National Multicultural Mental Health Month


BILL SHORTEN, MINISTER FOR THE NDIS AND GOVERNMENT SERVICES: Good morning everybody. I'd like to acknowledge the Ngunnawal and Ngambri people as the traditional owners of the land upon which we meet. I’d also like knowledge Vasan Srinivasan and the Mental Health Foundation for Australia for this invitation to speak. I acknowledge the many ministerial colleagues who are here, including my opposite, Michael Sukkar. I have to go to a meeting at 9:00 with the cabinet, so I perhaps can't speak as long as I hope to, but for some of you that may be an upside. But anyway, what I want to do is just give you an NDIS take and lens on this, on how we engage with mental health challenges for people from culturally and linguistically diverse communities. Just to give you some context, I think the NDIS is an ally in terms of how we can tackle psychosocial disability in our community. There's about 610,000 people who receive a funding package from the NDIS, about 10% of people who identify as being from CALD communities. Also, we have about 62,000 people on the scheme. So again, about 10% who would say that their principal or primary disability is triggered by so-called psychosocial mental illness. So the amount of resources which are going into people's psychosocial support in the scheme for these participants is about $4 billion. When you look at the amount of the packages, the median amount of the packages and support for people from a CALD background on the NDIS, it's about $3.5 billion. So there are some resources here.

The Scheme provides material in 18 languages other than English, but we think that there is an opportunity upon coming to Government to improve our engagement with culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds and communities. Some people would say there's too many people on the Scheme. Without answering that question, it is fair to say that I think that there are barriers for access to the scheme for some CALD communities onto the scheme. So there's an equity challenge. But beyond that, we also think there's an equity challenge outside of the NDIS. Because the NDIS is relatively generously funded and demand driven, to some extent, it has become the only lifeboat in the proverbial ocean of support services. So in other words, people seek to get onto the NDIS, in part because there's an insufficient amount of resources out there in community mental health, in the broader community. We think that the scheme is working for the people. One example is David, he came from the community where mental health problems were not discussed, his behaviour was misunderstood and he felt that people were suspicious of him. He's very grateful with the support of his package, he now volunteers and works and assists people from other CALD communities in how we go through the Scheme. There's another lady, Suzanne. Her particular cultural heritage made her feel that she had to suffer her bipolar disorder in silence. Her NDIS support team helped build her confidence and encouraged her to get a driver's license.

She now drives. She has a full time job and is a highly sought after mental health advocate who's been able to reach out to many in her community and other CALD communities. So I think, in summary, what I wanted to put in front of the gathering today is that the NDIS is an investment. It's an investment in changing lives. We want to make the scheme work better. However, we want to make sure that every dollar gets through to the people for whom the scheme was designed. We think there's ways that we think there needs to be greater clarity and consistency about how the scheme works, but we think there are huge opportunities to help make the scheme a more consistent, and more meaningful experience. We've got a review into the NDIS which should be handed down in coming weeks very imminently, and no doubt it will have a fair bit to say about how we interact, not only within the Scheme to improve its engagement and access and clarity, but also I think there will be a discussion in this review about how do we build foundational supports for people who have mental illness challenges not so severe that need to be or would be eligible for the Scheme, but certainly more severe than would be easily solved by a visit to the psychologist under Medicare, or, more crucially, having to go to an emergency ward. I am very positive about the award winners today and very respectful of this gathering, and I just want to encourage the people here, the leaders here, that we are very interested in making sure that for CALD communities, the NDIS is accessible, it's consistent, it's understood, and that also we have an overdue conversation which does happen in parts. I listened to Professor Minas’ contribution just before, and I know Andrew Giles who's speaking after him, will also go to this, but we need to have a conversation about how do we build up mental health supports outside the NDIS such that we can help destigmatise mental illness and also provide support to parts of the community who are simply missing out.

So thank you very much for letting me present to you this morning.