APPROPRIATION (PARLIAMENT) BILL
APPROPRIATION (SPECIAL OFFICES) BILL
GENERAL GOVERNMENT DEBT ELIMINATION BILL
MOTOR VEHICLES TAXATION AMENDMENT BILL
BUSINESS FRANCHISE LICENCES (PETROLEUM PRODUCTS) AMENDMENT BILL
ROAD IMPROVEMENT (SPECIAL FUNDING) FURTHER AMENDMENT BILL
Debate resumed from an earlier hour.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Before giving the honourable member for Gladesville the call, I remind members that he is about to deliver his initial speech to the House, and I ask members to afford him the usual courtesies.
Mr WATKINS (Gladesville) [5.40]: As I rise to speak in the Parliament for the first time, I am moved by several emotions. First, I feel pride and pleasure in being part of a Labor Government in New South Wales, and that pleasure is especially sweet because winning Gladesville against the odds and against the expectations of so many commentators has given us the working majority to institute the Labor policies which this State so desperately needs. Almost as strong, however, is the feeling of anger at the task left to us in New South Wales, particularly in my seat of Gladesville. As an inner suburban seat, Gladesville has suffered badly from a lack of foresight and sensible government decision making during the past seven years, and everywhere one looks is evidence of the lack of action, failed policies and poor management of the previous Government.
In education, the disastrous plans of the Greiner and Fahey governments have ensured an enrolment crisis in local schools; in the environment, our rivers have become polluted sewers; public transport has been allowed to decline drastically; and traffic chokes residential streets. The previous Government left a legacy of environmental barbarism with the M2 which will have an impact on north-western Sydney for the next 50 years. This is a public transport and planning disaster to which no responsible government would have agreed. Also, the neglect in recent years in community services has been nothing short of criminal.
Today I give only one example of this neglect: in the past two months I have had to speak twice at meetings of distressed parents who have children in the Lachlan Centre, a Department of Community Services facility for the developmentally disabled at Macquarie Hospital in North Ryde. Members may recall the recent disturbing report that detailed
totally inappropriate techniques of discipline, specifically the use of the "time out room" at the Lachlan Centre. The blame for this lies squarely at the feet of the previous Government for its deliberate and cold-hearted downgrading of the Department of Community Services, its chronic underfunding and its senseless slashing of staff levels in critical areas. The crisis in that department, and the silent tragedies resulting from that crisis, will take years to overcome.
The previous Government can never be forgiven for the damage it allowed to be caused to the lives of the less powerful in our community. The 20 per cent increase in the community services budget announced last week indicates more than any other action the difference between our Government and the Opposition. But today is not the time to catalogue the previous Government's culpable misdeeds in community services. That will be done at another time. I must also report that my six months as the local member have been filled with very positive experiences which reveal the quality of local residents and institutions. In particular, it has been a wonderful experience to visit all the government schools in the electorate, to meet the staff and parents and to witness the great work being done. With the benefits of the Carr Government's education reforms, and the increase in the education budget of nearly 6 per cent so it has topped $5 billion for the first time, there will be a continued improvement in that work.
I have also been humbled by the wonderful work done by so many people in the care and treatment of the aged and infirm, in family support and in youth services. But today I will concentrate on one issue of critical importance in my electorate and, indeed, in all of New South Wales; that is, the care and treatment of the mentally ill. Since I was elected as a local member this issue has weighed most heavily on my mind. It is on the needs of the mentally ill and the loneliness and despair that they too often suffer that I shall spend some time today. The fact that this is National Mental Health Week is one justification for that attention, and another is the fact that my electorate has within it the two mental health institutions of Macquarie Hospital and Gladesville Hospital. Also, my electorate has a population of deinstitutionalised patients which is above the average rate of those of other seats in Sydney, and my electorate is a centre for a range of non-government mental health agencies, such as Mental Health Australia, the Australian Relatives and Friends of the Mentally Ill and Mental Illness Education Australia.
I am also moved to speak by the concern addressed to me by many residents. The accepted view that the wider community has no interest in the needs of the mentally ill is wrong. I have found that whenever the mental health subject arises in my duties, concern and interest about the lot of people with mental illness and about the Government's role in providing care are evident. There is an understanding and sympathy for the process of deinstitutionalisation, but there is a deep concern that all is not well in that process or in the treatment or care of this most needy group in the community. However, the main reason for me as a Labor member of Parliament to concentrate on this subject is that treatment and care of the mentally ill remains one of the greatest continuing social injustices in our community.
