Constituency Questions No 1018
59 Parliament First Session
Asked: 16 February 2021


MR O'DONOHUE — To ask the Attorney-General (for the Minister for Mental Health): My question is to the Minister for Mental Health. It has been reported that Lifeline received a record number of calls on Saturday, 3306 calls in one day, the third-highest number in Lifeline’s almost 60-year history. Lifeline say the spike was driven by the government’s five-day lockdown that was announced on Friday and came into effect on Saturday. The question I have for the minister, noting the significant mental health impact for constituents and small business owners throughout the Eastern Victoria Region, is: what additional resources will be provided to assist those with mental health issues so that they can be helped as quickly as possible? The Premier and the Deputy Premier, the Minister for Mental Health, should apologise to all Victorians, including my constituents, for their failings that have led to this lockdown that would not have been necessary if we had the systems in place to manage hotel quarantine and contact tracing.
Answered: 16 March 2021

Mr MERLINO (Monbulk—Minister for Education, Minister for Mental Health):

The Government acknowledges that the recent five-day circuit-breaker lockdown impacted Victorians, including individuals and families in the Eastern Victoria Region. However, we also know that this action against the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic worked to reduce movement across the state and prevent the spread of the virus.

We also know how tough the 2020 year was for the community and recognise that the mental health effects could continue beyond the COVID-19 pandemic. That’s why, since April 2020, the Andrews Labor Government has invested more than $215 million in additional mental health and wellbeing supports, on top of more than $6.5 billion to support businesses and workers since the onset of the pandemic.

We acknowledge that it has been a tough year for small businesses, which is why we have invested in targeted mental health support for businesses and their workers. In August 2020, we invested $26 million to address the mental health needs of sole traders and small and medium business owners and their workers, which included:

• St John Ambulance providing accredited mental health support training to chambers of commerce across Victoria to swiftly boost mental health capabilities within local business communities

• Mental health specialists embedded in industry and business associations to provide members with immediate access to expert advisors and on-the-job training for staff to identify and respond to people in distress

• The  Partners in Wellbeing telephone hotline, a free mental health support service delivered by EACH, Neami National, and the Australian Community Support Organisation to be extended to 10:00pm, seven days a week and expanded to include immediate access to business advisers and financial counsellors.

I acknowledge that Lifeline Australia provided a crucial service for people in crisis during the recent circuit-breaker lockdown, Lifeline Australia reported significant demand at a national level, and Victorian demand was equal to other jurisdictions across Australia. The Department of Health continues to work closely with mental health service providers, key crisis lines, and other providers to monitor the impact of the lockdown on mental health and wellbeing for individuals, families, and communities.

If our current circumstances have shown us anything, it is that reforming our mental health system has never been more important. In November 2020, we announced an historic $868.6 million for mental health in the  2020–21 Victorian State Budget, which is the largest investment in the mental health system to date.

The Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System, the first Royal Commission of its kind in Australia, has now completed its inquiry and the final report was released on 2 March 2021. The Government has committed to implementing every single recommendation so we can build the mental health system that Victorians deserve.