Date published: 
8 October 2018
Media type: 
Transcript
Audience: 
General public

FRAN KELLY:

Greg Hunt is the Federal Health Minister. He announced that productivity review yesterday. I spoke with him earlier.

GREG HUNT:

Good morning Fran.

FRAN KELLY:

Is this primarily a cost saving exercise to get better bang for your mental health buck?

GREG HUNT:

No. Definitively and definitely not. This is something which has been requested by the National Mental Health Commission. I believe you spoke with Allan Fels earlier, and it’s something that he and I had worked on. What it’s about is firstly effectiveness. How do we take something which is strong within the Australian system to being elevated to one of the four pillars of the long term national health plan but make it better.

In particular, the consequences for people right around the country from mental health. Secondly, the capacity and opportunity of the workplace to be much, much better utilised to help identify those with mental health needs — and there are four million Australians every year — and also to provide a supportive environment. And then thirdly, the coordination of the system so we know what the federal government is doing but to make sure that we have a very strong mapping of state, workplace and community together with the federal government systems.

FRAN KELLY:

The Mental Health Commission came up with their review three years ago now. In that time we’ve spoken repeatedly to senior mental health advocates and practitioners like Patrick McGorry, like John Mendoza and others who’ve been calling for overhauls of this system, greater injection of funds. I mean basically Allan Fels says that a Productivity Commission review is needed to persuade governments and others of the economic case.

Is that true, do you as Health Minister need to be persuaded by the Productivity Commission finding that the economic cost of mental health to our society is so great we need to address it?

GREG HUNT:

It’s the opposite actually. From day one — because of my family’s history, because of my experience within the community — this has been not just a passion but something that’s been elevated to the highest rank for the first time where it’s one of the four pillars of the long term plan. But the importance of this, and it’s something that Allan and myself and Pat McGorry and others have worked on jointly, is that it sets out the needs, what we’re doing well, but what we can do better.

This is a chance to ensure that we are more effective with the best lessons domestically and internationally, programs such as the beyondblue Way Back for dealing with people who have attempted suicide, been discharged from hospital and until now haven’t had the proper coverage and treatment. And so that’s the sort of thing that we’re now doing but we are always looking to do more and above all else to be more effective to help more people.

FRAN KELLY:

So, if the Productivity Commission finds it costs more money to save lives, it costs more money to be more effective and help more people, will you accept that finding?

GREG HUNT:

Well I won’t pre-empt the findings but I expect that we will continue to invest more, continue to always try to improve the coverage. So I go into this with the expectation that this is about effectiveness, above all else what’s going to help people which is why we have just introduced new programs for helping treat older Australians who are a particularly vulnerable group, while we’ve been expanding our headspace funding for younger Australians and we have for the first time a 10-year Million Minds mental health initiative.

Each of these things is about providing additional coverage. But I have to say I think above all else we need to be doing more in the prevention and resilience space to ensure that not just young people, but people of all ages, have the space to seek help, have the confidence to seek help and to have the facilities and support in the programs to seek help early.

FRAN KELLY:

You’re listening to RN Breakfast. Our guest is the Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt. There was a comprehensive review of national mental health programs and services released three years ago by the National Mental Health Commission. That set out a 10-year implementation plan covering some of what you’ve asked the commission to do. One of the things it recommended was to fund outcomes and not activities because that would ensure better value for money. Are you acting already on that advice?

GREG HUNT:

Yes, we are doing that and I think in particular the Million Minds mental health program is focused on that. Its goal is to ensure that, as the title suggests, a million people over the course of that decade have access to additional and improved services and that it’s documented in terms of its outcomes. So that’s why we’ve asked some of the leading psychiatrists within the country as well as the psychological community to be involved.

People such as Pat McGorry himself, Professor Tracey Wade, Professor Jayashri Kulkarni from Monash and others to help drive forward the treatment in areas where there have been gaps. Historically there have been gaps in eating disorders, something which can be catastrophic for so many families. We’ve moved into that space but this is a Mental Health Commission proposal so it’s building on what they’ve done. We’ve accepted their proposal and I’m fully…

FRAN KELLY:

What’s the timeline for it?

GREG HUNT:

It’s an 18-month maximum. We’d like them to report before the end of next year and I’d like to have an interim report by the middle of next year.

FRAN KELLY:

We’re talking about mental health here in terms of dollars and cents. This is a Productivity Commission review but of course we’re talking about real lives here, the lives of people who have mental illness, the lives of those around them who are affected by this and one shocking statistic that we’ve heard in recent times, more than 3000 Australians suiciding last year.

