Well good morning. Thanks everyone for being here at Vermont Secondary College in the electorate of Deakin. My name’s Michael Sukkar, I’m the Member for Deakin, the Assistant Minister for the Treasurer.
And I want to thank Tony Jacobs, the principal of Vermont Secondary College, and all of his staff for having Greg Hunt, the Minister for Health; Jeff Kennett, representing beyondblue; and a number of representatives from beyondblue here today, to announce a very important measure which we are very much welcoming today in relation to mental health.
I’ll allow the Minister to formally make the announcement, but Vermont Secondary College is a school that really punches above its weight in so many ways. Both academically, the way that they socialise their students; and today we, in touring the facilities and speaking to a couple of the classrooms, have really got a sense that the students here understand the challenges of mental health.
I certainly know that they look out for each other and it’s certainly a school that has emphasised the need to support students, families, in fact, everyone in our society from a mental health perspective.
So we thought that this was the perfect place to make today’s announcement which, I think, is going to be a big step forward for youth mental health.
And I might pass over to you, Tony, to say a few words on behalf of the school.
Thank you and welcome to everybody here today. And look, as a Principal of a very large secondary school with over 1400 students and approximately 130 staff – so 1530-plus – I warmly welcome this new initiative.
It draws together a contemporary new national program and it reflects the society very much that we live and operate in today.
Schools are a direct reflection of all that is occurring in society today and as a result, our key role of learning and teaching is always intertwined with creating a safe learning environment and building resilience in our young people.
Every day in the school setting mental health in the form of depression and anxiety directly impacts on at least one student in our care, often more.
Schools are at the forefront of providing mental health care support for young people and as a result we welcome this new initiative which greatly strengthens existing structures by providing a more integrated approach and a consistent national approach from early childhood through to adolescence.
It does this through evidence-based mental health programs and promotion, through continuous professional development of educators and also through guiding staff on how to influence good mental health and through prevention and early intervention.
It’s also crucial that we educate and support teachers about dealing with mental health of our young people while also supporting staff and supporting and protecting their own mental health.
So this initiative will support schools like Vermont Secondary College to implement their own informed strategies for well-being and mental health support and prevention.
So I thank the Minister and beyondblue and the other organisations that are here today for this initiative. Thank you.
Look, thanks very much to Tony; to Michael Sukkar, Member for Deakin; to Jeff Kennett, beyondblue; to our representatives from Early Childhood Australia; from headspace; but above all else, to the teachers and students here at Vermont Secondary.
As Tony said, 1400-plus students, 130 staff. And mental health is a challenge for every part of society. It’s a special challenge for young people. We know that between the ages of 16 and 24, up to one in four young people may face mental health challenges every year and that’s an incredible number. And it’s been in many ways buried for too many years.
Jeff and beyondblue, headspace, Lifeline, have done fabulous work in de-stigmatising mental health. What we have to do now is the next step and that’s to go to normalising mental health.
De-stigmatisation is where any of us can look at another person and say; that’s okay, I understand. Normalisation is where any of us can say; I’ve got a challenge. And that’s still a big step.
We know from talking to our doctors that they themselves are uncomfortable about talking about their own challenges, so we have more work to do.
Incredible work- and I do want to acknowledge Jeff here; after 17 years, he’s handing the baton over. This is one of his last functions, but I think it’s, in a way, one of his most important because it’s taking mental health into the schools and mental health to the magnificent young people who do such a great job at representing Australia and being themselves, but need that support.
So in that context there was a National Mental Health Commission review. One of the things they recommended was a very focused school program. So I am delighted to announce that the Federal Government will be supporting a Mental Health in Education program.
$73 million will be made available and that will be broken into two parts.
Firstly, there’s $53 million for helping the carers to care and, in particular, this is about assisting our teachers, our principals, our school workers, all of the people who are involved in the school community and we bring beyondblue, Early Childhood Australia, and headspace together to assist them.
It includes dealing with the early signs of anxiety or depression; and with very young kids that might come from a traumatic event in the family or the home; from those in primary school, it might be the beginning of doubt and the beginning of concern that can manifest itself into something that’s lifelong; and for kids in secondary school, there can be tragic outcomes – as I’ve heard from so many Principals and so many families from Grafton, to Mandurah, to Vermont.
So this is about seeing the challenges and addressing them and it’s a $73 million program all up with $53 million for educating the educators, or caring for the carers, and then another $20 million for outside of the school for supporting our doctors, our nurses, our social workers and extending the services that they can then provide to the schools.
But it’s not just a two year program, this is two years funding towards a permanent program that will be rolled out in schools around Australia.
