Politics Sector News — 27 November 2014

The Senate has voted to force the Abbott Government to table two interim reports of its long-awaited mental health review.

The vote came from a motion proposed by the Shadow Minister for Mental Health, Senator Jan McLucas, and was passed without a Senate division.

In September 2013, the Abbott Government asked the National Mental Health Commission to undertake the review to focus on the efficiency and effectiveness, duplication and red tape within the mental health sector.  The Commission  is due to present its final report to the Government at the end of this month.

Senator McLucas said that to date, the Government had failed to provide any insight into this significant review that will determine the future of Commonwealth mental health programs and funding.

“I moved the motion following concerns about the lack of transparency expressed to me by both people living with mental illness and their representative organisations and service providers,” Senator McLucas said.

“I am disappointed that submitters to the review were not asked if their submissions could be published and as a result limited discussion has surrounded this important process.woman-431658small

“The non-publication of the two interim reports adds to the secrecy associated with the mental health review.

“While the Commission has a respected record, the Abbott Government is compromising the review process and creating a climate of secrecy which is creating real fear in the mental health sector, including from consumers, about future changes or cuts to mental health programs and services.”

The Government has been ordered to table the two reports – the preliminary report completed during February 2014 and the interim report completed in June 2014 – by 1 December 2014.

Mental Health Australia applauded the move saying it had been calling for the release of the reports for some time.

“This is a critical time for mental health and action must be taken now, beyond budget and election cycles, to fix the problems in the sector,” CEO of Mental Health Australia, Frank Quinlan said

The peak body has called on the Federal Government to commit to a ten year program of action to reform mental health in its final submission to the Review of Mental Health Services called our Blueprint for Action on Mental Health.

“This review is likely to reach a similar finding to the many reviews that have gone before; we need to stop people from becoming so ill they have to go to hospital; we need to link the health care people receive with the other social and community supports they need; we must align financial incentives with the outcomes we want, rather than just funding activity; and we need to have clear accountability – so that we know who is responsible for what, and how well they are performing against agreed targets,” Quinlan said.

“This reform agenda will take at least ten years of careful, dedicated and planned action. With the current review now nearly over, and with enormous public support for system reform, we must seize this opportunity to undertake a period of well-targeted action.

“Mental Health Australia’s Blueprint outlines some very clear directions for Government. Indeed, if we are to avoid the failings and disappointed hopes of previous reviews this must be just the beginning of a decade-long reform process.

The sector and the community must now work closely with Governments on both a Federal and State level to achieve the best possible outcome, and the best possible system for Australia.”

This article first appeared on ‘Pro Bono News’ on 27 November 2014.

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