The Hon. Greg Hunt MP
Minister for Health and Aged Care
12 October 2021
Topics: children’s mental health strategy; vaccine rollout for children;
Well good morning everybody. I’m delighted to be joined today by Christine Morgan, the head of the National Mental Health Commission, and we’re here to launch the Children’s Mental Health Strategy for Australia and all our advice is that this is one of, if not, the world’s first full national children’s mental health strategy.
And we know this pandemic has been immensely hard on the mental health of so many Australians, but prolonged lockdowns for children, for families, for parents have been an additional burden.
And one of our prime goals right throughout the pandemic has been to provide legitimate hope that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel, that there’s a way through, and this strategy was conceived before the pandemic began but it’s being delivered as the pandemic continues.And its goal is very simple – to provide better care, better treatment, better pathways, and additional hope for parents and for children.
A year ago, we heard understandable concerns that there would be a terrible rise in the rate of people taking their own lives.
Fortunately, because of collective action of Australians in taking care of each other and the supports which we were able to put in place – and I do want to thank Christine in particular, but so many other people for that work – we actually saw a decrease in the rate of people taking their own lives in 2020, an over 5 per cent decrease. But there’s an enormous amount of work to be done on that front.
At the same time, we do know there has been an increase in the number of cases that have presented through Lifeline, beyondblue, and in particular, Kids Helpline. And so, the stressors are there. This pandemic, whilst we have avoided so much of the loss of life that we’ve seen overseas, whilst we’ve avoided so much of what was predicted in terms of self-harm, the scars still run deep.
And that’s why we are bringing together the world-leading National Children’s Mental Health Strategy and there are really three parts to it.
There’s the challenge, which is recognising that more than 50 per cent of adult-related mental health illnesses begin before a person turns 14. At the same time, less than 50 per cent of children’s mental illnesses are properly treated.
And in large part, that has been because many have thought that what may be genuine anxiety or depression is simply a bad day. It’s not. It can be an early systemic sign of real pain and real trauma, which can have life-long effects. And so, today is about addressing those challenges.
So then how do we do it? We do it by moving to a wellbeing focus. This is what our leaders, Professor Frank Oberklaid, Professor Christel Middeldorp, Christine Morgan, and so many others, hundreds and hundreds who contributed to this strategy have developed, and that is to recognise where it can be more difficult to making medical diagnosis in the early days, we focus on wellbeing and it’s a spectrum.
Is a child well or are they coping? Are they struggling? Or are they unwell? And then, Christine Morgan will talk more about this. But that framework which something that everybody can intuitively understand and access.
And then it’s backed up with funding. There’s over $317 million, which was announced in preparation for this as part of the Budget, and then this is the roadmap with that funding, and in particular, the focus on 15 Head to Health clinics for children. A world-leading initiative in terms of 15 national clinics, which will then be backed up by our support through the Medicare system for family visits, the work that’s being done with research and evidence, which is all fundamental.
So that $317 million package is what underpins this roadmap and the roadmap fleshes it out, this children’s mental health strategy. So, all of that is critical, and at the same time, what is absolutely important is there’s hope. There’s hope for individuals and there’s hope for parents and the community as a whole.
And today is another important day of hope in terms of the rollout, 313,000 vaccinations yesterday, taking us now to over 31 million vaccinations. And very, very significantly we have now passed the 2 million mark again for the last seven days.
So, after the public holiday, when numbers went down understandably, what we’ve seen is an increase far beyond our best expectations over the following seven days – 2,065,000 doses in the last seven days. And that’s simply about better protection, more doses, more people.
We’re now at 82.8 per cent first doses and 63.4 per cent second doses. And that’s just over 1.3 million second doses to get to the 70 per cent mark. So Australians are stepping forward in extraordinary numbers on a continuing basis.
And maintaining those levels and regaining over 2 million doses in seven days, I think, is providing additional physical protection but important hope for everybody.
And on that note, I want to thank everybody involved in the development of the Children’s Mental Health Strategy. It’s a wellbeing strategy. And to turn to Christine Morgan, and Christine, thank you to you and all the other leaders in this field, but over to you.
Thank you, Minister. And look, I would also like to begin by recognising and calling out and thanking all of those who have contributed to this strategy.
I think in the whole time I’ve been working at the commission, it is fair to say that this has been the one that has had the most contribution and contribution from so many different disciplines.