So today is about caring for kids, educating the educators and saying that mental health is normal. It can happen to any of us.
Alright, well thank you very much, Minister. The first thing, can I just thank you for your very personal and genuine interest in mental health. It’s long overdue and the whole community will benefit by your personal input.
On behalf of our partners, Early Childhood Australia and headspace, can I say to you how very much we appreciate this opportunity to roll out this program over the next two years. I can assure you, collectively, we will deliver.
As the Minister has said, this program builds on the responsibility of parents first to best educate their children as best they can, but then through our schools to give both the teachers and the students the tools to deal with a rapidly changing world.
A rapidly changing world in which expectations both personal and imposed can affect so many people’s lives. To give them the tools to deal with stress and anxiety and depression, and therefore live a happy and meaningful life.
So this is, to me, a wonderful program which has been well-constructed, brings together people, organisations, in partnership with the Federal Government. It’s now up to us to be able to deliver the program in the ways in which the Government and the partners envisage.
And to you, Tony, your school and your enlightened approach to education – something I’ve learnt today about the length of classes I’d never heard before in my short life. So, as the Minister and I said earlier, we keep learning every day.
Thank you for your facility, thank you for your time and thank you to our partners.
But importantly, to you Minister, thank you very much indeed. This isn’t just another program, it’s a program that is driven by a very committed Minister. Thank you.
Thank you. Happy to take any questions and the really hard ones I’ll throw to Jeff.
Yeah, well I have a question about the roll out of this program.
How do schools access the funding? Is it just going to be provided to schools or do they have to apply? And how do schools defer, when they’re in regional Victoria, to Melbourne or…?
Sure, so what we’re doing is beginning that program of design now. It will begin with a first round of schools very shortly. So they will be picked in conjunction with the Education Department and the independent and Catholic school systems on the basis of early need.
Then secondly, we’ll be rolling it out across the country. So the vast bulk of schools within the two years will be included right across the country and the goal of this is actually to expand to all schools across Australia.
Can you name some of the schools that will be in the first rollout?
Well Vermont Secondary is one of the ones and that’s why we’re here today.
I have some environment questions if that’s…?
Yeah, fair, well between us we’re happy to take them. I’m no longer in the portfolio but I’m happy to.
Sorry, energy questions is probably the best way to put it. Will the Government work with Labor to end the political argument over energy policy?
Well the Prime Minister and Josh Frydenberg have made it absolutely clear that they want a bipartisan policy which will take the pressure off electricity prices and provide stability for our electricity grid, whilst also reducing emissions.
The proposition’s very, very clear. We’ll wait for the Finkel Report but all the signs are that it’s going to be supportive of taking the pressure off electricity prices whilst ensuring that there’s stability in the grid. The stability is long overdue.
Bill Shorten says he’s offering an olive branch. Will you accept that in good spirit?
Of course we’ll work with the Opposition. We’ve been encouraging them to drop their carbon tax proposal for many years. If this means they drop their carbon tax and they support a clean energy target or similar proposal which will reduce the pressure on electricity prices but increase stability, then that can only be a good thing.
Does having a low emissions target offer a compromise to move forward on this issue?
Well I’ll leave that for the Prime Minister and the Environment Minister. But essentially what we have been seeking to do for many years was to get rid of a destructive tax on manufacturing and families; in terms of the electricity costs, the impact on pensioners and seniors is enormous.
We abolished the electricity tax, we put in place an Emissions Reduction Fund. Now on top of that, what we recognise has to happen is stability for the grid because the states are in charge of the grid but they haven’t taken the right steps.
So we’re stepping in because there was a gap and I think the PM and Josh Frydenberg will be working on an open basis with all of the states and we would invite the Opposition to work with us.
Businesses have been crying out for stability and certainty on energy policy. Isn’t this the best chance for a bipartisan outcome?
Well we think this is a chance for a bipartisan approach and we’ve been inviting the Opposition to drop their focus on higher and higher electricity prices and to support our focus on lower electricity prices coupled with stability.
I have one on the depression… How does that aspect of staff coming into a school when there has been a tragedy; how would that work in your mind?
Sure. So there are three elements here: one is the immediate online support; two is the phone to phone support; but most importantly is the face to face and beyondblue, headspace, Early Childhood Australia, they have some of the most outstanding Australians with expertise in tragedy and they are ready and willing to be mobilised to come in and either deal directly with students or to give the teaching community the support so as they can deal with students.
We do lose young people. We have to stop this from happening. And so we have to deal with it afterwards but most importantly this is about prevention.
Alright, thank you.