Like many others in Australia, the staff at Being have been pouring over the 2017 federal budget proposal today and examining its impact for people in our community with mental health issues.

We know that many people across Australia are in great need of better mental health services and are encouraged by the additional $165 million in funding allocated to these. We commend the greater investment in suicide prevention, veterans mental health, and in telehealth and telemedicine for rural areas. We hope that these funds will be used to provide effective, evidence-based interventions that will directly benefit people experiencing mental health issues throughout Australia.  

We have been very concerned about those people with psychosocial disability who are at risk of ‘falling through the cracks’ and losing their services if they do not qualify for the NDIS. It is great to see a budget that recognises this concern. The $80 million it allocates to Australians with a mental illness, including those at risk of losing services under the NDIS transition, is a good start. We will continue to watch this space to see how these funds are allocated and whether they will close some of the ‘cracks’ we’ve come to associate with the NDIS.  

We also welcome the decrease in cost of some medications under the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme. Whether a person chooses to take medication or not should be their decision, and should not depend on whether they are able to afford it. 

However, direct mental health services are only one component of what makes a mentally healthy society. We are disturbed about the direction of some other areas of the budget, particularly the focus on drug testing for those receiving welfare payments. Many people who are affected by drug and alcohol use are in complex situations, and often dealing with mental health issues as well. They need more support, not punishment and policies that rely on tired stigma. The proposal demonstrates a lack of understanding about the reasons why many people use drugs and alcohol, and of the most effective ways to treat addiction. When and where to seek treatment should be a personal decision, not something which is compelled by government.  

Losing payments for a period of several weeks in the event of a positive drug test will have a severe impact on the wellbeing of those affected. Housing, which is already inaccessible to many people receiving welfare, will be difficult to maintain without income certainty. This lack of income will also limit people’s access to services, and reduce their ability to be independent. The implementation of cashless welfare cards is a paternalistic approach to financial management which does not address the root causes of people’s drug and alcohol use. The proposed system will penalize people who are unable to meet ‘mutual obligations’ (such as taking a suitable job or attending a meeting). This flawed approach reflects a failure to understand how a person’s capacity can fluctuate depending on their mental health. People’s recovery will likely be negatively affected by the stress of these processes.   

There is still a way to go to build a country that prioritises mental health, the rights of all people, and respectful, evidence-based treatment. In the meantime, Being will keep advocating on issues of importance to people with mental health issues. We would love to hear what you think works and doesn’t work in the budget and how it is going to affect your life. Complete our survey here to let us know your thoughts.

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