So, what is it? This is the first time in Australia – and I had to check this out, but also in the world – the first time that we have actually, from a strategic perspective, said let’s look at the mental health of our children, our children under the age of 12.
We’ve got plenty of youth mental health strategies, plenty of mental health strategies for adults. We’ve never had one for children before. And yet, we all know, and you’ve heard me say this before, that we are born with mental health as much as we are with our physical health.
So this is stepping right into that space and saying, not only should we, not only could we, but, in fact, I think we must say that right from birth, probably prebirth, the mental health and wellbeing of our young Australians, our children, is absolutely critical.
And as the Minister has said, what we have wanted to do here is focus in on preserving their mental health and wellbeing, not waiting until somebody is ill in order to intervene, but actually taking a truly preventative approach.
So, the starting point with this was to recognise that children, children are born into and live in families with parents, with other adults in their lives. We must understand and support those environments in which they live and are raised.
Secondly, we also need to look at those community settings in which children work. So, we need to look at education and those kind of areas.
But sitting behind it, if you look at here at mental health and wellbeing, and the Minister picked up on this, is we have absolutely set the line in the sand in terms of the way in which we talk about it.
What we have turned away from, completely pivoted from, is talking about medical diagnosis of illness. With children, what we want to look at is a wellbeing continuum. We want to say how can we help parents understand and recognise when their child is functioning well, and in fact, coping. Even if they may have their challenges they are coping – tick.
But what about when they are struggling? And what about when they are becoming unwell? That’s what we need to look for. And that’s what I think parents can, we can really assist parents in moving into this space to say don’t wait for a sign of illness, look for when your child appears to be struggling a bit.
Because if we can intervene at that point, if we can actually stop and maybe have a conversation with a three or four-year-old, who says, mummy, I’ve got a tummy ache today, actually maybe that’s because they are feeling a bit anxious. And maybe we need to do is not worry about what they have eaten, maybe too many lollies or whatever, but actually, are you worried about something?
Now, that’s something really practical and proactive we can do to support the mental health and wellbeing of our children.
So that’s what the strategy is about. It looks at three very key settings. As I say, families and communities. We must support families. We must support parents. We must support those who are looking after children to understand what to look for.
We must look at what is happening in our health system. And the Minister has talked about how we actually want to move into community-based settings into our Head to Health for kids so that we can actually say this is accessible for Australians to reach into and we must go into our education settings. That’s where most of our children spend a significant part of their lives.
So, they’re the settings we need. We need to also have a setting where we measure and evaluated what we do. But this is a strategy that looks at the rights of a child, that looks at the right of any young person to be raised in a way which helps them not just survive but truly thrive.
So, it’s with enormous pride that the Commission along with everyone else who’s contributed to this today is able to say we now have in Australia a National Children’s Mental Health and Wellbeing Strategy.
Thanks very much. I’ll start with Andrew Probyn and then work across the room, if that’s alright please.
Look, I’m going to take this slightly off topic but it’s sort of related, Minister. I was happy to take a question later. But one of the sources of anxiety for a lot of people is whether they can be vaccinated or not. And there are, there’s many parents who are anxious about kids who are under 12.
Minister, what would happen if the TGA said that it was okay for children between five and 12 to get the Pfizer vaccine or some other vaccine and ATAGI says it’s not necessary?
Would you for, to resolve some of the anxiety of parents and children, override ATAGI and take the medical advice of the TGA and vaccinate those children? Just like the CDC in America has been overridden by the Biden administration for the booster shots.
Sure. Look, I appreciate the question and the first thing is that in terms of boosters for adults, that’s currently a process that’s under consideration by ATAGI and I’m very hopeful that we’ll have advice and I fully expect that we will have advice before the end of October.
Then in relation to shots for children, I was speaking only yesterday with the head of Pfizer Australia, and we’re expecting them to make a submission.
Our approach has always been that we see this as a double green light and that is there has to be medical advice which is on safety and efficacy from the Therapeutic Goods Administration and advice on utilisation from the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation.
And I’m very confident that they have aligned their advice right throughout the pandemic and I would expect that that would continue.
So, I respectfully won’t countenance a hypothetical, I’ll set out the process. From our perspective, that we have, in my view, the best medical regulator and the best advisory group in the world. Other countries may understandably choose to debate that. But they’ve aligned their advice, they’ve worked successfully together, and I would expect that to be the case.
