Media event date: 
4 June 2021
Date published: 
7 June 2021
Media type: 
Speech
Audience: 
General public

MARK COULTON:

Everyone gets very nervous when a government minister steps up for a speech like this. Thank you.

I also acknowledge the traditional owners of the land and thank you for your acknowledgement. So, certainly great to be here.

The Department has prepared a wonderful speech here for me, and it has lots of facts and figures and lots of dollar amounts to different programs. But I think it goes without saying, the challenges we have when we deal with mental health are complex, and of the programs we've announced in the budget, the largest dollar amount is going to mental health, probably more than in any other budget we've ever had.

But the challenge is to turn an announcement that's got billions of dollars around it, into programs that actually help people on the ground.

I’m the Minister for Regional Health. I've lived in regional Australia all my life. Robyn and I live at Warialda, which is a very similar community to Bourke, a bit smaller.

And we all know people who have had issues with mental health, some of them fatal issues with mental health, and not always, or sometimes hardly ever, do we see it coming.

When I was at school, the captain of the school in Tamworth, he was the sort of person who kids looked up to. He was the captain of the school. He had a pretty girlfriend. He was in the footy team.

About June, in his last year of school, he took his life and no one could understand why.

And so, I think what concerns me by tying mental health funding to things that happen, you know, we've had the fires and, you know, all those other things, is that it disguises the complexity and the underlying issues.

And, you know, Joe Williams here in front, I don't know Joe personally very well, but I've read a lot of about Joe, and Joe was a high achiever.

He reached the pinnacle of his sport. And to the casual observer, no one would have known the anguish that he was feeling inside.

And so, why I'm here today is that I think the experiences that everyone in this room brings along is something that we've got to, as a government, build upon.

My philosophy as Regional Health Minister, whether it's bringing GPs to town or a lot of the other issues, is that it's great to have a government policy that covers the whole of Australia but how do you get that to connect to every community?

I think, as governments, we've got to be flexible enough to be able to back programs and individuals that can make a difference happen, because quite often, the success of a service is the people in it.

And that's very hard. You can have a program that's running in a town that's doing great things because of the people that are running it, but how do you replicate that everywhere when you can't replicate those people?

That's the challenge that we have.

One of the things that I've instigated and we are expanding upon is innovative models of primary healthcare.

So quite often in a country community you've got the hospital or an MPS that's run by the state government. You've got the GP clinic that may be part of a council facility.

It might be GPs on their own. We’ve got an AMS working over here and then we've got some government organisations that are doing other things.

We've got a physio or an OT that’s trying to run a business as well.

And I think if we're really going to deliver the services we need, we need to have a collective of all those organisations so that we having a multidisciplinary approach with the community and the individuals at the centre of that.

And I saw a good example of that Canowindra. Dr Ros Bullock pulled together a group and they meet on a fairly regular basis – I think every two weeks.

So she's got the aged care provider, the pharmacist, she's the GP, the paramedics from the ambulance service, the community health nurse, anyone else in that space. And they get together and they have a chat about individual people so that if the paramedic gets called to someone's place, they’ll know that that person might be a diabetic.

They might know that they're having some issues around depression, and getting a better level of care at that personal level, and I think that's something to aspire to.

We're going to have to break down some of the silos that bring funding and organisations to town and work on a sort of a community wide, community-centred approach.

I'm happy to be here today and listen and see what's been discussed over the last couple of days, because statistically, we all know the statistics that in regional Australia, the level of suicide is higher.

In Aboriginal communities, it's higher.

Really, we do need to work out ways how we can get ahead of this.

Where do we go? We go right back to basically conception and work our way forward, because we also know that kids that are having issues growing up in a stressful family environment does have problems later on.

I've got a room full of people, so I've got to be really careful what I say, but when you’re a teenager, you know, you're 13 or 14, probably the bloody worst time of your life.

And how do you sift out that: I’m just having a bad day because hormones are racing through my body and I'm trying to work out whether I’m a kid or an adult, and all those things as part of growing up.

The message I want to leave with you is that the Government recognises this is a big problem.

And when I was in the expenditure review committee of Cabinet, when the package came in for what was going to be done with mental health and, the more (Headspace) hubs that are coming into regional areas - the Prime Minister said that normally you have a big discussion about whether you're going to spend this or not, but it was clear the money was going to go out.

I think the challenge is to make sure that it turns into something.

I've got whole pages of columns of how many million we're spending on different programs but that doesn't mean a single thing if it doesn't equate to helping people on the ground.

So, thank you for your time for being here. And I will attempt to, if you have any questions or comments, more than happy to take them now.

But other than that, I'll be happy to sit and listen to what else is going on. So, thanks.