Chanting “Fund the gap or we’ll be back,” more than 200 health workers protested outside Victorian health minister Martin Foley’s office on August 16 to demand the Labor state government restore funding to community mental health services. Services have been severely affected by the state government’s decision to cut $75 million from mental health funding.
Speakers at the protest said the state government is using the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) as a pretext to cut funds. However, there are nearly 135,000 people in Victoria with mental health needs not covered by the NDIS.
There is a crisis in Victoria’s mental health sector due to services being crippled by funding cuts, according to the Australian Services Union (ASU).
The result has been a sharp rise in cases of people with mental health needs approaching hospital emergency departments for services that community centres could provide. According to the ASU, admissions at emergency departments have jumped 19% over the past four years.
While the national average for spending on mental health is $227 per capita, Victoria currently spends only $197, the lowest level in Australia, according to the ASU.
ASU delegate Adam Bottomley told Green Left Weekly that the NDIS excludes tens of thousands of people needing mental health care from services it provides. Controlled by the federal government, the NDIS strips community centres of the ability to assess the needs of sufferers.
ASU state secretary Lisa Darmanin said a resolution to the crisis cannot wait until after the November state election. The protest unanimously endorsed her resolution to continue to come back until the state government restores funding to mental health services.
Speaking to GLW at the protest, Victorian Socialists upper house candidate and Moreland councillor Sue Bolton said: “It is shameful that state and federal governments and local councils have used the NDIS as an excuse to scrap public disability services.
“A lot of people are being rejected by the NDIS and at the same time are losing access to public disability services. Groups that are being rejected are people with serious mental illness and people with psycho-social disabilities. Other groups that are being rejected are people with conditions that fluctuate, such as multiple sclerosis.
“Unfortunately, the NDIS is being used by governments as a battering ram to eliminate public services via a voucher model to deliver services. The voucher system is what destroyed Victoria’s public TAFE system.
“We need public disability services that include flexibility to suit the needs of people. Victorian Socialists call on the state government to reverse the cuts to community mental health.”