Page 2922 - Week 09 - Wednesday, 12 October 2022

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There is no evidence in this budget that the mental health system will be improved in the wake of a once-in-a-lifetime shock to our community. Over the last 900-odd days of lockdowns and fear, our health system and our mental health system have been tested and stretched like never before. It has been held together by mental health workers, by health workers, who have done their utmost to make sure we all get through this, but there is no doubting the level of impact that the pandemic has had on all of us, on our system and on our workers.

We have endured lockdowns. We did get vaccinated. We did come together as a community to protect each other from a disease which could have taken far more than it did. But the past 2½ years have left our mental health system at breaking point.

We must recognise the efforts of our mental health workers and everyone who makes an effort to make sure that the mental health of people in our community is supported—not just the mental health services but the wraparound supports that are so vital in keeping people well mentally, in supporting us when we are struggling.

I want to recognise at this point that a large part of the government’s budget has in fact been funded and driven by the commonwealth government and, very specifically, by the vision of the former Minister for Health and the former federal minister for mental health, former ministers Hunt and Coleman.

That federal Liberal government set about establishing a strategic way forward, funding that strategic way forward, and working with the ACT government to bring it along. The difference between that government and this particular budget is stark. I know that that federal government invested in its commitments, and we can see that today in this budget. The critical step now will be execution. What I have been hearing from the mental health community, from those people who are working in mental health every day, and from those people experiencing mental health issues, is that they feel they have been locked out. They have been ignored; they have been walked away from.

While I was a bureaucrat in the public service, I used to say that one of my key roles was to make politicians’ good ideas work in the real world. But no-one can do that without listening to those on the ground who make it happen. When I speak to constituents, to stakeholders who consistently tell me that they have not been heard, it tells me that this budget is not the budget that they asked for.

We do face deep systemic issues. We face widening cracks in our mental health system. There are too many services that have had to be constrained to very strict conditions before people can access them. There are too many services that do not have the resources to respond to the need in the community. There are too many services that have become dysfunctional under this government, and it would be remiss of me not to mention the crisis faced at the Dhulwa centre.

It is time that we see a government that is willing to put in the effort and come up with a strategic vision that will address these issues, that will make sure nurses feel safe to work and patients feel that the system is looking after them. Unfortunately, this is not that budget.

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