Mental Health and Wellbeing Amendment Bill 2023

20 June 2023

Martha HAYLETT (Ripon) (15:58):

I too am proud to speak on the Mental Health and Wellbeing Amendment Bill 2023 today.

Like almost all of us in this place, I have struggled with mental health issues at points in my life and have known so many people who have suffered far worse than me. Growing up in a small town in country Victoria, I was never far from mental illness. I remember distinctly the silence that swept over my high school for days when a 14-year-old girl in year 8 died by suicide. I was in year 7 at the time and remember being so confused at how such a vibrant, beautiful, popular girl could take her own life. I also remember suicides in sheds during weekend parties, murder-suicides that shook the whole town, friends who had been sexually assaulted with no access to mental health supports in the aftermath and others who had to travel all the way down to Melbourne for any treatment.

More recently I remember the fear in my voice as I called the Perinatal Anxiety and Depression Australia hotline for support when someone dear to me was suffering from severe postnatal depression. I agree wholeheartedly with the member for Lowan, who said that PANDA is a fantastic service. It truly is. My own experience with struggling to find local mental health supports in country Victoria in my 20s has also really stuck with me. These stories are, tragically, not unique; they have defined so many of our lives, and they are in part why I am here today and why I am so proud of the strides that we have made to reform our state’s broken mental health system.

The need for reform was given greater urgency and clarity during the recent Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System. We heard so many individuals’ and groups’ stories, whose interactions with the mental health system had left them isolated, abandoned and at risk. For too long it was a system that put too many people in terrible situations and left them behind. Their harrowing personal stories were crucial to understanding the bigger picture – that the system needed reform – and it took a state Labor government to get it done.

We are already starting to deliver on our promises with the creation of the Mental Health and Wellbeing Commission and Youth Mental Health and Wellbeing Victoria. We are well on the path to reforming the whole system, embodied through a new framework and underpinned by rights-based principles and objectives to redesign service development and delivery. This bill today acknowledges that there is always more to be done. It clarifies and extends on previous work done in this space, and it will make it easier and better for people navigating the system, because ultimately the people that are most impacted are those living with mental illness, and they are the people that are driving this change. Since the act was passed and our system reform and implementation have progressed, some key amendments have been identified to ensure the act is fit for purpose. This means that when the act commences on 1 September 2023, we will be best placed to make sure we are doing the best for all Victorians.

It is important to note that the bill includes a number of new provisions aimed at improving the rights of people experiencing a mental health crisis in the community and responses by police. They include greater protection of privacy and dignity during a search, the ability to release a person from care and control where they no longer pose serious and imminent risk and the requirement for the use of powers to be health informed – key words, ‘health informed’. We are doing that whenever reasonably practicable and for the least restrictive approach to be taken to emergency responses and transport.

We are delivering every single recommendation from the Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System, and we have made a historic investment of more than $6 billion, because when we look after those in our society most in need, we are sending a message – a message that mental health is a priority for this government, that no-one should be left behind, that our community is connected and we care for each other and that we take our responsibility for each other and for our community seriously. This issue is simply too important, and we know what happens when we get it wrong.

The royal commission’s recommendations set out a 10-year vision for a mental health system where Victorians can access treatment close to their homes and in their communities. People with lived experience of mental ill health are at the heart of these changes, and they have led the design and delivery of programs. They have shaped the four main themes of reform: (1) a responsive and integrated system with community at its heart, (2) a system attuned to promoting inclusion and addressing inequities, (3) re-established public confidence through prioritisation and collaboration and (4) contemporary and adaptable services.

I am also so proud that we are reforming mental health supports in schools. Growing up, many of my friends with learning difficulties and mental ill health were not supported at school. They were also often not supported by their families and the broader community, and there was endless stigma around talking about their issues. This was 15, 20 years ago. We had such a poorer understanding of the impacts of mental ill health. Our rural and regional schools had extremely limited resources or ability to tailor support to individual kids’ needs. This was made even worse by the lack of apprenticeship and employment pathways and the lack of community facilities for young people in country towns. Doors were shut and opportunities were lost because access to mental health support simply was not there. There was nothing for young people to do except hang out down the street, and there were no safe public spaces for them to be in or adults that they could rely on to offer them support. I always wish we had a youth space in my country town and more fun things to do. It would have made a world of difference.

These experiences have lit a fire inside of me to do more for young country kids across Ripon into the future. Changes are already evident, with even more great things to come. The Central Goldfields Youth Council are advocating for more supports for young people in Maryborough, and they are a superstar crew of local advocates. The Hope Assistance Local Tradies, or HALT for short, do incredible work for locals at risk of suicide in Carisbrook, Maryborough, Talbot, Creswick, Clunes – so many areas of Ripon. I was so rapt to see planning for a new mental health and wellbeing local in Castlemaine in our recent state budget. Although it is not in my electorate, it will absolutely benefit Carisbrook, Maryborough and other nearby areas in Central Goldfields shire.

Further west in my electorate, the mighty One Red Tree Resource Centre is boosting provisional psychologists into our local schools and communities. Their organisation is led by the indomitable Carly McKinnis and Tammie Meehan in partnership with Megan Jenkins from Federation University. They provide mental health services and training in Ararat and across the Grampians region and are now working with a huge 19 local schools, with even bigger plans for the future. Ararat is better off for them being there, and I will always back them. Soon they will be supported by a new mental health and wellbeing local in Ararat, as well as a brand new one we are delivering in Ballarat. By the end of 2026 this government will set up 50 new mental health services across the state for all adults and older adults. They will provide walk-in services for free, easy to access care and support for adults who are experiencing mental health concerns or psychological distress as well as treatment for alcohol and drug addiction. It will save lives and boost supports in our rural and regional communities.

Over the last two years more than $600 million has also been invested in the mental health workforce, creating over 2500 new roles as well as hundreds of scholarships and training grants. We also invested a record $842 million in the 2021–22 budget for more mental health support for young people, and we are building social housing as part of the Big Housing Build that is specific to the needs of people living with mental illness on the waiting list.

There is a long road to walk towards making the system reflect the needs and desires of those living with mental illness, but we are recognising that on this side of the chamber. We are walking the walk, and we are not wasting a minute getting on with the necessary changes, including through this bill. I will always stand for those living with mental illness in Ripon, and I am proud of the government that is dedicated to improving the mental health and wellbeing of all Victorians, no matter where you live. I commend this bill to the house.