Greg Hunt

Federal Member for Flinders | Minister for Health

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Interview with Lee Dixon - Sea FM. Lee and Jess for Breakfast

Wednesday, 4 July 2018

Topics: $4.8 million for mental health services in North West Tasmania; adverse health effects of recreational marijuana use 

LEE DIXON:            
Earlier on his morning we had the Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt in the studio. Also, Liberal Candidate for Braddon, Brett Whiteley, to discuss major funding for the North West Coast.

There is indeed. So Brett Whiteley has been making the case to me, along with the assessment from the local Primary Health Network. Mental health funding, $4.8 million for Devonport, Burnie and the North West. We know that this is incredibly important in every community in Australia but there are particular needs in this area. 

So it's about $2.4 million for mental health nurses based out of Devonport but serving the whole region, $600,000 for Burnie to build on what they've already got there. And then for the region, another $1.6 million for Psychology CAFFE, an amazing service that provides a different way of delivering mental health support as well as helping out King Island.

LEE DIXON:            
Correct. Good morning to you, Brett. How are you, mate?

Hey Lee.

LEE DIXON:            
I was going to ask, does this affect our islands as well?

Very much. I mean, as you know better than most that we've got a couple of isolated spaces on the West Coast, obviously our mining towns and King Island, and the funds that we're providing today will make sure that outreach services are certainly heading down the West Coast area, and we need to make sure we don't forget our brothers and sisters on King Island. So $200,000 - I'm pretty excited about that to make sure support services there are covered.

Greg, can you explain to us the CAFFE? Is this a new term or a new program?

Well, we’re off to visit them this morning, but we met with Tracey and talked with her about the way they deliver the services. What happens is that people come to a much more relaxed environment. It’s not just seeing the psychologist. There's a warm, welcoming environment…

I was going to say…

…  they can come, they can chill.

… from the get-go, it sounds very clinical, which might turn a few people off.


Traditional services are that way.

Yeah people see psychology and they often wonder, gosh, will I be stigmatised? They come to the Psychology CAFFE, it's a much more mellow environment. Still the same professional quality services, but just delivered in a way where people, particularly young people who might feel a little uncomfortable  are able to walk through the door. 

And our first task is to get people to believe that they can and should seek help, that this is normal. Four million Australians a year. Our second is to provide the services. So, with this, we're doing both things. Dealing with some of the hurdles where people are still nervous or worried, and then secondly providing the services. I'll go to a footy club, and there'll be lots of noise and lots of talk. Once you begin to talk about mental health, bang. The guys will all go silent, because every single person knows somebody. And you can be talking to a group of nurses, you can be talking to the netball team and everybody is either in their family, with their friends, with their team mates or it's themselves.

And I think- sorry, Lee, I was just saying think what’s great about the funding for Psychological CAFFE  in particular is it’s going to give them certainty for the next four years. This funding for them is over four years, which means they can now go and attract professionals to come and relocate. We know that people are wanting to come and bring their families and live in Tassie because we know it's a great place but they need certainty of employment. 

A professional in Melbourne or further north is not going to pack up a family without the certainty of a contract. So this is going to provide $1.6 million over four years, lock in a contract, lock in three or four more professionals, more appointments available, more outreach services available. It’s a win-win.

LEE DIXON:         
What I was going to address is that when we talk about mental health, that stigma is attached to it, we're slowly busting through those barriers. I don't know, we've all got a brain. We’ve all got to pay attention to the health of our brain. So it's not as though it's something that we should be pigeonholed.


Well you're absolutely right. It’s something that long ago should have been dealt with. Over the last two decades, and in particular, as you say, over the last five years, there's been enormous progress. I've got to say perhaps nobody has done more than Pat McGorry and Jeff Kennett from Victoria, but around the country people are saying: I know, you know, whether it's myself or my family or my friends, it could be anxiety, depression, eating disorders, anorexia and other things. 

Very, very common but still hidden in the dark. And so we’re trying to give people the space to feel that they can talk about it with those around them and then the services so as they can go out. And that was what Brett said. He said, we’ve got a great area but our people are the same as those around the country, they have needs, and we need more support in this space.

And we need people to be vulnerable, you know, and this- the culture of Australia, as we all know in this room, has been the strong backbone. You know, don’t admit you might have a challenge, don’t admit that things might be tough in your life. And so this is, you know, I think we've seen that culture change over years now, led by people like Patrick McGorry and Jeff Kennett. That’s a credit to them. But we need to now put in place those additional support services to allow people to have the space, as the minister said, to find that support they need.


You're on the action trail, Brett, at the moment with the by-election coming up. Jarrod Edwards has announced, from what I can gather, one policy so far and that’s to legalise the recreational use of marijuana. Can I get your stance on that, because we will have Jarrod on the show at some point before the media blackout. What is, what are your opinions?

Well look, I think what’s disappointing to start with is that there is a - I think there’s a deliberate campaign to confuse the public in relation to two very different matters. That is medicinal cannabis for obviously medicinal purposes and then the whole recreational use of cannabis. And I'm disappointed that I think there's a confusion aspect to this, so let me be clear. I'm very supportive - have been for many years - on the use- on the controlled behaviours, of course - and controlled environments, I should say of medicinal cannabis. 

But I am completely emphatically opposed to the opening up of recreational cannabis because it's a gateway to other drugs. I don't need to tell you, Lee, what challenges that are on the North West Coast when it comes to all sorts of drugs but some in particular. It certainly is a gateway and I'll let the minister talk more about how the impact of recreational use leads to tremendously serious negative outcomes in mental health, which leads to what we’re here today.

Contradicts what you're here for.

Well exactly right and I’m sorry to say this for the Greens candidate, but it's an utterly irresponsible position. And this isn’t any great moralising views. It's the fact that over the last decade, we've seen more and more evidence. Recreational cannabis is very damaging to mental health in so many cases. It's not just what it can do in terms of anxiety. It can lead to psychosis and that can be a violent outbreak, it can be deeply distressing for the person involved or for family and friends. And whether it's the Royal College of Psychiatrists in the UK that’s done considerable work in this, I was with the Chief Medical Office of Australia only yesterday discussing this question.

It's absolutely clear that this is a dangerous drug. It's something which should be only dealt with through the prescription of a doctor for medicinal purposes, and we're able to do that now. We've changed that on our watch and Brett was one of the advocates for controlled access. But if this is being sold on the streets and if it can be laced with crystal meth, if it can be laced with other products, then it's not just dangerous, it's a gateway. So utterly irresponsible and I'm glad that we've got somebody like Brett who's just saying - not on my watch.

LEE DIXON:            
Appreciate you coming in this morning, and we look forward to that funding being secured.


Thanks Lee.


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