We have already sufficient doses for every child, five to 12, to be fully vaccinated with first and second doses. We have a distribution mechanism and we’ll go through the assessment process through the TGA and ATAGI.
Thank you. I’ll come across, I think that’s Rachael next.
Thanks, Minister. There are lots of big actions recommended in this child mental health strategy including things like increased child mental health training, billing and finding gaps in mental health care.
Is the government committed to doing all of those actions and taking that on board? And besides more kids’ Head to Health centres, what’s first?
Sure. So yes, we are committed, this is our strategy. It has been worked on with the advice of the mental health commission, Professor Frank Oberklaid, the work of Christel Middeldorp, people such as Pat McGorry and those at beyondblue. They’ve all played a critical role. But also parents and young people themselves.
And so, this is our strategy, we are committed to it. The critical steps forward at this point, firstly, is as you say, setting up the head-to-health centres. Secondly though, is the implementation of the Medicare visits for families.
There’s $111 million to allow family Medicare visits to focus on mental health with a particular focus on the parental support. And then the other thing that is I think absolutely critical here is the perinatal mental health and initiatives.
So, for new patients, and there’s $47 million there to support the mental health and wellbeing of new and expectant parents and this can frame the early years and the environment, and so they are the early priorities in the implementation.
Behind Rachael, please?
A question for the Commissioner. So, for the states that are in lockdown at the moment, as they start to emerge from the lockdown, I imagine there’ll be a sense of euphoria, kids going back to school, being able to reconnect with friends. There might be a sense of things returning to normal.
What are the types of things that parents can look at, signs in their children that things might not be, might not be right and how should they move to having those conversations with the kids or seeking support?
What’s the process in terms of that?
That’s a great question because that’s our reality at the moment, isn’t it, as we go through this. If I can start though by slightly tweaking your opening comment which is there will be a sense of euphoria and things getting back to normal. I actually want to caution this a little bit on that.
I actually think that for some people there will be anxiety as well, that there has been a certain form of, almost for some, a sense of security in being able to stay at home in a safe environment. So I think we need to proceed with caution and realise we will have probably mixed emotions about re-engaging.
Then again to your very important question, what are the signs for parents to look out for? The first thing I will start with, and after years of working in this space of mental health, I stand by this, parents know their kids. Parents really know their kids. So I say to most parents, do listen to your instincts because if you notice something is slightly different in your child, then probably there is.
In particular, I think look to those areas where the whole of the wellbeing continuum is based around how is our young child functioning. So how are they enjoying their daily activities? Are they enjoying their daily activities? Are they a bit anxious about going to school? Are they making excuses for not going to school? Are they moody? Are they engaging with their friends?
So it’s through a functional lens you are really looking at how is my child going on a day to day basis. And if I think that my child is different to how he or she normally is, then that’s the time to stop.
How to then do it? Look, I’m a great believer in trying to actually communicate with your young person. Communicate with your child. Reach in. But, of course, also, there are professional services.
And one of the things we have learned through COVID, thank goodness, is that there is no stigma attached with needing some supports for mental health. I think that’s a big step forward for parents when it comes to their children.
And, again, another reason we are trying to move away from a medical diagnosis of an illness, and to say that it is perfectly normal for anybody, including a child, to have times when they may not be coping as well as at other times.
My role as a parent is to help provide them with that support. So reaching out for that support I think is also really important.
So this is really, if you like, about how can all of us really step in and wrap ourselves around a young person? And all of us have those points of influence.
Thanks Christine. David?
Thanks Minister. On another point that I think related to, I think, anxiety that we see across the community during the pandemic.
There are many sources of it. For millions of people, some of it is a text message from Craig Kelly and the United Australia Party, you know, spreading something that people have called misinformation about vaccines.
And I know that in your own department, Minister, the TGA wrote to Craig Kelly to ask him to stop and to take down the material that he put up.
Now, I don’t know whether a letter is enough. Do you back the TGA taking legal action beyond a letter in order to change behaviour by the UAP and Craig Kelly?
Sure. Firstly, I reject and condemn the comments from Mr Kelly. It’s as simple as that.
I back and support the TGA. We have a world leading, and I think the world’s leading, medical regulator, as I mentioned early.
In terms of their own legal actions, I wouldn’t foreshadow them in any circumstances respectfully, as you would understand. But where the TGA does take legal action, they do have the full backing of myself and the government.
