Unlike SA, Vics get serious about mental health

10 June 2021

While the Marshall Government dithers on the issue of mental health, the Victorian Government has this week voted to write a new mental health tax into law to rebuild its similarly broken system.

The State Taxation and Mental Health Acts Amendment Bill 2021 passed the Victorian Legislative Council 24-14 and will now go to the Governor for royal assent, SBS News reports.

Under the Mental Health and Wellbeing Levy, businesses that pay more than $10 million in wages nationally will pay an additional 0.5 per cent surcharge from 1 January 2022. Businesses with national payrolls above $100 million will pay one per cent.

Treasurer Tim Pallas has said the tax will affect less than five per cent of employers and is anticipated to raise almost $3 billion in four years.

The levy was a main recommendation of Victoria’s mental health royal commission, which found the state's system operates in crisis mode, fails patients and requires a complete rebuild, SBS reports.

The Bill stipulates that all revenue collected by the levy must be spent on the provision of mental health services.

"We are committed to making a difference to the lives of Victorians through better mental health support, whether that's through access to health providers, counsellors, therapists, support, suicide prevention, education programs," Attorney-General Jaclyn Symes told the Upper House.

MP Fiona Patten, who voted in support of the levy, said poor mental health costs the Victorian economy more than $14 billion each year, including a direct cost to employers of $1.9 billion.

"I don't think there's many Victorians who would not say we need to fix our public mental health system and we understand it needs money to do that," she said.

The ANMF (SA Branch) this year joined with mental health expert Adjunct Professor John Mendoza and other leading mental health care advocates calling for Health Minister Wade to take serious and urgent action to address South Australia’s health crisis and outlining a 10-point plan to address the issues.

Based on our information, the SA health system requires an immediate injection of an additional 30-40 mental health nurses in community and approximately 100 to fill vacant shifts including those in CALHN. This is only to cover existing workforce shortfall let alone to meet any additional bed capacity which is also desperately required in order to provide relief to consumers and the workforce serving them.

“The Marshall Government simply must follow Victoria’s lead and get serious about investment in more mental health resources, including more staff and alternative places of appropriate accommodation,’’ ANMF (SA Branch) CEO/Secretary Adj Associate Professor Elizabeth Dabars AM said.

“The alternative is to sit back and watch as our mental health crisis spirals dangerously out of control, again putting lives at risk and fuelling the ever-increasing spate of violence against health care staff.’’

Data tabled in State Parliament in May showed SA had more than 1,400 mental health patients who waited for more than 24 hours for an inpatient bed over the last year. By contrast, the whole of the Victorian health system – not just mental health – had around 1,000.

“That is a state almost four times our size, which has just announced a billion-dollar investment in their mental health system due to it being deemed a ‘catastrophic failure’. If Victoria’s system is a catastrophic failure, what does that make ours?,’’ Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists SA Branch committee chairman Dr Paul Furst was quoted at the time.