Aboriginal Mental Health and Wellbeing
Mr FRANK TERENZINI: My question is directed to the Minister for Local Government, Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, and Minister Assisting the Minister for Health (Mental Health). Will the Minister inform the House about the Government's efforts to improve the mental health and wellbeing of Aboriginal people in New South Wales?
The SPEAKER: Order! Members of the Opposition will remain silent.
The SPEAKER: Order! I call the member for Wakehurst to order.
Mr PAUL LYNCH: I note the member's ongoing interest in these issues. It is entirely appropriate to receive this question and to provide an answer in Reconciliation Week. This is a time of great milestones for our first nations: next week, 3 June marks the anniversary of the High Court decision in the Mabo case. This year is the fiftieth anniversary of the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islands Day of Observance Committee [NAIDOC] and the fortieth anniversary of the 1967 referendum. It is also the tenth anniversary of "Bringing them home", the report of the national inquiry into the separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families—the stolen generation—a story of extraordinary atrocity and horrors that should not be forgotten. Many of these issues should, of course, be beyond partisan politics, and despite earlier interjections from the member for Wakehurst I am pleased to note that normally they are subject to bipartisan support in this place.
Mr Barry O'Farrell: You tell us about your service in your electorate. For 12 years you did not visit your local Aboriginal affairs department whose office was 50 metres away.
Mr PAUL LYNCH: I say in response to the interjection that the Leader of the Opposition is telling lies to this House. I also note that the people that the member of Wakehurst spoke to in Gandangarra Land Council no longer hold those positions, which means that the local Aboriginal community in Liverpool knows far more about its area than does the member for Wakehurst. Indeed, one can say that a visit by a Liberal Party member to Liverpool guarantees that the people they see lose their positions.
The SPEAKER: Order! The Minister will stop enjoying himself!
Mr PAUL LYNCH: It is perhaps only the Leader of the Opposition and the member for Wakehurst who can manage to turn what should be a bipartisan comment into a partisan one.
Mr Brad Hazzard: I was outside!
Mr PAUL LYNCH: And can I suggest you go back there; that is where you belong.
The SPEAKER: Order! The member for Wakehurst will find himself outside the Chamber if he keeps interjecting. I call him to order for the second time.
Mr PAUL LYNCH: As I was saying before the interjections, these matters normally have bipartisan agreement in this place. This Parliament was, of course, on a bipartisan basis, the first Parliament in this country to say sorry. On that issue then and now there is no eloquence in silence. The Aboriginal Mental Health and Wellbeing Policy 2006-2010 is a significant New South Wales Government initiative to improve the mental health and social and emotional wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
Aboriginal mental health care is part of the core work of our health services and is a priority under the New South Wales State Plan. This State has the largest Aboriginal population in Australia, with more than 141,000 Aboriginal people residing in New South Wales— Aboriginal mental health care is part of the core work of our health services and is a priority under the New South Wales State Plan. This State has the largest Aboriginal population in Australia, with more than 141,000 Aboriginal people residing in New South Wales—not that Mal Brough has noticed that. On average, Aboriginal people live 17 years less than the rest of the Australian population. They suffer from significantly higher levels of psychosocial distress and the rate of suicide and self-harm in Aboriginal communities is at least twice the national average. Aboriginal people have elevated levels of incarceration and problematic substance use and a high prevalence of grief, loss and trauma.
The statistics show that proportionately up to twice as many Aboriginal people are hospitalised for mental and behavioural disorders compared with the non-Aboriginal population. The New South Wales Government is working to make all mental health services in New South Wales more culturally sensitive and appropriate to the needs of Aboriginal people and to enhance the mental health, social and emotional wellbeing services offered by Aboriginal medical services. The New South Wales Aboriginal Mental Health and Wellbeing Policy 2006-2010 sets out a detailed framework to address Aboriginal mental health and wellbeing problems in New South Wales.
The Government has established the foundation for an Aboriginal mental health workforce program in New South Wales across both the specialist mental health services and the Aboriginal community controlled health services, the Aboriginal medical services. As a result, New South Wales is leading the way in Australia in building an Aboriginal mental health workforce. The first policy saw the rollout of over 60 Aboriginal mental health worker positions into the area mental health services and over 10 into the Aboriginal medical services.