For too many people mental illness means social rejection and stigma, homelessness or inadequate housing, unemployment and poverty, family dislocation, drug dependency, chronic ill-health and early death, and for an obscene number of sufferers, especially the young, suicide. It was for very good reason that the Burdekin report identified people suffering mental illness as "among the most vulnerable and disadvantaged in the Australian community". Just the extent of mental illness in our community is shocking. At some stage in their lives, one in five Australians will experience a mental illness varying from mild or temporary to severe or prolonged. It is estimated that at least 250,000 Australians suffer from a major mental illness. This illness fails to respect age or socioeconomic advantage.
Nearly one in five children and adolescents will have an emotional-behavioural disorder at some time during their youth, and conservative estimates suggest that 10 per cent of the child population will have mental disturbances with serious associated impairments. Our children are suffering badly. A recent survey by the Western Australian Institute for Child Health and the Australian Bureau of Statistics showed that mental illness comes a very close second to asthma as the most prevalent and serious disease affecting the nation's children. The work of people such as Earl Ryan, principal of the Arndell Special School at North Ryde, in caring for children with mental illness is without peer, but the too few special schools such as this one only scratch the surface of the need across New South Wales. In particular, the unmet needs of the mentally ill children and adults in rural and regional New South Wales and in the outer western and south-western suburbs of Sydney are shocking.
Mental illness spreads a web of pain across every suburb of Sydney. In every street of every electorate it touches someone. Its impact is random, although some families suffer an undue burden. All members know sufferers. Few of us - but still a substantial number - will suffer it directly, and for those affected members it will be often tragic or violent and perhaps life shattering if it affects a close relative. All people who have experience of the disease up close know that it changes lives. The National Mental Health Strategy adopted by all Australian governments in 1992 had as one of its aims the need to increase community understanding of mental illness. Therefore, it is important to know the nature of the affliction.
In fact, mental illness is a group of illnesses which can be divided into two main categories; namely, psychotic and non-psychotic. The psychotic illnesses include schizophrenia and bipolar
disorder, which used to be called manic depressive illness. In severe cases of these psychotic illnesses, sufferers experience episodes of extreme dislocation and terror. In recent years the development of effective medication has meant that the lives of many with mental illness has improved dramatically, but too many people undergoing severe episodes of mental illness do not have satisfactory medication or, in fact, due to their illness, refuse to accept necessary medication.
For many family members the weaknesses in the Mental Health Act and the lack of effective treatment options means that they often watch helplessly as their relatives decline further and further into the dark and hopeless world of untreated mental illness. A father of a severely schizophrenic son recently described as a "living grief" watching his son decline into mental illness. The non-psychotic illnesses include phobias, depression, anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorders. All of us in this Chamber at some stage in our lives would have suffered uncontrolled or exaggerated feelings of depression, sadness, tension or fear - such experiences are part of the ebb and flow of our lives. However, tragically for some people, these feelings become so overwhelming that they have difficulty coping with their everyday lives. These feelings can develop into one of the non-psychotic illnesses.
It was my privilege to be introduced in recent months to many of the difficulties and day-to-day realities of the mentally ill and their families by talking to a range of carers, consumer groups, service providers and consumers. Those discussions made it clear that our system in New South Wales has major shortcomings that demand remedy. The problems include: the lack of resources in the public health system and the difficulty of access for the mentally ill; the overstretched community crisis teams; the under funding of community housing programs and the rehabilitation programs that are essential for making community treatment successful; the lack of information for consumers about their illness and means of treating it; the lack of understanding of mental illness amongst some general practitioners and health care workers and the lack of consultation between doctors and their patients, especially over medication; the placement of young mentally ill in adult wards of our public hospitals, so they are placed together with older chronic patients; and, finally, something that all honourable members would be aware of, the avoidable placement of former patients in lonely and inappropriate Department of Housing complexes.
