Labor’s first federal budget in nearly a decade has a number of key policies designed to tackle Australia’s mental health crisis.
However, spending in this budget appears to be small in comparison to other measures, and mainly seems geared toward expanding the Headspace programme, which successive governments have done previously.
Affecting roughly one in five Aussies, mental health concerns have sharply increased over the past few years, with the pandemic and the cost of living crisis exacerbating existing conditions.
Treasurer Jim Chalmers did dedicate a section of his economic plan to “wellbeing”, stating that national wellbeing will now be measured by the government, with key indicators and targets set to improve it.
“This Budget focuses on building what we need, protecting what’s precious to us, and backing the people, sectors and communities strengthening our economy,” he said.
Here’s what Labor has to offer on mental health care in their 2022-2023 economic plan.
The Wellbeing Budget
Back in July, Chalmers announced that he would seek to measure wellbeing, not just economic performance, in his time as Treasurer.
“We should judge our policies, including our economic policies against agreed markers of progress,” he said.
“That begins with measuring what matters, not instead of traditional economic indicators but in addition to.”
In budget documents, the Treasury have said that they will develop an “overarching framework” that seeks to measure things like health, environmental wellbeing, and political representation.
$203.7 Million to Boost Student Wellbeing
The government is set to invest $474.5 million over the next two years into schooling. Part of that package includes what they describe as a “Student Wellbeing Boost.”
On average, each school across the country will receive $20,000 towards improving student mental health and wellbeing.
They have also said that they will be developing a new “voluntary mental health check tool” to help schools identify students who might be struggling and ensure they get the help they need.
$23.5 Million to Headspace
Headspace, the national non-profit mental health service geared towards younger Aussies, will receive a $23.5 million spending boost in this budget.
This will mainly go to the development of three new Headspace centres in Edmonson Park in NSW, as well as Armstrong Creek and South Melbourne in Victoria. Two “satellite services” will also be established in Kiama, also in NSW, and Bribie Island in Queensland.
More Mental Health Support for Flood-Affected Communities in NSW
Following the Biblical floods experienced in the Northern Rivers region of NSW, the government is committing $13 million over four years in mental health support for those affected.
This includes $8.5 million for youth mental health services in Ballina and Hawkesbury as well as $4.4 million for emergency mental health responders.
Restoring Regional Mental Telehealth Services
Labor have committed $47.7 million over four years to reinstate telehealth coverage payments for mental health services in regional and rural areas.
The new policy will cover 50% of the cost of over-the-phone psychiatric consultations, something they promised to deliver during the election campaign.
Cheaper Medicines Under the PBS
“This budget also makes medicines cheaper by slashing the PBS maximum general co-payment to $30 a script from the 1st of January next year,” Chalmers announced
This would save up to $12.50 per script for about 3.6 million Australians every year, the government estimates.
At a cost of $787.1 million over four years, the maximum cost of general scripts covered under the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme will be cut from $42.50 to $30. This is the first time medicines have become cheaper on the PBS in the programme’s 75-year history.
Better Post-Natal Mental Health Care
The government is set to create a new national network of perinatal mental health and wellbeing centres, they have announced.
Twelve centres across Australia will be established to to provide psychological counselling services to new and expecting parents.
In addition, families bereaved by stillbirth will get an extra $13.9 million in extra support services, including free hospital transport costs and extra perinatal loss care workers.
Click here for our full coverage of what Labor’s budget means for climate change, parenting, and the cost of living.