Assistant Minister McBride – interview on ABC Afternoon Briefing – 18 May 2023

Read the transcript of Assistant Minister McBride's interview with Greg Jennett about the Program of Assistance for Survivors of Torture and Trauma, Better Access, the psychology workforce and strengthening Medicare.

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

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GREG JENNETT, HOST: Emma McBride, great to have you back on Afternoon Briefing. Last week's Budget included a package of more than $130 million over 4 years for mental health for refugees who've experienced trauma. How many people that do you expect these services to cover?

EMMA McBRIDE, ASSISTANT MINISTER: Well, this program was established in 1995, and it's world recognised. It's a Program of Assistance for Survivors of Torture and Trauma. We know that Australia has a strong history of settlement of humanitarian entrants, and over time, we've settled more than 920,000 individuals and families. So expect that the program, that sort of the breadth of the program, and how it works is that for when someone arrives in Australia, it gives them wraparound support for their mental health and for psychosocial support. including counselling, advocacy, and importantly, it continues across their lifespan because sometimes the symptoms associated with trauma might manifest when their child starts school, as their parents age, and at different times in their lifespan. So this program will be able to benefit as I said, thousands of individuals and families and communities in the cities and also in regional parts of Australia.

GREG JENNETT, HOST: And it's being provided by counsellors or services, which are what? Well experienced with the particular forms of trauma that present among refugees?

EMMA McBRIDE, ASSISTANT MINISTER: That's right. It's so important that this type of service is provided by specialists who have that experience and expertise and to be able to tailor services for that individual or that family and community. So this was first established in 1995, and there's – across the different states and territories – there's state based offices, but then branches and outreach to make sure that we've got that right, culturally safe, tailored mental health support and services that are specific to that humanitarian entrant and their family and their time of life.

GREG JENNETT, HOST: Now I imagine that many refugees once they do arrive in Australia have spent somewhat lengthy periods of time Emma McBride in camps, overseas, waiting for that opportunity. Are they typically provided the services before arrival in Australia?

EMMA McBRIDE, ASSISTANT MINISTER: So this service starts as soon as someone arrives in Australia and recognising that that pre-migration experience is individual and complex, and what it does is it starts with that very individualised and tailored response that's informed by trauma informed response and very specific services. And importantly, it does then continue across their lifespan, because as I mentioned, the trauma associated with their migration, their pre-migration experience, is very individual and very complex and needs that very specialised support and care.

GREG JENNETT, HOST: And just explained what some of those traumas stem from, is it war? Is it personal abuse? You know, what are the specialty areas we're talking about here?

EMMA McBRIDE, ASSISTANT MINISTER: So this trauma might be because somebody comes from an area of conflict, it might be a particular abuse that they've experienced, it could be psychological or physical. So, if there's quite a breadth of responses that we need to make sure that it is tailored to that individual, to their circumstances, and to the stage of life when it might manifest.

GREG JENNETT, HOST: As you say Emma, this is not a new program. Did it fall in the Budget into that category of so called 'zombie measures' that might not otherwise have been extended unless more funding had been plugged in this year?

EMMA McBRIDE, ASSISTANT MINISTER: This is a continuation of an existing and well established service and one that we're very pleased to be able to continue, and to expand and as part of the investment as well, there's money towards having a sort of a status update on the mental health of multicultural Australia, and also some more funding towards Embrace a suicide prevention pilot working particularly in multicultural communities. So we're very, very pleased to continue to support this really critical work and also to be able to expand on it.

GREG JENNETT, HOST: Can we step it out then Emma McBride to a discussion about the more general Australian population? I think it's fair to say there's been a little bit of criticism maybe at the margins about mental health funding contained in the Budget. Certainly on this program we had spoken to psychologists beforehand that wanted more. Have they expressed that directly to you and what's been your response?

EMMA McBRIDE, ASSISTANT MINISTER: So there's been an investment in his budget of half a billion dollars directly into mental health, and particularly to pick up your points about psychologists, we know that one of the biggest challenges has been workforce, and in the Budget, we've invested $93.1 million in that pipeline of psychologists to have 500 more a psychologist in that postgraduate training, 500 more in their internship, and also invested in supervisors – 2,000 supervisors will be able to be supported through the Budget. This has been welcomed by the Australian Psychological Society and other key stakeholders who are very keen for the government to invest in that pipeline of workforce to make sure that we address those acute workforce shortages and have a stronger pipeline of mental health workers, especially from their perspective, psychologists, across all of Australia.

GREG JENNETT, HOST: Well, I'm sure that it's valued but they had also spoken beforehand, Emma, about distortions in demand caused by the reduction from 20 Medicare-funded consultations down to 10. How do you think, that is that most had filled their card already and we're now having to ration their mental health care because of it, how do you think that's going to resolve itself or stabilise in the system?

EMMA McBRIDE, ASSISTANT MINISTER: We're working very closely with the sector and in January, Minister Butler and myself held a forum that included people with lived experience, clinicians, researchers and service providers to really look at improving equity and access, because the report that the former government commissioned the evaluation of the Better Access Initiative showed that while people who could get into Better Access had good support and care, fewer people were able to enter the system, and especially those most vulnerable Australians, whether it was people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, people living in more remote parts of Australia, First Nations people, older Australians. So, we're continuing that work with the sector because we want to make sure that wherever you live, you can get that support and care that you need, and a big part of that in the Budget was in a new consult for general practitioners, a level E consult, which will mean that a general practitioner doing that first mental health treatment plan, will be able to have an hour to spend with that individual so that they can... 

GREG JENNETT, HOST: Sorry Emma, just on that, is that typically bulk build?

EMMA McBRIDE, ASSISTANT MINISTER: So what we have also done the same time, it's tripled the bulk billing incentive, and when I visited the most regional and remote parts of Australia since the Budget, what we've heard from general practitioners is that now they believe that they can continue bulk billing, or they'll be able to resume bulk billing if they were forced to stop because they didn't have the right financial scaffolding in order to do it. So that big investment in primary care in general practice is very welcomed for mental health and suicide prevention.

GREG JENNETT, HOST: Interesting early feedback, Emma McBride. Thanks for the update, and we'll talk again soon I'm sure.

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