Campus

Does the government actually care about mental health?

11 May 2017

The 2017 Australian Federal Budget, released on Tuesday night, offered many promising changes to the health sector. This included a lift of the Medicare rebate freeze, and an investment of over $9 million on mental health services over the next four years.

Additionally, Treasurer Scott Morrison surprised many when he rightfully referred to eating disorders as mental illnesses in his official speech.

“I also announce a commitment of $80 million for Australians with a mental illness such as severe depression, eating disorders, schizophrenia and post-natal depression resulting in a psychosocial disability,” he said.

Mental health research programs in general will also receive $15 million assistance. Lifeline will be able to strengthen its suicide prevention services with a further $2.1 million increase in funding.

The mental health sector has heavily praised these initiatives, many describing them as a win.

However, some measures were met with criticism on social media, specifically reforms to the Centrelink system, which could potentially affect the mental health of welfare recipients.

A new demerit based system might leave some students without welfare. Points will be deducted if a person misses a Centrelink meeting or interview without providing a satisfactory excuse.

If four demerit points are lost over six months, a person enters a three strike ‘Intense Compliance Phase’. One strike is equal to a 50 per cent reduction of fortnightly payments, two strikes are equal to 100 per cent of fortnightly payments taken away for that fortnight, and a third strike cancels payments for one month.

This will save the government $632 million over five years.

President of the University of Melbourne Student Union (UMSU), Yan Zhuang said that the changes will put welfare recipients through even more unnecessary hoops.

“There are a range of reasons why people miss Centrelink appointments and a one size fits all approach will never work,” Zhuang said on Radio Fodder’s 2017 Budget Special.

Many, like Zhuang, have voiced that these new installations are unfair. These changes could prompt students to refrain from applying for Youth Allowance, thus preventing them from accessing services they are entitled to.

Centrelink also will begin drug testing welfare recipients, including students on Youth Allowance, from January 1 2018. Those who test positive for drug use, including marijuana, will be given a welfare card that limits their payments for up to two years. This card will also monitor where their money is being spent.

5,000 people per year will be randomly drug tested in three undetermined locations around Australia.

Those selected will not be informed that they are taking a drug test, Centrelink will merely send them a letter requesting a compulsory meeting. This may create unnecessary anxiety for recipients.

Results will be drawn from saliva, urine and hair follicle tests. If a person tests positive twice, they will be referred to a medical professional to discuss their payment plan and general career goals.

More promisingly, a range of health services will continue to be subsidised by the government. This means students will be able to access a range of health services without having cost anxieties and will not have to think twice about seeking assistance when they are in need.

The government will also be reintroducing bulk billing for diagnostic imaging and pathology services, and there will be a 0.5 per cent increase on the Medicare levy.

Additionally, the government will invest in regional, rural and remote mental health services. Services will be improved via telehealth, which refers to the use of information and communication technologies to overcome a patient’s distance from a physical psychological facility.

This will enable regional students to access satisfactory mental health care even when they are away from university.