Tuesday, 7 February 2023

Questions without notice

Mental health

Emma KEALY, Gabrielle WILLIAMS

Mental health

Emma KEALY (Lowan) (14:33): My question is to the Minister for Mental Health. In 2016 the Andrews Labor government released the 2016–25 suicide prevention framework with a single goal: to halve the number of suicides in Victoria by 2025. Tragically last year 100 more Victorians took their own life than seven years ago. In the three years remaining what will the government do differently to achieve the goal of halving Victoria’s suicide rate by 2025?

Gabrielle WILLIAMS (Dandenong – Minister for Mental Health, Minister for Ambulance Services, Minister for Treaty and First Peoples) (14:33): I thank the member for Lowan for her question. I want to say at the outset that each death by suicide is one too many in our community, and many of us in this place will know only too well the impact that suicide has on families and friends and loved ones of those individuals and indeed on communities. It is so very devastating. I also want to acknowledge the lifelong impacts that these incidents have, and I say this as somebody who has experienced this in my own family very recently, and I know that it is an issue very close to the hearts of many in this place.

The factors that contribute to suicide we know are very, very complex, and I want to point out that many of the deaths that have occurred, say, last year, are still very much under investigation. I want to be very mindful not to get into speculating around causes of deaths. But to the member for Lowan’s question around what we are doing into the future on this, I think we have got a very good story to tell on this side of the house, and I am very proud to be able to tell it. In the 2021–22 budget this government committed some $173.4 million to responding to the royal commission recommendations specifically for suicide prevention and response. That of course forms a part of some $6 billion that we have so far invested in implementing the Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System’s final report recommendations – $6 billion. We should be proud of that investment, and we know that we have a lot more work to do to make sure that we are breathing life into the vision that was outlined in those royal commission findings.

But in terms of that specific response that was targeted towards suicide, both prevention and response, it went to expanding the hospital outreach post-suicidal engagement program. It went to co-designing and developing a new suicide prevention and response strategy with, very importantly, people with lived experience of suicide at the very heart of that strategy. We know that it is critical to delivering the outcomes that our community expects and deserves long into the future. It also goes to implementing a distress brief intervention program pilot, which provides a 14-day intervention for people experiencing psychological distress. Building on this – that was 2021–22 – in 2022–23 we provided a further $21 million to support community-wide suicide prevention and response efforts. We have as a part of targeted programs around Aboriginal communities allowed those communities to co-design self-determined suicide prevention and postvention initiatives. We have had programs targeting our LGBTIQ community; it is particularly important at the moment that we mention that in light of Midsumma and our huge turnouts at Pride on the weekend. We also have invested in co-designing a statewide pilot peer call-back service for families, carers and supporters who are caring for people experiencing suicidal behaviour, among many other things, including of course further boosting that HOPE program to 21 sites across our state. We have been doing an enormous amount of work in this space, and we will continue to do an enormous amount of work in this space because we recognise how important it is and we recognise how important it is to continue investing.

We made that point very clearly in our response to the Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System. Sadly, the mechanisms that we put in place to ensure that there would continue to be strong investment in our mental health system were not wholly supported by the opposition, who had significant issues with the government’s actions to ensure that we enshrined solid investment in our mental health system.

James Newbury: On a point of order, Speaker, this is a very sensitive issue, and it was a very clear and straight question. I am sure we would all appreciate the minister not doing the house a disservice by debating the question.

The SPEAKER: Order! Was the minister speaking on the point of order or returning to the question? This is a sensitive issue. I do ask the minister to come back to answering the question and not debating this particular issue.

Gabrielle WILLIAMS: Thank you, Speaker. We have not wasted a single day in working to rebuild this state’s mental health system, and we will not waste a day going forward. Our work and our commitment remain strong to deliver on every single one of the commission’s 74 recommendations, including those that pertain to suicide prevention and response. You have my personal commitment to that work of course. As others have pointed out in their responses today, Victorians have made their views very clear, and they know that only an Andrews Labor government can be trusted to deliver on very significant generational reform to our mental health system. Those opposite, quite frankly, have zero credibility on this issue. We will continue to be focused on delivering outcomes for our community, the outcomes that they need and deserve, and the outcomes that we committed to delivering when the royal commission handed down its report.