Professor Patrick McGorry writes:
The Senate’s passing of a motion calling for a comprehensive network of headspace and Early Psychosis Prevention and Intervention Centre (EPPIC) services for young Australians with mental ill-health is to be welcomed as another positive step towards mental health reform in Australia.
However, the opposition of the Greens and ALP to this motion highlights a worrying fault-line that might herald a most unwelcome partisan divide on mental health reform. Such a divide is a cause of deep concern as its most likely consequence is further delay of meaningful mental health reform, with lives needlessly diminished or ended early as a result.
The ALP, Coalition and Greens all agree that much more needs to be done on mental health. All three parties also agree on the need to enhance supports and services for young Australians – the age group most affected by mental ill-health. All three parties agree that the best way of achieving this goal is to increase access to headspace centres (one stop shops for young Australians with mild to moderate mental ill-health) and EPPIC services (specialist youth mental health services for more complex and potentially more serious mental illness).
A parliamentary motion calling for better mental health care for young Australians through enhanced access to headspace and EPPIC would appear ripe for tri-partisan embrace.
Yet the ALP and Greens voted against just such a Senate motion when it was introduced by the Coalition this week.
The motion passed with the support of independents Nick Xenophon and Stephen Fielding. Many ALP and Green Senators probably voted against the motion with a heavy heart in the knowledge that they were letting down their supporters and the community as a whole. ALP and Greens voters are just as likely to experience mental ill-health as those who vote Coalition or independent.
As a result of Tuesday’s vote, Australians with mental ill-health from the left of the political spectrum may be wondering whether the parties they support will deliver for them.
Before the last election traditional ALP supporters who were disappointed with their party’s thin record in Government on mental health could at least entertain the idea they might get a better return by voting Green.
However, early signs from the new parliament – including the absence of any mention of mental health in the post election agreement entered into by the Greens and ALP – call into question if the whether the Greens are really offering all that much more on mental health than the ALP.
It would almost certainly be fair to say that there is a genuine desire to deliver on mental health in both parties and that both Julia Gillard and Bob Brown want to be positive enablers of making this happen.
What is less clear is whether either the ALP or the Greens are able to translate the desire to act into real outcomes for Australians with mental ill-health and their families. In particular, both parties have yet to demonstrate they have a plan to overcome some of problems they have created for themselves.
In the ALP’s case, their biggest problem is they have already committed almost all the growth funding they plan to invest in healthcare over the coming years to physical health and can’t seem to work out how to fix this problem.
The Greens on the other hand appear to either feel that their political capital is too scarce for investment in policy areas outside of their agreement with the ALP or else are just too inflexible in their negotiation strategy (the main stated reason given for rejecting the motion on Tuesday was that it did not include other aspects of mental health policy that the Greens supported – a clear case of if we can’t do everything we won’t do anything).
Both the ALP and Greens created barriers where there were none and as a result found themselves this week voting against providing services that they genuinely believe are vital to our young people.
Both parties need to do better.
Every day we delay with investment and reform in this space more young lives are lost or damaged, futures derailed and the hopes of parents dashed. Those who contribute to this unnecessary delay will one day soon be held responsible by the Australian people for the consequences of their actions.
• Patrick McGorry is Australian of the Year, and Executive Director of Orygen Youth Health