That’s up nine per cent from previous years. We’ve spoken to John Brodgen, Lifeline chair, and others who are saying what we need is a target. The National Mental Health Commission has a target to reduce suicide by 50 per cent in ten years. Do you think a national suicide prevention target is a good idea?

GREG HUNT:

We do have a target, the target is zero.

FRAN KELLY:

Yeah, I know the target is zero and I’ve heard you say that before but that’s not much help in terms of actually setting ourselves realistic goals to reduce this step by step. We’re not going to get to zero overnight. Will the government adopt an official target?

GREG HUNT:

Our target, our official target is zero. For me, in my time, on my watch…

FRAN KELLY:

Minister, with respect, I think in a sense that’s not taking people seriously though when they’re suggesting to you they want to see targets that can be measured, and we’re not going to get to zero in one year, two years, five years or ten years.

GREG HUNT:

All of these targets are important and critical, but the only acceptable target from my perspective is a zero target. The idea that we would say it’s acceptable for 1500 people to take their lives is not something that on my watch, in my time, I’ll be adopting. So I respect the views of others, but our target is zero, and each life lost is a tragedy.

FRAN KELLY:

Minister, on another issue, the terms of this inquiry don’t pay any attention really to one of the biggest mental health crises connected to Australian government at the moment, the mental wellbeing of asylum seekers on Nauru. The Nauruan government has just ordered Medecins Sans Frontieres to halt its mental health services.

Asylum seeker advocates say nearly every child in detention on Nauru has life-threatening mental health issues, and the contractor that Australia funds to provide services there is overstretched and isn’t able to deal with them. Will the Australian government intervene to help Medecins Sans Frontieres get permission to resume their services on Nauru?

GREG HUNT:

Our contracted mental health provider on Nauru is International Health and Medical Services and we’re always …

FRAN KELLY:

And it’s not coping.

GREG HUNT:

… we are always reviewing the resources that they receive. The relationship between Medecins Sans Frontieres and the Nauruan government is a matter for them, but for us, we have been working with International Health and Medical Services. We will continue to focus on them. And of course, we helped remove 2000, 2000 young people from detention in Australia, and now, when we go to Nauru…

FRAN KELLY:

But Minister, we’ve had expert after expert on the program talking about the state of wellbeing of the mental health of children on Nauru. There’s 100 or so children still there, and the accounts are harrowing of their mental health. There’s self-harm, the actions they’re taking. Isn’t it incumbent on the Australian government to try and do something, and medical experts would tell you the only thing to do is to get them off Nauru?

GREG HUNT:

I think the absolutely critical thing is to ensure that we have two things occur: firstly is that there is under no circumstances ever a restarting of the catastrophic tragedy and carnage at sea, and therefore the massive spike in the number of people who were put into detention under the previous government, and then the second…

FRAN KELLY:

And what’s that got to do with the 100 children on Nauru?

GREG HUNT:

…and the second thing is to ensure that we have very significant high-quality services, and we are always working to improve those services and our provider is International Health and Medical Services.

FRAN KELLY:

The fact that the Nauruan government asked MSF to assist with psychological service suggests that IHMS isn’t coping, isn’t providing enough, don’t you agree? Will you speak to the Nauruan government about what else is needed, or perhaps lobbying to have MSF stay? People say their services are crucial.

GREG HUNT:

We are always, always working with both the Australian authorities and the Nauruan government to provide additional and increased services.

FRAN KELLY:

And Minister just finally, I know you need to leave, but do you believe it’s okay for a horse race to be advertised on the sails of the Sydney Opera House?

GREG HUNT:

My view is that they were outlining a major, effectively, international event, and highlighting that event, and so I wasn’t fussed about that…

FRAN KELLY:

Is the Opera House sails the right place for that?

GREG HUNT:

Oh, look, I honestly, I was not fussed either way about a major international event. If they were advertising a particular product I wouldn’t feel that that was appropriate, that’s my personal view, but I’m neither on the Trust nor part of the New South Wales government, but a major horse race, an international event, whether it’s one event or another, it’s a New South Wales property and a New South Wales led event.

FRAN KELLY:

It’s a world heritage icon, isn’t it?

GREG HUNT:

Yes it is.

FRAN KELLY:

Greg Hunt, thank you very much for joining us.

GREG HUNT:

Thank you very much.

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