Politics — 17 July 2015

ASHLEY HALL: A coalition of the nation’s mental health organisations is imploring the Prime Minister and state and territory leaders to urgently introduce reforms to the sector agreed to in 2012.

They say without a fully funded national mental health agreement and targets for improvement, the system will remain in crisis.

From Canberra, Samantha Donovan reports.

SAMANTHA DONOVAN: In 2012 the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) agreed to reform the mental health system but three years on those who work in the sector are still waiting.

Frank Quinlan is the CEO of peak body Mental Health Australia.

FRANK QUINLAN: To see mental health still suffering from inaction after so long, you know, three years now since the last COAG, it’s very frustrating. We’re very keen to see our first ministers taking responsibility for that and taking action to address it.

SAMANTHA DONOVAN: More than 90 organisations including SANE Australia, The Black Dog Institute, Lifeline and the Royal Flying Doctor Service have written to the Prime Minister, the premiers and chief ministers urging them to act.

Frank Quinlan says the sector wants the reforms COAG agreed to introduced.

FRANK QUINLAN: COAG agreed that one of the first things that we needed to do was to set some targets for the performance of our mental health system – things like having a target around halving the nation’s suicide rate. But sadly those recommendations are still sitting on the shelf.

SAMANTHA DONOVAN: Frank Quinlan says a coordinated national plan also needs to become reality.

FRANK QUINLAN: One of the things that governments recognised back in 2012 was that the arrangements that are in place between different levels of government are not working well and that’s been a long standing problem where Commonwealth government actions and state government actions are uncoordinated.

So back in 2012 COAG said they were going to overcome that. They were going to set up new governance arrangements, new accountability arrangements that would hold governments to account, but we’re yet to see those arrangements put into place.

SAMANTHA DONOVAN: Why do you think the introduction of the changes has been delayed?

FRANK QUINLAN: Look, I think it’s a failure of long term commitment to a very difficult, complex area of reform. And sadly what I think we’ve seen more of are sort of quick fix solutions – so, an announcement here, a new program announced there.

And while some of those programs are very welcome, on their own no single program can really overcome the sorts of problems that we’re experiencing in the mental health sector.

SAMANTHA DONOVAN: Mental Health Australia’s Frank Quinlan says a national plan would make a big difference for people with mental health problems.

FRANK QUINLAN: Many people who experience mental illness experience multi-level need for support, so it’s not just the fact that they need to perhaps see a clinician and have the medical issues sorted out but people who are experiencing long-term depression and other serious conditions will also be experiencing issues with employment and perhaps with housing and with other support in the community.

So it’s only when all of those programs are working together that we can hope issues like long-term depression will be overcome for the individual.

SAMANTHA DONOVAN: Mental Health Australia and the letter’s other signatories are urging the Prime Minister, premiers and chief ministers to discuss the reforms at their retreat in Sydney next week.

ASHLEY HALL: Samantha Donovan.

This article first appeared on ‘ABC‘ on 14 July 2015.

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