Assistant Minister for Mental Health and Suicide Prevention, speech – 16 May 2024

Department of Health

Check against delivery

  • I’d like to acknowledge the traditional custodians of the land we’re meeting on today and pay my respects to Elders past and present
  • I extend that respect to all First Nations people here with us today
  • I also acknowledge those with a lived or living experience of mental ill-health and those bereaved by suicide
  • Ms Carolyn Nikoloski, CEO, Mental Health Australia
  • Mr Mark Orr, Interim Chair of Mental Health Australia
  • Mental Health Australia Board Members
  • I also wish to acknowledge the outgoing chair Matt Berriman and thank him for his strong advocacy

We have many expert mental health researchers, policy makers, practitioners and service providers in Australia – some of the best in the world.

In this room alone there are many decades of experience.

I have met with many of you since becoming Assistant Minister some two years ago and I thank you for your advocacy and the spirit in which you have given it.

As a former hospital pharmacist specialising in mental health, I’ve also seen firsthand the struggles many Australians face when seeking support.

That’s why the policy changes set out in the budget this week are so important-they’re designed to meet our shared vision to make mental health care more equitable, accessible, and comprehensive for everyone.

Our third Budget handed down by Treasurer Jim Chalmers on Tuesday night funds key initiatives that I believe will make a real difference to the lives of millions of Australians living with mental ill-health.

Central to our new approach is to better matching services with people’s actual needs, recognising that there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution in mental healthcare.

Far too many people are unable to access the care they need.

And we have grappled with the challenge, as Michael Marmort says, as to why we would “treat people and then send them back to the conditions that made them sick.”

That’s why a whole of system response is when needed.

The 2024-25 Budget does this by placing mental health at the centre of a stronger Medicare.

Our approach is rooted in a commitment to equity, accessibility, and comprehensive care and this year, we are investing $361.0 million to help people get the care they need:

  • Investing in a new national early intervention service
  • Strengthening and expanding Medicare Mental Health Centres by building on the Head2Health model
  • Boosting mental health support through General Practice and
  • Growing our peer workforce

We will ensure that more people can access affordable mental health care from their GP – often the first-place people go when they need help.

GPs will be able to use standard consultation items to review a patient’s mental health treatment plan, and provide mental health care alongside physical care.

These standard consult items attract a higher rebate and are also eligible for the tripled bulk billing incentive for pensioners, concession cardholders and children under 16.

They will improve the affordability of mental health care in General Practice and support GPs to comprehensively assess the mental health needs of patients, offering treatment and care or referring to the most appropriate services.

All 31 Primary Health Networks will be funded to provide additional multidisciplinary care for people with severe or complex needs in primary care.

This will enable more than 150 social workers, peer workers and other mental health workers to provide free care coordination, navigation and support for patients with complex needs in general practice.

This will help GPs to support their patients in the community, including between GP and specialist appointments.

Over the past 18 months, we have looked carefully at how to improve access to a range of services across the mental health system.

Listening to experts, including people with lived experience, is how we’re responding to big policy challenges.

And I thank many of you for generously contributing your time and expertise.

This reform needs to make better use of all parts of the mental health system and invest in areas we know will make a difference and this Budget does that.

From 1 January 2026, we are launching a new national early intervention service where people can access free, high quality, evidence-based therapy from trained professionals.

Once fully implemented, this free service will support an estimated 150,000 people each year, breaking down barriers which currently prevent too many people getting the early intervention they need.

Trained workers will deliver cognitive behavioural therapy by phone or video to people across Australia.

This will be complimented by self-guided support with access to a set of online tools and resources, at your own pace, in your own time.

Providing the right support, before distress escalates.

It will also be an important option in the GP toolkit to offer patients who need support but don’t necessarily need a mental health treatment plan or medication.

Many of you are expert in the treatment modalities and technology which will make this service work.

They are safe, effective and evidence-based.

They also embrace best practice and leading-edge technology in psychological treatment from around the world.

For those with more severe or complex needs, we are providing additional multidisciplinary care.

By 30 June 2026, 61 Medicare Mental Health Centres will be available so that Australians can access quality care and support closer to home.

Medicare Mental Health Centres will be built on the established Head to Health network, lifting their clinical capability to ensure that every centre can provide free access to a psychologist and psychiatrist via telehealth.

As you may know, the rollout of these centres is well-underway with 20 operating around Australia.

They are staffed by exceptional peer workers and clinicians and what we have found in the rollout is that, if anything, presentations have shown higher levels of distress and complexity than was expected.

And often these clients cannot access care through the pathway of general practice and clinical psychology or psychiatry.

So in boosting the capacity of these mental health centres we are confident we will make significant gains in responding to the growing unmet need in the community.

We know the success of mental health reform relies on expanding and broadening the workforce.

We – and you – also know that sometimes the best support comes from someone who has lived through a similar experience.

A new national peer workforce association will help to mobilise, professionalise and unlock the potential of this all-important workforce.

Our first Budgets invested in the psychology workforce, by providing internships and scholarships for provisional psychologists.

This Budget will strengthen and diversify the workforce further, with funding to mobilise and professionalise the broader mental health workforce.

Since taking on this role, so many of you – in the mental health and suicide prevention sectors- have impressed upon me the need to simplify the system and to make it less fragmented.

These measures take the first few steps.

But, of course, this is long term reform and we have some major pieces of work ahead of us.

There is a major piece of intersecting work between the health and disability portfolios as we develop foundational supports for people living with psychosocial disability.

As you would be aware, state and territory governments are key collaborators in this work we look forward to implementing these changes in partnership with them.

And we are working together across the full spectrum of health services through the new five-year National Health Reform Agreement, which is being negotiated at the moment.

The mental health challenges we face are vast and complex, and no single policy will solve everything overnight but we believe these measures, taken together, will lay a stronger foundation for mental health care in Australia.

This package sets a pathway out for a more integrated, equitable and consumer-focused system of mental healthcare – catering people through different stages of life and for different mental health needs.

And, we’re committed to continuously evaluating and scaling our efforts to meet the evolving needs of Australians.

I wish you well for the remainder of the day and thank you once again for the work you do, both as individual organisations and through Mental Health Australia.

Thank you.

/Media Release. View in full here.