The Hon. J.S.L. DAWKINS(16:52:00): I rise today to support the second reading of this bill which provides, I understand, some $3.291 billion to ensure the payment of public servants and the continuation of state government services from 1 July until the Appropriation Bill passes both houses. As we know, the Supply Bill gives parliamentary authority to the government of the day to continue delivering services via public expenditure, and the government is entitled to continue delivering these services in accordance with general approved priorities; that is, the priorities of the last 12 months until the Appropriation Bill is passed. Before making some comments on one area in particular, I note that the use of the money is for the work of public servants to service the constituents and residents of South Australia.
I wish to direct my remarks today to the government's Suicide Prevention Strategy. In doing so, I want to initially commend the government for the effort it has put into that strategy, which was developed following some motions that both myself and the member for Adelaide put through the parliament in 2011. The strategy was developed in 2012 after an extensive consultation around the state, and that strategy is due to conclude next year. I do commend the efforts, on limited resources, that have been done by the Office of the Chief Psychiatrist and other members of the mental health unit within SA Health.
An example of the good work was on show last week when I was at Truro for a meeting held by the Mid Murray Suicide Prevention Network, very much augmented or organised by the Mid Murray Council. Those members who know the Mid Murray Council would know that it includes a number of wideranging communities. In fact, it goes from an area south of Mannum right up the river and around the corner at Morgan, and includes Cadell. It has a number of communities that really do not have a great deal in common.
I do congratulate those who were at the meeting at Truro last Thursday evening, because I think the commitment is there to make this network work, despite the sparseness of the population and the size of the geographical area of that council and, of course, the fact that probably the majority of the population lives in Mannum, which is almost at the southern extremity of the council. Certainly, efforts have already happened, with other meetings at Sedan and one planned for Morgan, and I think there is also one to be held later this week in Mannum.
Also, I am pleased that last year a very successful network of networks was held here in Adelaide in September, I think it was. As a result of that, some regional networks of suicide prevention networks meetings will be held this year, and I will be attending the first one of those at Mount Gambier on the 15th of this month. I think that a number of networks that are in the South-East and probably as far north as Murray Bridge will be represented at that conference.
Also, it is relevant to mention that there has been good support from the Office of the Chief Psychiatrist for the groups working in the areas beyond suicide, that is, those working with bereaved families, such as Silent Ripples, which held its annual memorial day in Murray Bridge on Sunday. I was privileged to once again attend what is an excellent way in which families can not only commemorate the loss of family members to suicide but also enjoy the circumstances there adjacent the Roundhouse at Murray Bridge, where a once barren area of land has been made into a very attractive garden that commemorates the lives of those people who have been lost. Sadly, at this year's ceremony, four names of males from that community were added to those commemorated in that garden.
I do want to indicate some concern, however, about the delays that have occurred over the last 12 months in relation to the suicide prevention strategy and, initially, the delay in the appointment of a new additional officer to help roll out the networks across South Australia. On 18 July last year, in Estimates Committee A, the member for Morphett asked some questions of the Minister for Health on my behalf in relation to the appointment of an additional person to assist with the rollout of the State Suicide Prevention Strategy.
The Hon. Mr Snelling did confirm, and I quote, 'that one FTE is actually an additional position on top of what we have got currently'. In essence, that meant that there was at last going to be additional assistance to the one person establishing those networks around South Australia. Unfortunately, after some six months I became aware that there was still no person in that position, and it seemed that there were no efforts being made towards putting a person in that position.
So, on 2 February this year I wrote to minister Snelling pointing out that it was six months since the estimates committee process and his commitment to that position, and I sought clarification of when the position would be filled. Unfortunately, that letter received no response—no acknowledgement and no response—so on 2 April I wrote again in similar terms. On 15 April, I received a letter from the member for Taylor, Lisa Vlahos, in her role as parliamentary secretary to the Minister for Health Assisting in Mental Health and Substance Abuse, and I quote:
Thank you for your letter of 2 February , 2015 , to the Hon. Jack Snelling, M.P., Minister for Health and Substance Abuse , about the appointment of an additional 1.0 FTE position to assist with the rollout of the South Australian Suicide Prevention Strategy 2012-2016 : Every Life is Worth Living (the Strategy). I am responding to you as Parliamentary Secretary with responsibility in Mental Health and Substance Abuse .
The establishment and recruitment of this position is underway for commencement in July , 2015. The position is essential for the implementation of th e G overnment's new suicide prevention network and suicide prevention community grants program s .
The parliamentary secretary goes on to talk about the government's commitment to the strategy in reducing the effects of suicide on our community. I thank her for the response, but it is just a pity that it took some 2½ months and that the minister was not able to do it himself.
