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Labor pledges extra funding for mental health

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Labor has announced it would spend more than $70 million over the next five years to improve the quality of care for people with mental illnesses and drug and alcohol addiction.

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The funding promise was announced before a leaders debate held by the South Australian Council of Social Service this morning, attended by Premier Jay Weatherill, Liberal leader Steven Marshall and SA Best’s Nick Xenophon.

Labor’s promise includes a further $17.2 million in mental health funding for community outreach programs, drug and alcohol addiction services and an expansion of home-based services and transitional care.

The package would also provide $5.5 million towards targeted suicide prevention, $2.2 million of which would fund suicide prevention networks and new programs that target manufacturing and construction workers.

$1.6 million would fund research, including the establishment of a suicide registry, to provide statistical information on suicide and intentional self-harm, and the remaining $1.7 million would go towards programs to support people bereaved by suicide and training for suicide intervention and mitigation.

Weatherill told reporters the funding package would target young men.

“We’ve found in our work in the steel industry that reaching out to particular sectors and tailoring support for those sectors is critical in supporting them through difficult times,” he said.

“Of course we also have to support families who are touched by suicide.”

Health Minister Peter Malinauskas told reporters extra funding to community outreach programs would reduce admission rates at emergency departments.

“We want to make sure that we’re providing services in the community so that patients will have their mental health conditions treated in such a way that we get to it before the problem exacerbates,” he said.

“One in five South Australians at the moment are suffering a diagnosable mental health condition so this announcement will go a long way in assisting those individuals who are in genuine need.”

Malinauskas reaffirmed a re-elected Labor Government would honour a mental health service guarantee to ensure people accessing mental health services who are ineligible for the National Disability Insurance Scheme would continue to receive their current level of service.

“As the transition to the NDIS occurs we want to make sure that nobody is left behind – we don’t want the non-government organisations left behind but more importantly we don’t want the South Australians that are the recipients of these great services to miss out,” Malinauskas said.

Mental Health Coalition South Australia executive director Geoff Harris welcomed today’s announcement and told reporters community support services were “very effective” at preventing mental health conditions from escalating.

“Often the focus of attention is on emergency and crisis areas and we know that’s important but we know that to get behind the crisis we need to invest more in community supports,” he said.

At the leaders’ debate, Marshall said the Liberals supported the rollout of the NDIS but South Australia didn’t have a workforce in place to support the scheme.

“This is a major area of public policy failure in South Australia and that’s why the Liberal Party is committing $100 million over the first four years to ensure that we can create almost 21,000 new apprentices and trainees,” he said.

Marshall also used the debate to accuse the Labor Party of running a “scare campaign” on social service cuts.

Marshall’s comment came after Weatherill said funding to the social services sector would be impacted by federal funding cuts and promises made by the state Liberals and SA Best.

“We’ve got two gentlemen here who are promising big tax cuts… with razor-thin surpluses,” Weatherill said. “Presumably they don’t want deficits – we’re going to see cuts and it’s going to fall on the social services.

“We’ve got an audit commission, that’s Nick’s idea, we’ve got a productivity commission. Whenever you hear those words just pencil in cuts.”

Marshall said the Premier was using a fear campaign rather than stating what could be done to improve funding.

“What we’ve heard from the Premier this morning is not an ambition to address these issues that they’ve created over the last 16 years but to run a fear campaign,” he said.

“Let me tell you, you can cut out your silly tram up the Parade in Norwood – there’s $279 million, you can stop your spurious television advertising campaign and put that into programs that support people who are disadvantaged in South Australia.”

Nick Xenophon agreed the Premier’s comments constituted a “scare campaign of the worst order.”

“The commission is about how do we deliver services more efficiently in a way that we can maximise benefits, reduce hospital waiting lists, get better outcomes in terms of substance abuse and gambling addiction,” he said

“These are the sorts of things that a government ought to be able to do.”

Weatherill and Marshall also responded to reports last night that suggested children aged as young as 11 or 12 were becoming ice users in Murray Bridge.

Marshall said the Liberals supported mandated drug treatment orders for people under the age of 18 and would trial drug rehabilitation programs in regional areas.

“The reality is, some people who are suffering from an addiction do not want to take treatment,” he said.

“This can have a devastating effect on the family, on the friends, on society in general and we want to take that choice away from young people.”

Malinauskas said the State Government would consult communities about the merit of mandatory-based rehabilitation services.

He said there was unclear evidence to support mandated drug treatments but that the Government was interested in using a scheme similar to what’s used in Victoria.

“We are genuinely open-minded to it,” he said.

Weatherill said the Government wouldn’t hesitate about placing children in out-of-home care if they were at risk from drug abuse.

“It’s a brutal decision to remove a child from their family but we cannot leave them when there’s risk of harm.”

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