Question without notice
My question is to the Minister for Mental Health.
The federal government ceased funding for the national perinatal depression initiative from July 2015.
Mothers in my electorate will no longer be able to access the local perinatal emotional health program after 31 December because I understand the state government’s support will also end.
This program provided for the early detection and prevention of postnatal and antenatal depression, providing mothers with better and easier access to support and counselling.
Will the minister confirm that the Andrews Labor government’s commitment to the perinatal emotional health program at Goulburn Valley Health will continue beyond December 2015, and will it continue to fund at a minimum its current contribution to that important initiative?
Mr Foley, Minister for Mental Health
I thank the honourable member for Shepparton for her question. I am sure I join all members of the house in stating what is clearly a fact: when it comes to mental health and wellbeing there is no more important early intervention than that of perinatal mental health services right across our state. So it was with some distress that we learnt in the week before the end of the last financial year that the federal government wrote to all jurisdictions unilaterally cancelling the long-term — since 2009 — national perinatal mental health partnership, which impacted not just on the honourable member for Shepparton’s electorate but all electorates right across our community.
On a number of occasions we have raised with the federal government the need to reinstate that program. That is why we wrote to every perinatal mental health service across the state recommitting our support for that service and recommitting our support to continue to fund that program, a commitment that stands today.
Since that time the federal government has, sadly, continued to restate its position that it does not see support for that program. However, since the change of Prime Minister, the federal Minister for Health has made it clear that she will, in the very near future — before the end of the year — be putting a mental health policy into the public realm. I use this occasion to call on the federal Minister for Health to use that opportunity to reinstate the commonwealth’s commitment to support perinatal mental health services not just in Victoria but right across Australia — not just in Shepparton but in every community right across this state.
Since the arrangements the honourable member referred to occurred, we have seen cuts to not just the emotional health program but also payments withdrawn from the PANDA telephone counselling service, a 24/7 support service for vulnerable mothers right across the nation. Support has been withdrawn there. We have seen withdrawals of support for early parenting centres, and we have seen withdrawals of funding from health networks for health training registrar positions. In all of these areas the frontline delivery of services counts most when women and newborn children are at their most vulnerable in community situations involving mental health.
Our position continues to be that if the commonwealth government returns to the table to reinstate the 2009 long-term national partnership on mental health, particularly perinatal mental health, this government’s commitment is in the current budget to be supported, and that commitment stands.
Medical professionals and the Shepparton district community have for years been lobbying for the establishment of a mother-baby unit in our region to support families of newborns. It has been ignored by successive governments. Given that the Andrews Labor government now supports this concept of an emotional health program, will it support the establishment of a mother–baby unit in our region such as exists in Melbourne and other regions to ensure that services of this kind are continued?
I thank the honourable member for her supplementary question. As the honourable member knows through her own leadership of the Goulburn Valley Health Community Advisory Group, the work that is being done in planning the range of services not just in perinatal mental health and community mental health but right across the board is very important. It is very important because, as I released last week, we have seen the implications of the botched re-commission of community mental health that the former government delivered in 2014 create all sorts of problems.
In terms of how mother-baby units are developed and supported right across the state, there are a number of investments underway right now in regional Victoria. I have to concede, as the honourable member knows, that that is not in the Shepparton area. However, I am more than committed to working with the honourable member.