As a result of the delay in the appointment of that position, and the fact that there were a lot of people around South Australia who were aware that the appointment had been confirmed in the estimates process, community concern evolved into an article in the Stock Journal on 7 May this year—a very good article by Alisha Fogden—and I quote initially from it. Under the heading, 'Suicide strategy slowed by govt hiring process', she writes:
Q uestions surround the state government 's urgency to tackle suicide prevention , with program funding under utilised.
In July last year , Mental Health Minister Jack Snelling confirmed budget assistance for a second full-time employee to help roll - out programs as part of the government's SA Suicide Prevention Strategy .
A little further on in the article, she states:
Almost 10 months since that confirmation during an Estimates C ommittee process , the position remains unfilled.
In preparing the article, I understand that Ms Fogden and a colleague made contact with SA Health and attempted to make contact with the minister's office but received a statement from SA Health, so I will further quote from the article in the Stock Journal:
SA H ealth statement said a large amount of scoping and planning work was required before an additional suicide prevention officer could be recruited, 'to determine the objectives for the role and how they would be achieved'.
'This included planning for the expansion of the suicide prevent ion networks across the state and a new community grants scheme, as well as looking at the next phase of the SA Suicide Prevention Strategy, beyond 2016,' it said.
'This planning has now been completed and the new suicide prevention offic er is expected to start work in July.'
I was quoted in the article as saying that the 12-month lag was unfortunate. I think I was being a bit moderate there in my tone. The reference in this SA Health statement, that 'a large amount of scoping and planning work was required before an additional suicide prevention officer could be recruited', in my view is a lot of nonsense and just an absolute excuse for not coming up with the money to find that officer months earlier. To say that scoping and planning work was required is just ridiculous, because the work is being done by one person and that person needs assistance to continue that very good work. I found that response remarkable and, as I said, ridiculous.
On 12 November last year, the member for Morphett received further written responses to other estimates questions he asked of the Hon. Jack Snelling, questions the member for Morphett had asked on behalf of the Liberal Party and particularly myself as the party's spokesman on suicide prevention. In that answer on notice provided in the House of Assembly on 12 November were a couple of things I want to note at this point. First, it was indicated there that $150,000 would be allocated for a suicide prevention officer to work in the establishment of suicide prevention networks. That is the position I have just been mentioning, which has taken nearly 12 months to scope.
Also, there was a reference to $125,000 in small grants for local suicide prevention and postvention initiatives and activities. I say initially that I give the government great credit for allocating that money. When I heard of that first last year I was very pleased; however, I have a great concern about the delay in making this money available. I am greatly concerned that the opening of applications for these grants only happened relatively recently, and then closed last Friday 29 May, so that the very small number of people in the Office of the Chief Psychiatrist and the mental health unit then have to allocate this money so that it gets out to groups before 30 June.
I lay no fault for that at the feet of people who are implementing the suicide prevention strategy, but somewhere in the system the bean counters have kept this money behind. It is a bit like the 12-month delay in appointing this officer. If we are trying to work properly as a community to prevent suicide, this sort of delay in relatively modest amounts of money is unacceptable. Those two areas I am talking about, the appointment of the officer and the bringing forward of the invitation for applications for the small grants, in total amount to $275,000, so for the sake of $275,000 we have seen, basically, a 12-month delay in both those programs, and I think that is pretty ordinary.
In conclusion, I should say, however, that I absolutely support all the work that is done as part of the government's suicide prevention strategy. I am very hopeful that, as part of the national strategy, there may be some reappraisal of some of the commonwealth funding of mental health and suicide prevention. There is terrific work done by a lot of the groups funded by government, including beyondblue, but there are many other groups that operate, if not entirely, nearly entirely on what I call the smell of an oily rag. They operate, as does the MOSH group based in the western suburbs, on the proceeds of op shops and they do fabulous work, very similar to what Silent Ripples does.
They should not have to operate in such a sense. They should not have to operate on the basis of total volunteers and selling goods in an op shop. That should not be the case, and I have made that clear to both the previous federal minister for health, the Hon. Peter Dutton, and also in some conversations I had with the Hon. Sussan Ley, the new Minister for Health. I also say to the state government, in the reappraisal of the strategy, that we need to do more to assist those groups and more to assist them with recurrent funding rather than a 12-month grant.
I look forward to the appointment of the additional officer to work in the rollout of the suicide prevention strategy. As I have done previously, I will work closely with anybody who is developing those groups around South Australia, whether it be in Mount Gambier, Port Augusta, the northern suburbs or wherever. Wherever I need to go, I will go to assist them, but I say to the government that I will be on the watch for when this appointment is made. The answer I received from the member for Taylor said that an appointment would be made after 1 July. I hope it is very soon after 1 July.
With those remarks, I am very pleased to support this bill. I again indicate its importance because it provides that $3.291 billion that enables the work of public servants in their service to South Australians to continue until the Appropriation Bill passes both houses, and I am pleased to support the bill.
Debate adjourned on motion of Hon. J.M. Gazzola .