The LNP’s candidate for Kennedy, Jonathan Pavetto has fired his opening salvo in the battle to take the seat of Kennedy from incumbent Bob Katter, ridiculing his claim that the federal government has ceased funding for mental health counselling in drought-affected areas.
Mr Katter last week said rural counselling service providers were notified the day after the federal budget was brought down that funding would cease from June 30.
“The 2016/17 budget has allocated $7.1 million for financial counsellors for farmers in drought-affected areas but no provision has been made for mental health counselling,” he said.
“The advice provided to service providers was that the funding is formally ending and this advice is final.”
Mr Pavetto said Mr Katter should do more to understand the public policy changes taking place in his own electorate before starting a scare campaign about the future of rural mental health funding.
He said the most significant reforms to rural mental health delivery in a generation would begin on July 1, when more than $360 million in national funding would be reallocated to assure a fairer share for rural communities.
Under the scheme, the federal government will reallocate all mental health funding across 31 primary health networks (PHN), which will determine how best to dispense the money.
The networks are governed by a clinical council (comprising of local doctors across the region) and a community council (comprising of local community leaders), which will jointly make localised decisions about how the funding allocating can best address the mental health concerns in the community.
Areas that are more remote, such as north west Queensland, or have higher indigenous populations will receive more money and services from the federal government, according to Mr Pavetto.
He said the reforms would mean decisions about mental health services would be made by those on the ground, not by bureaucrats in Canberra.
Mr Pavetto said the new arrangements would focus on driving solutions that address regionally specific issues, such as prolonged drought.
“Bob Katter has again proven he is more interested in chasing a newspaper headline than absorbing the details of a budget policy document,” Mr Pavetto said.
“He is trying to score easy political points about a really tough issue.
“Bob Katter complains about his inability to achieve anything for his electorate but chooses to ignore the fact that the Nationals, especially Rural Health Minister Fiona Nash, are overhauling funding arrangements to deliver real outcomes for rural communities, including north west Queenslanders.
“If Bob Katter had bothered to read the details of the federal government’s plan for rural mental health he would know there is significant focus on giving rural areas the ability to choose how mental healthcare is delivered to best help their community.”
Mr Katter said the drought continues in western Queensland and service providers’ success relies upon building trusted relationships with their clients.
“Trust and relationships take time to build and is not assisted by a stop-start approach by government to service funding.”
Mental Illness Fellowship of North Queensland CEO Jeremy Audas said he was fearful changes were leaving people in distress.
“We’re now in the process of winding down services and putting off people who we’ve employed,” he said.
“In Charters Towers for example we’ve opened an office and employed local people to carry out the work on the stations and properties.
“They’re the ones that know the issues and are already connected to the communities, but won’t have employment any further and won’t be able to deliver those services to people in need.”