The shortcomings listed above all point to the low priority given for too many years to mental illness and the sufferings of those affected. These are the real problems of real lives. The result has been a huge waste of human potential and so many missed opportunities; immeasurable loneliness and despair; years of effective careers and family development lost; and, worse, a suicide rate that one estimate compares to the size of the road toll every year. In that context I am very proud to be part of a government that accepts that there are major shortcomings in the treatment and care of the mentally ill in New South Wales. At last New South Wales has a government that is truly committed to doing something about this problem. The proof of that is in this budget, in which a substantial increase in the funds for mental illness has been assured.
For that, the strength and vision of the Deputy Premier must be acknowledged. Dr Refshauge made it clear on becoming Minister for Health that, other than the waiting-list problem, the two areas of mental illness and Aboriginal health would be his and this Government's priorities. The setting aside of $338 million for this year's mental health budget is proof of that commitment; it represents an 11.3 per cent increase over last year's budget. The capital works in this area has almost doubled to $22.8 million and there has been a substantial redirection of funds into community mental health programs. That is the difference between this Government and the previous Government. Despite all the rhetoric and all the glossy pamphlets, the previous Government never set aside the funds necessary to ensure that targets were met.
Accordingly, for the level of care provided in New South Wales to be brought up to the level provided in the nearest State the immediate expenditure of more than $30 million is required. That cannot be done in one year. The tragedy is that because of the failure by the Liberal-National Party Government it will take several years for the neglect to be overcome. But there are steps other than funding that are required to achieve the turnaround so urgently needed. The review of the Mental Health Act, under way at present, is essential to protect those who have fallen through the cracks of the present legislation. There must be an immediate infusion of funds into mental health research. The level of funding, poor for most medical research in Australia, is abysmal when it comes to mental health research.
The national education program undertaken under the national mental health care strategy must be continued and expanded. Most honourable members would have seen the television advertising that has accompanied that program. The strength and ability of non-government organisations such as the Association of Relatives and Friends of the Mentally Ill and Mental Health Australia and their continued essential role in the care of the mentally ill must be acknowledged. The rights and skills of consumers and consumer organisations to have a major say in their treatment must be accepted. One of the most fascinating and moving experiences I have had as a local member of Parliament was a visit to the Depressive and Manic Depressive Association one Sunday afternoon in the chapel of Gladesville Hospital.
It was fascinating because for some time these consumers, some of whom were still receiving hospitalisation - indeed, one returned to Royal North Shore Hospital of Sydney that afternoon - discussed the strengths and weaknesses of different medications. They shared information as to what
dosage they were on and what was the best drug for their problems. They talked about treatments and the failure of their medical practitioners to understand or listen to and treat them accordingly. It was moving because in that room was the hope, support and love, so easily expressed, that I have since discovered is common amongst those consumer and support groups dedicated to overcoming the effects of mental illness.
It is proper to finish on that message of hope. Today I have spent a lot of time on the shortcomings of the system, because it is our responsibility as members of Parliament to ensure that they are overcome. It is, however, hope for change, hope in the value of treatment, and hope that experiences of illness will be short lived and controlled in a manner that best characterises the mental health community I have been introduced to. Clearly, all that hope is justified, as it is based on a great love of life and care for other people. This Government has made a great start in turning around the treatment of the mentally ill. In doing so, we are fulfilling the social justice imperative that drives our party. Our challenge is to ensure that we complete that process.
I want to finish by paying tribute to all members of the Labor Party, the union movement and the many supporters who assisted in the campaign to win the seat of Gladesville. Many of those supporters are in the gallery this evening, and I thank them for it. From the leader, Bob Carr, his staff and those who are now Ministers, to the party general secretary and head office staff, to members of local branches and, finally, my children, relatives and friends - they all deserve acknowledgment and the deepest thanks. Without their efforts, loyalty and hard work over five years we could not have been successful. I also thank my colleagues for attending here this evening. It is wonderful for them to be here.
Finally, two special women have to be acknowledged. Jan Burnswoods, a member of the upper House, has been a generous, tireless, tolerant and perceptive adviser, supporter, mentor and friend for the past four years. Without Jan's assistance I would not be a member of this Parliament and the Government would not have the majority that it so enjoys. The Labor Party owes her a great deal. Last, my dear wife, Deborah, who is the centre of my life, helps make sense of the struggle and is essential to my success now and into the future. I cannot thank her enough.
Debate adjourned on motion by Mr Whelan.