attended the Warragul roundtable session with a number of my constituents. We went together. There was nothing more tragic than seeing a father crying at one of those sessions because of his sincere frustration about his adult child over multiple years, the affect it had had on his family and the desperate desire he was trying to communicate—the need for these improvements. The fix needs to be long, it needs to be focused and it needs to happen. I thank all the constituents who have come to me and shared their stories. As you can see, one sits very heavily, and I thank him for the work he has done in his own space and for his family.

Recommendation 42 is really at the heart of this very comprehensive bill today. Also I would like to put my thanks on record to a former minister, Mary Wooldridge, for the work that she did in terms of the Mental Health and Wellbeing Act back in 2014 and in the lead-up to that. But this bill looks at improving on that. I know we all went to the Royal Exhibition Building and we listened; we saw the cameras, we saw the media, we saw the fanfare and we saw and listened to people talk about their lived experience of mental health. What this government and what the Liberals and Nationals government will do and commit to do is honour their need, honour their comments, honour their wishes and make improvements in this space. A 2019 Victorian Auditor-General’s report states in conclusion:

The lack of sufficient and appropriate system‐level planning, investment, and monitoring over many years means the mental health system in Victoria lags significantly behind other jurisdictions in the available funding and infrastructure, and the percentage of the population supported.

We see that the government has failed in many, many respects, and they have admitted that. What we see on the ground is that our fantastic organisations such as Lifeline, such as Beyond Blue, such as services for kids’ mental health are under pressure. Lifeline Victoria, in their 2020 report, stated there had been a 22 per cent increase in calls originating from Victoria, so in our region. The chairman said, and I quote:

Our thoughts are with the people of Victoria. Lockdown means many of the important opportunities for people to connect with each other and do things they enjoy are being stopped. For someone who is already struggling, this can be a huge blow.

That was from the chairman of Lifeline Australia, John Brogden, and I thank him for sharing what many people know now and knew at the time.

I have often conversations, but recently we went back around to have a conversation with the Gippsland Lifeline CEO, Michelle Possingham, and we appreciate the very hard work that she has given over successive years. In fact Gippsland Lifeline is about to next year celebrate I think 60 years of serving the community in the very, very dark corners where people are at their wit’s end in terms of mental health. The Nationals candidate for Morwell, Martin Cameron, and the shadow minister, as I have said, Emma Kealy, went and listened. During that period of time—during the lockdowns—there was a 45 per cent increase in triage, an increase in calls to call centres.

We know that Lifeline Gippsland services the whole of Australia and calls do not come in from their exact area. There are rationales behind that—and we certainly accept those—so that you do not walk down the street and necessarily speak to the same person that you did on the phone. Each call costs around $39 and they received 1000 calls. We are talking about almost half a million dollars worth of calls in one year. Lifeline Gippsland have state government funding of $150 000, and because of and through the COVID lockdowns their avenue for earning, their fantastic op shops, was curtailed. They are facing real problems. Certainly I put that to the attention of all governments, and we are very mindful of that as well. Barrier Breakers has unfortunately recently closed in Gippsland. This is a sign of the times, and unfortunately it is not good.

In relation to a constituent that I spoke about in this place in terms of an adjournment debate a little while ago, a mother of a 17-year-old son who was admitted to an adult bed in Flynn ward, upon him being discharged she went to consult the outpatient service. The member on the line, the service provider, whether it was out of sheer frustration or fact, their words to the mother were, ‘You can get your next available booking in 2025’. We know from the royal commission report that regional Victoria has been severely disadvantaged, and I need to stand up for those people—and I will—in terms of getting our fair share.

The breadth of support services and commitment from our regional people is amazing. We have heard it in here today. Old people, young people, men, women, youth and children as well. Heather Baird is based in Sale, and A Better Life for Foster Kids does an amazing job, again on the smell of an oily rag, if I can be so bold as to say that. She did a census of all her home-based carers a short time ago. The report showed that 69 per cent of these young people coming into kinship or foster care arrangements have a history of trauma. That is understandable. Unsurprisingly, 56 per cent have behavioural issues, 44 per cent have attachment issues and 40 per cent have mental health difficulties.

That is unsurprising, but they are human beings—little human beings, vulnerable human beings—at the end of those statistics. What she wants to see I am putting on the record. When they come into the kinship foster care arrangement they have got a medical check, but she wants mental triage. She wants to see those little children have a mental health assessment at the very start and then a pathway to planning that healing and support and triage ongoing. If they come in with a bruise, a broken arm or something wrong with their eyes, ears, hearing or whatever, it is not good enough just to fix those. We must also fix the mental side, otherwise we are going to see a perpetuation of their condition throughout their life, and unfortunately they may well end up in the youth justice system and going down a path that serves no-one—not them or our society.

We have also seen that there have been cuts to the mental health programs, and indeed the Minister for Mental Health said at a Public Accounts and Estimates Committee hearing recently that these programs were ‘no longer required’. But we have seen blowouts in a whole raft of things—in the Labor government’s projects in the city—yet there is a severe need for a whole raft of programs, including for drug and alcohol abuse. Again I thank those people who are very much at the pointy end of dealing with this. Our constructive and very real amendment that Ms Crozier has flagged and will certainly move in the committee stage and speak to relates to alcohol and other drug services. Indeed it is one of the key issues that was raised in the Review of the Pandemic (Visitors to Hospitals and Care Facilities) Orders report. The Victorian Alcohol and Drug Association testified, they provided their feedback to the committee, and this is from the minority report:

They shared key statistics regarding the impact of pandemic lockdowns and restrictions on use … of alcohol and other drugs … and demand for AOD treatment and support:

• The number of people calling helplines for alcohol and other drugs doubled …

during the pandemic. And:

• Worryingly, fatal overdose data from the Victorian Coroners Court revealed that 2020 had the highest number of women fatally overdose from alcohol and more generally, the highest number of overdoses where alcohol was the sole contributing drug.

We can see that there is a need in this space, and we can see that there is a need for better communications and to have that embedded into this legislation. So I thank both the crossbench and the government for considering our amendments in good conscience. The other final thing I would like to put on the record is that we will commit to drug and alcohol centres across the state. There is one in Latrobe Valley, and it has been very well received.

The other issue is Vietnam veterans. It is Vietnam Veterans Day today, and I commend the Honourable Tim Bull, the Shadow Minister for Veterans Affairs, for announcing that the Liberals and the Nationals will reinstate high-dependency beds with specialised support in Heidelberg to help address this sector and this need for our Vietnam veterans. We should respect them, honour them, thank them and serve their mental health and wellbeing. With this I commend this bill to the house.