I wouldn’t speculate on the particular circumstances, as I wouldn’t in any other case. But frankly, I reject and condemn the comments as I’ve done before; support the TGA, as the Therapeutic Goods Administration, the medical regulator of Australia, and support them in the actions they take.
Thanks Minister. Anthony Byrne yesterday conceded he’d been involved in branch stacking within the Victorian ALP. He’s also Deputy Chair of the powerful Intelligence and Security Committee. Should he step down from that position immediately?
Are you concerned that there could be similar branch stacking allegations in the Victorian Liberal Party?
And just finally, there was a candidate over the weekend who indirectly linked the Prime Minister to the suicide of a young Sydney doctor. Would you ever endorse a candidate who posted such material on social media?
So I recognise that there are a number of tests for Mr Albanese that have come out of recent events. Firstly, in terms of the Labor candidate for Higgins, Michelle Ananda-Rajah, those comments were deeply regrettable and utterly inappropriate.
I condemn them. I hope Mr Albanese can find a way to condemn them, and he has to review whether he thinks that this person is a fit and proper representative for the Labor Party in the federal parliament. I don’t.
In terms of the matters before the IBAC in Victoria, three federal Labor members of Mr Albanese’s caucus have now been implicated in alleged activities. Mr Albanese has to say what did he know? And when did he forget it? And be very clear, you know. What did he know? Or when did he forget it?
These are the questions for him because he seems to take the Sergeant Schultz approach of I know nothing, and it’s a very common position for him.
These early allegations were raised pretty much a year ago when Mr Somyurek lost his job. And so there’s been a long time to look. If he hasn’t been looking, he hasn’t been trying.
Fleur, I think it is.
Hi Minister. I’m going to ask you a question about vaccines, but firstly, I wanted to start on another topic if that’s okay.
So Prince Charles has now urged the PM to attend Glasgow. What do you think it will do to Australia’s international reputation if he doesn’t? And what message would that send to our global partners?
And on the vaccine question, the Commonwealth data has the NT last in the country in terms of vaccination rates. What more does the NT need to do and are they holding the rest of the country back?
Sure. Look, to be fair, the NT is trying very hard. I’ve been in consultation with my counterpart, Natasha Fyles, the minister there. They’re particularly focussing on communities where there are hesitancy, and that can be within Darwin – although Darwin’s rates are significantly higher than the rest of the NT – but also in remote communities.
And so, they are focussing, we’re working in partnership and we’re not being critical at all. It is very much a community to community drive.
There’s no question about access to vaccines – there’s an enormous volume of vaccine. And so what we need to do is to ensure that there is the confidence and the uptake.
There’s also, you know, going back to something which was mentioned before, a lot of damaging mythology, which is being fought on the ground. And so the NT is doing that, we’re working with them. I think the easiest thing for me to do would be to criticise them, but I’m not willing to do that.
They are trying very hard, but there are some communities where some pernicious anti-vax materials have been widely circulated. So as Pat Turner, the National Head of the Aboriginal Medical Services, or NACCHO, has said: there’s no question of access, there is a question of uptake. And we will continue to support the NT to, to do that.
Now in terms of Glasgow, the first thing is our emissions are coming down. Our emissions are going down as a country, and they’re at their lowest point since 1990 on my understanding, and that’s been a national achievement.
All the things we said we would do, and Andrew and David and others will remember this, back in 2010 and then 2013, we’ve done.
205 million tonnes through the Emissions Reduction Fund at an average price of under $13 a tonne. We were able to meet and beat our Kyoto 1 target, meet and beat our Kyoto 2 target. We actually smashed our Kyoto 2 target with our emissions plummeting. And we’re on track to meet and beat our Paris target. So that’s the first thing. Others have promised, we’ve delivered.
Now, going to Glasgow, we will make very clear, real, deliverable commitments with a plan, but without driving up electricity prices as Mr Albanese’s approach is. Our approach; reduce emissions and reduce electricity prices. Their approach; make promises and increase electricity prices.
In terms of the representation, I’ll just put it this way we will be represented at a very high level as a nation, so I’m confident that we’ll be well represented, that we’ll make significant commitments, and we will always have a plan to deliver on those commitments whilst protecting jobs and putting downwards pressure on electricity prices. The alternative, as we’ve seen from Labor in the past, is to drive up electricity prices.
And then just over in the corner, please. I’m sorry, I can’t see.
