Greg Hunt

Federal Member for Flinders | Minister for Health

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Interview with Sabra Lane - ABC AM

Monday, 14 May 2018

Topics: The extension of the National Suicide Prevention Trial with a further $13 million investment; Record mental health funding in the Budget


Mental health is a big beneficiary of money from the Federal Budget. Millions of dollars are being poured into research in finding better ways of treating patients, indeed trying to prevent poor mental health in the first place. 

The Health Minister Greg Hunt has made mental health a priority for the Government and he joins us now on the phone from Melbourne. Good morning, Minister, and welcome to AM.


Good morning, Sabra.

You’re announcing today that the Government’s extending the national suicide prevention trial by 12 months to June 2020 with an extra $13 million. What results have there been so far from this trial?

So what we’ve seen is that there’s been very strong support on the ground. What we do is there are 12 sites around the country and they can be in urban areas such as Brisbane north or Perth south or north-western Melbourne or they can be very remote areas such as the Kimberley or Northern Queensland, so it’s right around Australia. 

Different methods are being trialled in different places. That’s exactly what we’re doing. We’ve seen promising early developments, the figures will take more time because coronial figures are always very carefully worked through, but the message from the ground is we are seeing progress and what we want to do as a government is make sure that we have the right approach to mental health and to suicide prevention for each community. So local solutions to local challenges and that’s why we’re extending this on top of the very significant suicide prevention program with Lifeline and beyondblue and SANE that was announced last week in the Budget.

So are there promising results at each of those 12 trial sites and have the researchers actually asked for more time?

This is in response indeed to the views on the ground that progress is being made. What we want to do is take a two year program and extend it out to be a three year program. My hope or my expectation is that we will ultimately make this a permanent program and then extend it across the whole of the country. 

The critical thing here is that different communities can have different experiences. I visited Grafton shortly after coming in, I went with Pat McGorry. Grafton had a series of tragic youth suicides. We met with parents, we met with teenagers and those within the schools and we responded to that with a new headspace for that town. 

That was in response to the requests and the needs of the community. So you can have a cluster or a contagion effect amongst young people. In other areas there can be issues of Indigenous suicide and obviously in older communities loneliness and isolation. So it’s about tailoring the right response to the particular needs of the community.

You’ve just talked about loneliness. The Government’s put in $20 million to improve mental health services for those aged over 75. In dealing with social isolation and loneliness, how can you treat that?

GREG HUNT:          
Well there are some very interesting examples. I visited on Friday, Frankston Hospital with the Treasurer and Chis Crewther the local member, they have a system called MEPACS where seniors have the ability to press a button on a chain around their neck if there’s an urgent crisis. But they can also call in at night and in the morning, particularly if they’re living alone to say look I’m just going to bed or I’ve just got up, and that contact is very, very important. 

The package in the Budget for older Australians was $102 million focused solely on the mental health element and that’s $82 million for nursing home and residential care mental health support and an additional $20 million for mental health nurses to provide that contact for those who are in the community. 

They might be living alone, isolated, they might have that sense of loneliness and mental health nurses both have the skills and they have the capacity to visit people in their own homes or to talk over the phone. So telephone services but face to face services are incredibly important in giving people a sense that they are not alone and that they are not isolated. 

Can you give Australians an assurance that if, it’s noble, that all this money is being spent on mental health, that they’re going to be peer-reviewed and that if the programs aren’t shown to be working that that money will stop and be spent on things that do work?

Well, I can guarantee that the funds that mental health and suicide prevention will continue to grow. For individual programs, of course they are reviewed and they should be reviewed and the results can and will be published and the whole point of having trials is to find the best approaches. So we’re not afraid of trying things, working with people…

And not afraid to say when things fail that they do fail?


Absolutely. I mean, that’s the whole point of having trials, to find what works and what’s not as effective. We are introducing the Million Minds 10-year $125 million mental health research program. We’ll have people such as Professor Helen Milroy, who’s one of our leading Indigenous academics in any field in Australia, but she happens to focus on Indigenous mental health and youth trauma. 

Pat McGorry and Tracey Wade, who’s arguably, one of the leading eating disorder specialists in the country. So this will be the longest research program in Australian history and the most significant, and it will be bringing together experts. But their goal at the end of the day over the course of a decade is to try to bring services and have research results which will provide better care for up to a million Australians. So we’re trying new things, we’re adding funds, but most importantly, it's about giving people that sense that there are places to where they can turn and people whom they can approach to seek help.

Minister, quickly on a separate party matter, Jane Prentice has lost her preselection in a vote of party members. It seems to be there’ll be no intervention to save her there, yet there’ll be intervention to save Ian Goodenough in the west, someone who is not a frontbencher. What message does this send?

Look, I’m not aware of the situation in relation to Ian Goodenough, I have to confess, but I know both Ian and Jane. I liked and trust them and value them immensely. I’m personally very disappointed about Jane’s loss and I know this is part of the process. Amanda Stoker from Queensland, a brilliant young barrister, was recently elected to the Senate by the Queensland LNP. 

I’m very hopeful that Georgina Downer will be given the preselection in South Australia for the seat of Mayo and she’ll be very, very competitive if she’s preselected. So there are competitive preselections and there are brilliant, new young women coming forward. In Jane’s case, I’m personally just disappointed at the outcome.

Health Minister Greg Hunt, thanks for talking to AM this morning.

It’s a pleasure.

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