I’m joined by Greg Hunt. Minister, good morning and welcome to AM.
Good morning, Sabra.
Just on the cyclone, what can you tell us about what medical aid and assistance that will be needed in Queensland?
So the National Disaster Relief and Recovery arrangements have been triggered by Justice Minister Michael Keenan and the Queensland Government.
We have brigadier Christopher Field, former senior military person who is now in charge of operations.
We have medical personnel on the ground. Airborne Rescue, sea rescue available, and we have Townsville Brigade 3 which is also available, so they will all swing into action in conjunction with the Queensland Government today.
Onto your portfolio proper now, you want to change the way that mental health is prioritised in Australia and you’ve elevated it up alongside Medicare, hospitals and research as one of four key pillars of the system and I understand that stems from information that you were given on day one of the job.
It does. So I obviously come as many Australians do into this space with the experience of mental health in our family.
In my case it’s now well understood that my mother and indeed the last time I saw her she was institutionalised.
My mother had bipolar and some very challenging mental health conditions. And as widespread as I knew the issue was, on the first day in office I was briefed about the fact that it’s four million Australians a year.
Four million Australians a year who have some form of either chronic or episodic mental health to a clinical level in any one year. And that said to me this is a major national issue and it has to be one of our four pillars. Medicare, hospitals, medical research and mental health.
A lot of stigma’s been taken out of mental health but a lot of people still regard it as not normal as such. Do you want to change that?
I do. I think my first task is to say whilst there’s been incredible work on de-stigmatization from so many people such as Jackie Crowe and Jeff Kennett, Ian Hickie, Pat McGorry, the next thing is to say actually, this is normal.
It’s like an injury or an illness. It’s something which happens over the course of our lives to potentially 40 per cent of Australians.
So it’s a lived experience that virtually every family has, certainly every football club or netball club, you might be in a Probus, anywhere you go there will be people who have suffered or are experiencing mental health.
It could be anxiety, it could be depression, it could be psychosis or it could be suicidal thoughts.
Now, the Government made multimillion commitments on this particular area last year. A key policy was the introduction of 12 trial sites to look specifically at suicide prevention …
Because that really hasn’t been a big focus in the past. We reported yesterday that in Townsville they’ve been hoping to have a centre operational by now, specifically to help with veterans. When will those centres now open?
So the Townsville one will be announced within the next week. Only this week I have met with the team from the Brain and Mind Institute in Sydney who are doing very good work here, as well as yesterday with the Mental Health Commission with the CEO Peggy Brown and the Veterans Affairs Minister Dan Tehan.
So that announcement will be made within the week. That is a deep personal priority.
I also visited Grafton. Now Grafton in sort of northern New South Wales has had just a terrible run of youth suicides.
I met with a number of the families who had lost young children and there’s nothing more confronting. Whilst there we announced that this would be a suicide prevention trial site as well as a new headspace site.
What’s it about in practice? It’s about working on the ground to make sure that there are additional services to try to prevent people taking that final step and it can be done.
It can be done. There was a mental health review that was done before your time. One of the main recommendations of that was to look at funnelling money away from accident and emergency departments and instead putting more into community, into prevention centres.
Are you going to look at that? Because I mean the previous minister ruled that out. Is that worth revisiting?
Well what I want to do is increase the frontline services. That’s the community services and people need to be able to talk to somebody.
Now that can be telephone services and we’re already working with Lifeline and others on how we expand those. It can be face to face which is absolutely critical. Tele-health, is a very important new initiative.
Now, it exists but it can be built on and expanded and that’s something which I’m considering along with Fiona Nash who’s the Regional Minister.
And then of course there is a huge online appetite. It’s 3am, somebody is in a very dark place. By being able to go online and to take first steps, then that can be one of the things that can change the decisions people make in the dark hours.
There is no formal way, just touching back on the issue of veteran suicides, there’s no formal way to keep track of those numbers. Is that something that you want changed?
Well I think we’re expecting very shortly to be in a position to release the review into veterans’ mental health.
We know the fact that whilst people are in the army, the navy or the air force, the average rate of suicide is lower than the general population.
We also know that particularly for those under 30 who leave the services the rate is higher. So in that separation process there is clearly a gap which we need to fill and I know that Dan Tehan and myself have said veterans are an area of high priority and that’s why we’ll be making an announcement about Townsville within the next week.
But more generally the message is if you are in a dark place you do not have to suffer this alone. Whether it’s Lifeline, whether it’s beyondblue, whether it is your local GP.
Your local GP is actually the frontline for so many people. So there are emergency services and there are frontline services, but what I want to do on my watch in my time is say this is a matter of absolute national importance but it’s normal and we will have the services to help you.
Okay. Minister, thank you for coming in this morning and talking to AM.
Thanks very much Sabra.