Workforce Participation by People With Mental Illness (08.05.2013)

Written on the 20 May 2013

Ms CROZIER (Southern Metropolitan) -- I am pleased to rise and comment on the government response to the report of the Family and Community Development Committee inquiry into workforce participation by people with mental illness, which I tabled in this place last October. It was a terrific inquiry undertaken by the committee, and I am pleased the government has looked at this report, taken up many of its recommendations and supported many of the findings the committee reached after undertaking the inquiry. We met with many people in the course of our inquiry, during which we travelled within Victoria, and people were very generous in the evidence they gave to the inquiry.


In its response the government, under the leadership of the Minister for Mental Health, Mary Wooldridge, indicates that it understands that there is a compelling case for increasing workforce participation by people with a mental illness and that mental illness impacts one in five Victorians, a very significant figure. That ultimately is having impacts not only on those individuals but also on their families, on their communities and on the economy as a whole. The non-participation costs quoted in the government response were around $2.7 billion in 2006. That is from some time ago, so I can only presume that figure would be increasing if the non-participation rate within our workforce is also increasing.


The government has quite rightly taken up and identified the themes the committee identified when it conducted its inquiry.


Those themes were strengthening mental health services in the key areas, including mental health professional workforce development; reform of psychiatric disability, rehabilitation and support services; strengthening peer support programs; coordination between specialist mental health services and employment services; and ongoing development of youth mental health services. I note that whilst we were undertaking our inquiry, one of the joint federal committees -- I think it was the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Education and Employment -- was at the time also identifying this as a major issue and conducting a similar inquiry, something we met with that committee on.


A key recommendation of our inquiry was:

That the Victorian government develops a mental health employment strategy that outlines its forward plan to increase workforce participation by people with mental illness with the capacity to work from 29 to 50 per cent across the public and private sectors by 2020 through -- a number of initiatives.


Certainly the government supports the need for a strategic approach and is in that process and is developing an integrated Victorian mental health employment participation plan. I was pleased to see that the budget handed down yesterday by the Treasurer, Michael O'Brien, highlighted some of those areas Minister Wooldridge has been working on to encourage further support for many people with mental health problems and issues and indeed increased spending in this area. The budget allocates $42 million to build on the existing investments of $1.1 billion for mental health and drug services.


The additional funds will secure the ongoing operation of a number of areas within Austin Health and a range of mental health beds at Monash Health, including at Dandenong Hospital. Also in the budget is provision for 16 new mental health beds across Western Health, Eastern Health, Austin Health and the Latrobe Regional Hospital.


Also -- and this area is very important but sometimes not very well understood -- there is an increasing problem with postnatal depression, and there will be three five-bed mother-baby units in regional Victoria for women with mental illness and their infants. That is a very significant initiative for people in regional Victoria, especially those women who suffer from mental illness. Yesterday's announcement included enhanced mental health and wellbeing services in Bairnsdale which will coordinate access to mental health, welfare and social services in East Gippsland.


The government is looking, then, at this issue from a statewide perspective. The government is undertaking the initiatives announced in the budget yesterday and is reaching into regional Victoria as well as looking into services within Melbourne's metropolitan area. I am pleased the government has taken on a number of aspects from the report of the inquiry the committee conducted and is acting on them. I commend the government's response to the report.

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