To federal politics now and the Government is pledging an extra $47 million for mental health services. For more we’re joined by the Health Minister Greg Hunt from Mount Martha on Victoria’s magnificent Mornington Peninsula. Minister, thanks for your time this morning.
Can we start with a smaller fraction of the $47 million which will go to a youth ambassador scheme for mental health. That’s really interesting, $2 million of the 47. Can you tell us about that firstly?
This is about amazing young people who have been on their own mental health journeys, stepping up to be mentors, roundtable leaders, to work with young people who have got mental health problems that they’re experiencing now.
People such as Beau Vernon, a young quadriplegic man who ended up being the coach of the Leongatha and Phillip Island Football Clubs and took them to premierships in the last two years.
His journey, his leadership, he will be somebody who is helping. Niharika Hiremath, a young woman of Indian background - again, she’s had anxiety and depression - an inspiring speaker and leader, and they’re the sorts of people that we’ll be recruiting to help other young people hear the stories and see that there’s a way through.
Well, they’re going to have youth summits, regional forums and a travelling road show; why is it important for those people to get out and about and speak?
If young people can see that their situation is, firstly, normal and common - we know that one in four people have some form of mental health challenge in any one year - and secondly that there is a way through and that there’s support and that this is something you can overcome.
Then that's the most powerful thing we can do.
So as young people can see that other young people go through this and can come out the other side.
Governments across Australia, including federal governments, have been aware for some time of just the size of the problem that we have with mental health and it’s not just in Australia, of course.
Is it getting worse or are people talking more about it and that's why we're having those statistics, one of which you just mentioned?
So talking with Pat McGorry who’s obviously such an amazing - not just Australian but global leader, what we see is that there is better diagnosis now and so we are finding more people who we think have always had the challenge but are willing to talk about it.
But secondly, there has been an increase in the underlying incidents. There is no doubt that the nature of social media exacerbates the trends and the underlying causes of mental health.
It can make a bad situation worse, and it can take somebody from being anxious to having anxiety, and so we have to recognise that.
So the support that we are providing - the $47 million for headspace to expand their services, to improve the training of their staff, to improve the research, to find what particular project and program will work for individuals is absolutely critical, and it has been funded out to 2023, which gives it real long-term security and therefore they can just get on and help young people.
And we know that’s an issue very close to you and one that you care a lot about, so you've had trouble in your family with mental health, as most of us have.
Are you pleased that in the run-up to the federal election this will be an issue that both sides of politics will be backing? We know that the Daniel Andrews Government for instance, in Victoria, has already pledged a royal commission on mental health?
Yes. Look, I think it's something which is way beyond politics or any disagreement between parties.
I know that there are people on all sides of Parliament, in all parts of the community that care about this, because frankly virtually every Australian family has been affected in some way.
There are 4 million Australians right across the ages that are affected by mental health in any one year. And recently engaging with the Prime Minister, he’s been deeply involved in the work on not just youth mental health, but eating disorders, which is a shared passion because they can be so catastrophic.
So all of these things come together, and what we want to do is make sure that we're not just the healthiest nation in the world, but we're also the mentally healthiest nation in the world, and there is a long journey to do that - we need to be honest about that.
But if people can see that it can happen to anybody and they know that there is real support, that's a great starting place.
Yes, I'm glad you mentioned the online factor, too. We’re going to be talking about that at length on the program today as well. Can I just take you to a few other issues now?
It’s the start of the year and some people will approach the New Year with great hope.
You’re behind in the polls and you face an uphill battle to be re-elected. Firstly, have there been preparations made for the possibility of going to the polls early?
Not to the best of my knowledge. All of our preparation is for an April Budget and an election after that in the ordinary course of time which is due in this half of the year.
And what sort of policy are you looking for to turn this around for the Government to be re-elected? What is the rabbit you can pull out of the hat?
Well I go into this year optimistic and optimistic because it’s about ensuring that people have the chance at employment through a strong economy, that they have the chance at being able to have lower cost of living.
We've just delivered the lowest change in private health insurance premiums in 18 years off the back of the largest reforms in over a decade.
And I know that whether it's in terms of electricity costs and downwards pressure which the Prime Minister and the Energy Minister are putting, the work of the Treasurer in terms of ensuring that people are able to keep the fruits of their investment and comparing that with the proposals for taxes across all of those fronts from the Labor Party.
Including a 16 per cent price hike in private health insurance when they rip away the rebate, cost of living is immensely important to Australians - employment and then all the essential services such as new medicines and mental health.
And you can't do those things if you don't have a strong economy and there is a real risk with the alternative. So that's what it is about.
The risk is also with the Coalition staying strong and united and not having any more scandals as well.
We note that late last year when the announcement came of that strong bottom line, it was the same day that Mr Broad was involved in a scandal. How are you going to keep this team on track and together?
Look, I think the thing is to focus on the Australian public.
If you're focused on the public, you're not focused on yourself. And what we're doing today is we’re focusing on the needs of young people with genuine, genuine concerns.
When there are half a million young Australians who will potentially benefit from the investment in youth mental health, in headspace, the amazing work of Professor Pat McGorry and Jason Trethowan and their teams, that's real, that matters and that's what we're focused on.
Okay and just a couple of final ones - the announcement today from Peter Dutton that he is interested in a sex offenders register, a national public sex offenders register.
It’s a big step and he has contacted the states and territories. Do you support this, firstly?
Absolutely. We are taking the strongest possible steps to protect our young people and families from the most vile predators, and we hope that all of the states and territories will support this and we hope that the Opposition will support this.
Yes, we’ll wait to hear from the Opposition. Do you think the states and territory will get on board?
Everyone’s got their own approach. We know that some states have sex registers already, but they are kept away from the public, and it is a big step, isn't it? Do you believe that you will get that buy-in from the states and territories firstly?
Well, I hope that all of the states and territories will support. I would be surprised if any of them oppose, but I know that for the Prime Minister and for Peter Dutton, this is an immensely important concern, to make sure that for these predators, they are not given a free pass or a soft run and that our families and our children are given the absolute best protection possible.
And just one more finally: The position of the teenager, the Saudi teenager who is in Thailand at the moment; what's the latest as you hear it? Is Australia in a position to offer a humanitarian visa?
I actually spoke with the Immigration Minister David Coleman last night on this subject.
He has worked and we have worked to ensure that the UNHCR or the High Commission for Refugees processes and assesses her case as a matter of urgency and priority and my advice is that they are going to do that.
Pending the outcome of that, if she is found to be a refugee, then we will give very, very, very serious consideration to a humanitarian visa. I won't pre-empt the outcome of that, it is a two-stage process, but stage one was Australia pushing for the United Nations to assess this young lady as a matter of urgency and we've been successful in getting them to agree to do that.
Mr Hunt, thanks so much for your time this morning and best wishes for 2019.