Assistant Minister for Mental Health and Suicide Prevention - Speech - 25 July 2023

Read the transcript of Assistant Minister McBride's speech for the Equally Well Symposium in Sydney.

The Hon Emma McBride MP
Assistant Minister for Mental Health and Suicide Prevention
Assistant Minister Rural and Regional Health

Media event date:
Date published:
Media type:
General public

Thank you Professor Russell Roberts, the Director of Equally Well, along with John Allen and Dave Peters, co-chairs of the Equally Well Alliance, for inviting me to open the 2023 Equally Well Symposium.

The next 3 days will be a great opportunity to showcase the important work happening across the sector to improve the physical health of people with mental ill health.

It has now been just over 12 months since we came to government.

And in those 12 months I have been in many rooms just like this one where I have spoken about the need to reform our mental health care system.

In the last 12 months we have gone about that reform. That is perhaps most evident in our latest Budget.

We know that the first step to making sure that Australians can get the care that they need – the care that they deserve – is making sure that we have our world leading workforce in the places that people need them.

It is no use attempting to build a system of care without the right people working in that system.

Our Budget makes that clear.

It is why we have invested in new postgraduate psychology places, new internships for provisional psychologists, and new fully subsidised supervisor training sessions.

We also know that psychologists work best alongside doctors, nurses, social workers, OT’s and peer workers in our multi disciplinary care teams.

Recognising when someone is in distress is critical across health care, we need to make sure that no Australian is lost in the system and falls through the cracks.

It’s why we are investing in building the knowledge and skills of the broader health workforce, so they are better equipped to recognise and respond to mental health issues.

That includes nurses, midwives, allied health professionals, doctors and pharmacists.

But, what I want to speak to you about today is not what we have done in the past 12 months but where we are going from here.

We have an ambitious agenda – that agenda is underpinned by a wide range of values and philosophies.

Today I wanted to touch on three of them.

Improving equity and access.

Reducing drivers of distress.

And elevating those with lived and living experience.

When we talk about equity and access we mean just that. Getting more Australians who require mental health care into the system, especially for those who need it the most.

The fact is that our system was not working when we came to government. It was harder and more expensive than ever to get in to see a GP or a psychologist.

Many of you would be aware of the Better Access initiative, the Commonwealth’s way of giving Medicare rebates to help people access mental health professionals and care.

The evaluation led by Professor Jane Perkins found that the Better Access initiative was becoming increasingly difficult to enter.

However, we have turned this around.

In the first quarter of this year, we saw a significant 14 per cent increase in the number of services offered through Better Access.

But more importantly, we saw more people get the care they need. More than 60,000 more people were able to get into the system.

We are seeing the rhetoric meet the reality when it comes to access and equity.

As we move forward, we will continue this work. At the centre of that is our Head to Health services across the country.

Head to Health is free, walk in, no referral or appointment needed. That is equity and access in practice.

There are currently 12 up and running across the country. We plan to set up a total of 61.

I have visited services in Geelong, Townsville, Launceston, and Penrith.

Just two weeks ago I had the pleasure of opening a new service just down the road from here in Parramatta.

That service was had been running as a pop up since 2021 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In that time, it has helped more than 500 people. 500 people who may have not been able to access care.

Now it has a permanent home. It will mean that more people get the care they need.

But we know that care is only one part of the picture. If we can support Australians before they require care, we should.

Our government is approaching mental health and suicide prevention as two separate but related issues.

Because we know that while mental ill-health can be a factor in suicide, people who die by suicide typically have on average three to four contributing factors.

These factors include unemployment, financial insecurity, domestic and family violence and past or compounded trauma.

We also know that around 40 per cent of people who die by suicide have no diagnosed presence of mental or behavioural disorders.

Numerous reports - many of them drawing on those who may have attempted suicide or have lost loved ones to it - have highlighted the very critical need to expand our suicide prevention efforts in order to address these underlying causes of distress.

That’s why we are addressing what we call the drivers of distress. The causes of the cause.

What this means is that we aren't only responding through mental health support but working to alleviate the underlying pressures in people's lives which cause distress.

This will improve the quality of life of hundreds of thousands of Australians, reduce the need for emergency healthcare and, most importantly, save lives.

Just last week the Treasurer released the Measuring What Matters Statement, the Australian Government’s first national framework on wellbeing.

What the framework makes plain is that traditional economic indicators provide important insights, but not the complete picture of wellbeing.

As the Treasurer has outlined, we are eager to identify challenges earlier and intervene in a more targeted way to create opportunity.

What is front of mind for our government is that our policy decisions have a real impact on Australians and for that matter so does poor policy.

Take the Robodebt scheme. It showed us that public administration can fail, and when it does, can result in real human tragedy.

It shows us the impact of political expedience and callous indifference for those in need.

We are determined to make sure that this does not happen again.

Measuring What Matters and our determination to alleviate the drivers of distress is key to that.

And while we work towards this change, we need to include the voices of those that have been left without at seat at the table for far too long.

We are determined to put the voices of people with lived and living experience of suicide at the centre of decision-making.

In January this year we announced that we would set up two peak bodies for those with lived and living experience.

One for those with lived experience of mental ill-health and the other for their careers, family and kin.

Two distinct groups, but two important groups that each will provide unique insight.

I am pleased to report that work to set up these peaks is tracking well.

Recently we appointed the Australian Centre for Social Innovation to work with the mental health sector and people with lived experience to design these peaks.

The co-design process will run from July to October this year.

As you are well aware the mental health and suicide prevention space in Australia is a complex one made up of a wide range of stakeholders.

Some small. Some large.

Some with quiet voices. Some who are quite loud.

These stakeholders span the wide range from community fundraising groups to multinational crisis lines.

And while these individuals and collectives do important work, we do need to formalise how government receives advice and council from those with lived experience.

These two peak bodies will do just that. With the current progress we expect that they will be up and running by early next year.

I am pleased to announce that this week we will open the public consultation for these peak bodies. That consultation will be open on the TACSI website.

I encourage you to actively engage in this process.

The work that we have done so far and the work that we plan to do is not possible without working collaboratively with you all.

And while there will be times that we do not agree, I know that it is through this honest and robust dialogue that we will find our best solutions.

So, I thank you all for your sustained effort in working with us, and your continued trust as we continue our ambitious reform agenda.

Thank you.

Help us improve

If you would like a response please use the enquiries form instead.