We are building on this workforce with the addition of 20 new positions in the area mental health services and 10 more in Aboriginal medical services. We are introducing a statewide training program that will enlist local Aboriginal people from their communities and train them to become qualified Aboriginal mental health workers. This is a case of Aboriginal people working with and for Aboriginal people. Under the Aboriginal mental health workforce program the trainees will be full-time employees of the area health service whilst also undertaking a bachelor of health science, mental health, from Charles Sturt University, taking part in placements and gaining valuable on-the-job training, mentoring and supervision.
This critical part of the policy will build community capacity by training local people. It will also increase the number of Aboriginal people working in mainstream mental health services. It will ensure a service that is supportive of Aboriginal culture and needs. Two weeks ago I was in Bourke where I had the wonderful opportunity to meet with several young Aboriginal mental health worker trainees. The trainees were based in Lightning Ridge, Bourke and Orange. Their passion for the work that they are doing in their communities was quite inspiring. The strategy has an extraordinary number of positive aspects. It is critically important to the Aboriginal community in giving employment paths and role models for the community and in providing Aboriginal people with those sorts of services. It is critical in providing specialists for those communities because the communities need to be able to grow their own employees to guard against the inevitable drift to the eastern seaboard.
Importantly, the structure of the traineeship program is such that it provides a strong career path for these workers within mental health or in other areas of health services. Indeed, one of the people I met is now a team leader. With further commitments in 2006-07, this program is already well underway. The program funded 10 trainees to commence in 2006-07. The Greater Southern Area Health Service converted eight existing vacant Aboriginal mental health worker positions into trainee positions, resulting in eight trainees undertaking their first residential courses at Charles Sturt University in April this year.
The first 10 trainees are mainly from rural and remote area health services such as the Greater Western Area Health Service, the Greater Southern Area Health Service, the Hunter New England Area Health Service and the North Coast Area Health Service. In addition, two have also been placed in metropolitan areas with the Northern Sydney Central Coast Area Health Service and Justice Health. An additional 10 trainee positions will be funded from 2008-09. In addition to this, 10 Aboriginal mental health worker positions will be allocated to the Aboriginal community controlled sector in 2007-08. Aboriginal clinical leadership positions will be rolled out into key area health services to help coordinate and prioritise Aboriginal mental health and wellbeing services to New South Wales Aboriginal communities in 2007-08.
The workforce program is one of the first of its kind in Australia and, as a result, New South Wales is leading the way in the provision of a skilled and competent Aboriginal mental health workforce. Through A New Direction for Mental Health, the Iemma Government allocated more than $12 million over five years to support the rollout of this workforce program. Prior to the 2006-07 enhancements announced by Premier Iemma last year, the New South Wales Government had allocated additional funding of $1.55 million to support over 15 Aboriginal mental health worker positions into the Aboriginal medical services. Funding of $55,000 per annum was allocated to hold an Aboriginal mental health workers forum each year and $155,600 per annum to the Aboriginal Health and Medical Research Council to employ a statewide coordinator to work with Aboriginal mental health programs in the Aboriginal medical services. In addition, $250,000 was allocated for the Aboriginal Health and Medical Research Council to develop a medical health assessment package relevant to the needs of the Aboriginal population in New South Wales. The $12 million over five years allocated to the workforce program is a component of the total spending of $21 million over five years on Aboriginal mental health and wellbeing programs and projects.
Further, many of the other programs established under the New Directions enhancement package have funded the expansion of the workforce in areas of need and emerging priorities such as older people's mental health and child and adolescent mental health, as well as building workforce capacity in the non-government agency sector. Since 2005 in New South Wales 84 nurses were employed into the mental health workforce through the Mental Health Connect-Reconnect Program, 119 mental health nursing scholarships were awarded in 2005-06, 250 mental health nursing scholarships were offered in 2007, and 14 doctors have elected to move into psychiatry in addition to the 204 already in training. I will not detain the House now with the significant list of other things, but I note that the total spending over a five-year period for Aboriginal mental health is $21 million. This is a significant commitment to improve the mental health, social and emotional wellbeing of all Aboriginal people in New South Wales.
Question time concluded.