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Lauren KATHAGE (Yan Yean) (10:01):
I rise to speak in support of the Mental Health and Wellbeing Amendment Bill 2023. This bill will amend the Mental Health and Wellbeing Act 2022 to ensure the act operates as intended and is fit for purpose when it commences on 1 September, which is a massive milestone in this reform journey undertaken by our government. I am proud to speak in support of that and proud to speak in support of these changes, because you have got to get it right. You have to continually listen. You have to be humble. You have to be agile. We have heard some hubris this morning from those opposite, but there is no honour in hubris. It is only right that we have a sense of urgency about getting moving on this system-shaking reform. We have not been sluggards in getting moving. If you are not open to improvement, if you are not open to corrections and tweaking, then you are effectively saying that you have stopped listening and that you have reached a state of perfection. This bill demonstrates that this is a government that listens and that puts outcomes ahead of lines. We want to get this right. This reform to the mental health system is too important to be not done well. There are too many people’s lives depending on us getting this right – on us listening. We can see this approach across government policy that we have been discussing in this house recently: women’s pain clinics, after-school care for special developmental schools – these are policies that have come about because we are government that listens, that values lived experience and that values the life of each and every Victorian.
As I said earlier, the act will commence on 1 September, the start of spring, the season that symbolises the start of something new, the season of hope and the season that marks the end of darkness and of cold. For too long people with mental health issues were subjected to the darkness and cold of a system that was not built for them and that did not respond to their needs in all the ways they needed it to. I recall all too well my experience working in a homeless women’s shelter, where women with mental health issues were shunted back and forth between us and the hospital. The system did not serve them.
The season of hope has come through the conviction of a government committing to all recommendations of the Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System. The season of hope is made possible by the tireless dedication of mental health workers across the state, by the courage of people experiencing mental health issues and the family and friends who love them. Some may think my language is a bit dramatic. Well, I guess they have never seen how dark it can get for some people. We have seen under this change to the mental health system the introduction of mental health and wellbeing locals in response to recommendation 3 of the royal commission. We have committed to delivering 50 of these by 2026 to ensure that people have easy access to mental health services – preventative mental health services to stop people getting to the pointy end of the stick where we debate about who should be there in the time of crisis. This is about making sure we support people before it gets to that. Our first six locals opened late last year, including one in the City of Whittlesea, and I am really proud about that.
We have other new supports in our area, like the new mental health beds at the Northern Hospital. We know that acute mental health facilities are really important, and we want to make sure that Victorians are not waiting too long to access the services they need when they need them most. So we listened and we completed the new state-of-the-art 30-bed facility at the Northern Hospital, the hospital that services my electorate, and there will be another nine new facilities across the state. It is going to provide 10,900 days of care to over 650 people a year, multipurpose rooms, staff and family lounges – it is part of the great work that we are doing to implement the recommendations of the royal commission into mental health, as is this bill.
We also have the regional governance of mental health services initiative underway in response to the royal commission. We know that local communities know what works for them. Local communities know what does not work for them. It is right that the voice of local communities is elevated. It is right that governance sits at that level as well. We know that communities have differing needs. In the northern parts of Yan Yean we still carry the weight of Black Saturday. The governance and management of mental health services for our area needs to understand that, to have experienced that and to be responsive to that. These will increase local community engagement and accountability. They will provide an opportunity for people in the community to discuss with locals what they want to see in their mental health services. The interim regional bodies which have been established are progressing their work towards becoming statutory bodies, and we look forward to that day coming when the groundwork has been adequately prepared.
There has been quite a bit of talk in the chamber about the health-led response to mental health emergencies. We know that the royal commission health-led response to emergencies is something that we have been working towards. We need to create better processes to support people having mental health emergencies, and just as we have committed to every recommendation of the royal commission, we have committed to this. I recall being at an incident at that same homeless shelter where a person was having a mental health emergency and was a danger to themselves, and there was a moment of ‘Who would respond in that situation?’ It was the police that responded, and they did so with great care and compassion for the person involved. We know that there are different roles for different people, and there is absolutely no shame in saying that the police in our state do a fabulous job caring for those in need.
We also know that we do want a health-led response for those experiencing crisis, but to push that outcome now before people are ready to care for those in crisis would welcome potentially devastating outcomes. We cannot stand back and watch that happen. We take careful steps to ensure that the reform that we are undertaking is for the benefit of all – and it is the reforming of a whole system. You cannot just pick out one part and say, ‘You should do this now.’ The whole system works together as a whole, and that is what we are working on. The member for Nepean recognised this to an extent with his comments about the mental health workforce, and that is something that I am really proud of this government’s investment in. We know that the Labor government has invested more than $600 million since 2020–21 for workforce initiatives, contributing to 2100 more jobs in the mental health sector. That has been more than 400 mental health nurses, more than 300 psychologists, 100 psychiatrists and over 900 extra allied health clinicians. The wideranging reforms that are coming about as a result of the royal commission, as a result of our dedication to implementing the recommendations of the royal commission, are well underway. We are taking a careful and considered approach, but we do have a sense of urgency, we do want this bill to pass and we do ask for the support of those in the house.