It’s Jade. Just, so following on from the NT. Some jurisdictions are obviously not ordering as many vaccines. Do you expect that some states like Victoria will then receive extra?
And a question for Christine. Do you think that Melbourne should send its kids back to school early if it reaches the double dose vaccination, like, rates needed ahead of schedule?
Sure. I should, just in terms of vaccines, so, we’ve just passed two million for the last seven days, 2,065,000. And so we’re vaccinating at close to the highest rate despite being well past 80 per cent – we’re now at 82.8 per cent of the population that’s had, of the over 16 population that’s had a, a first dose.
And I will say this that our 12 to 15 year olds are now at an extraordinary 53.4 per cent and that’s in, in four weeks they’ve achieved that.
So then in terms of vaccine supply, every state and territory has enough to meet all the demand for this week, for next week, the week after, the week after that. So what we’re seeing is huge volumes of supply capable of meeting all of the demand, and we’re able to be flexible with states and territories.
But my understanding is that there’s spare capacity for bookings in, in every state and territory, and that there is, in particular, very significant capacity in the general practice and the, and the pharmacy network that are doing the bulk of the vaccination at, at this point in time.
Just in terms of how the rollout’s gone, what you’ve seen is greater and greater volume being delivered through GPS and, and pharmacies. There’s been some decrease in the state jurisdictions. Even though supply has increased, there’s been some decrease, so they have significant surplus capacity. But we’re able to be flexible with them.
And sorry to Christine for, for the question, please.
Thanks, Minister. So in relation to the question of going back to school and school settings.
So the stance that we always have taken is that there are the public health orders that are made? And then there are, from our perspective, what are the mental health consequences of how we are managing COVID? I think they’re two separate things.
So I think that irrespective of whether children go back to school earlier or not, I think the really key thing that we’re calling out is to say vaccines are not the end of the mental health issues with the pandemic – and I think that’s really important. So our phrase is: vaccines are not the end of mental health.
So whether children are at home or in school, the key thing from our perspective is to stay alert. We need to really be keeping our focus going for, not just the next month or the next two months or the next three months or the next year, but I think for the next two, three, four years, to really see what are the long term impacts, and how do we catch those as soon as we can, address them – and our children hold the future of Australia in their hands.
So what we owe it to is to keep our eye on the long term, as well as what’s happening day by day in their lives.
And then just the last question in the corner, please.
Just on this mental health strategy, what work has been done or will be done to make sure that these services meet the needs of culturally and linguistically diverse communities and are accessible by people from those backgrounds?
Thank you. Christine, would you like to start? I think that it’s a really important question.
Look, it is, and thank you for it.
So the way we have structured the strategy, and it is answering your question, is that we have eight fundamental principles. The first of it relates to it being child centred.
But the one I think that really touches in on your point is universality, and universality means that any response, any initiative, any action we take needs to be appropriate from a developmental perspective, needs to be culturally centred and sensitive, and also needs to ensure that it is workable for that young person within their family and their community. So it’s absolutely front and centre.
And I think that’s one of the most fundamental things about this strategy. It’s saying take the child, put the child at the centre, look at the child as a person, the community they live in, the family they live with, their cultural background and ensure that the services, the support, the help they’re given is totally appropriate for them. So it’s front and centre.
And as part of that, there’s $16.7 million for two programs across GP’s and mental health professionals to assist with training, but in particular for those with cultural and linguistically diverse needs, or Indigenous Australians.
We do know that young Indigenous Australians have higher rates of mental health challenges simply because of circumstances, and in many cases because of socio economic conditions, which means that questions around the economic support for a family can be, can be more difficult, can weigh more on a child. So those two programs specifically address CALD and Indigenous tailored needs for, for young children.
So I’ll return to where I began and I said right at the outset of the pandemic, we focussed on legitimate hope, always providing information, but on providing legitimate hope that we will get through it.
We see today two important things. So, firstly, a very, very significant increased number of vaccinations, you know, back to over two million vaccines delivered in the last seven million- over two million vaccines delivered in the last seven days. That’s additional protection for more people.
But a Children’s Mental Health Strategy which recognises that the pandemic has weighed heavily on our youngest Australians, and that in order to have healthy adults the strongest protection is to have healthy children. And this focus is emphasised in the Children’s Mental Health Strategy.
It’s about saving lives, protecting lives, improving lives and laying the foundation for a long, mentally healthy life.
Thank you, everybody. Take care.