Leader of The Nationals and Member for Murray Plains, Peter Walsh, has condemned four years of delay in delivering urgent, and increasingly widespread, youth mental health services across Victoria.
Mr Walsh says the Andrews Labor government blowing its own trumpet with its plan to boost existing drastically underfunded and poorly staffed services by 2026 as an insult to the whole community.
He says the past years of the Andrews government lockdowns, school closures and curfews have tragically compounded the enormity of this youth mental health crisis.
“And despite knowing all this, and having watched it coming through 2020 and 2021, the best this government can come up with is a possible – and I stress possible – plan four years down the track,” Mr Walsh says.
“I can’t even begin to imagine how many more of our next generation will slip through the glaring cracks of Labor’s shortcomings,” he says.
“The Andrews government is only offering assistance to a few schools, which might just get some support by 2023 but it’s pretty obvious most schools will be left hanging for all of those four years.”
Mr Walsh says if you have a problem as large and as serious as this you don’t need a plan, you need immediate action – and that is what a Liberal Nationals Government will deliver as a priority if elected in November.
He says if the best 20 years of Labor government in the past 24 years can achieve is to do nothing on a worthwhile scale until 2026, “that’s nowhere near good enough”.
“More importantly it is not good government, but it is yet another alarm bell of the price Victorians are now paying for Daniel Andrews and his autocratic approach to government,” Mr Walsh added.
“But our children, who are suffering right now, could benefit from other immediate reforms the Andrews Labor Government has refused to support,” he says.
“At the same time as it has announced it has failed youth mental health, Labor MPs have twice blocked a move by the Liberals and Nationals in Parliament to make reforms that will immediately unlock an extra 2000 counsellors for the school-based mental health workforce – counsellors who could be in schools next term, not next year – let alone in four years.
“Growing evidence is showing that isolation and learning disruptions of Labor’s six lockdowns are still weighing heavily on Victorian kids. Delaying change for a further four years does nothing to help those suffering poor mental health right now.
“The sector has been crying out for reform to address worker shortages for years – long before the COVID pandemic put more demand on Victoria’s fatigued and under-resourced mental health workforce.
“Even after its 20 years with its hand on the helm, Labor still ignores dire warnings to rebuild our mental health workforce.”
Mr Walsh says three years ago, the Royal Commission made damning findings on the failure to plan for future demands on Victoria’s mental health workforce. More than half the recommendations called for urgent reform to boost the workforce.
He says the damning assessment found there were not enough workers “across most professions” leading to “staff burnout, low morale and deskilling”.
Further, “workforce shortages have powerful negative effects on access and quality of care, ultimately compromising outcomes for people living with mental illness, their families and carers” (Interim Report, p453).
“How this Premier and his gang of yes men and women can pretend they are doing a good job – and look the next generation in the face – beggars belief.”