Consideration of Tabled Papers
Resumed from 26 June on the following motion moved by Hon Stephen Dawson (Minister for Environment) —
That pursuant to standing order 69(1), the Legislative Council take note of tabled papers 1340A–D (budget papers 2018–19) laid upon the table of the house on Thursday, 10 May 2018.
[Speeches and comments from various members]
HON ALISON XAMON (North Metropolitan) [3.47 pm]: I rise to make some general but also fairly specific comments about elements of the budget that are of concern to me. I want to begin by echoing comments made by quite a few members that in many respects, this is a fairly uninspiring budget. It is clearly not a budget designed to go out and spend a lot of money, and we know why that is the case. I note that quite a few announcements have been made around this budget, which, once we started looking at it, have really just been repackaged, old announcements that have perhaps had one word tweaked or have simply been previously announced and are being re-announced. We have really not been looking at anything particularly inspiring. From talking to people who work in either the public service or the not-for-profit sector, I think there is a sense of feeling in those worlds that they simply want to hold onto what they have. There are concerns about cuts that have already been made, and I will go into that a little more, but there is also a real sense that people do not want to rock the boat too much and they just want to cling on until such time as the budget looks like it will improve. As I have said many times in this place, I am one of the people who appreciates that we are operating within a constrained economic environment and that that does create difficulties. However, as I am going to go into a little, that does not mean that we get to renege on showing some leadership and bravery, particularly in the area of human services, which impacts on people and particularly vulnerable people.
I note that there continues to be great uncertainty around what is going to happen with federal funding in far too many areas, including education. I am one of the people in this place who shares the Minister for Education and Training’s obvious frustration with the lack of clarity on what money will be available for training into the future. This is an area of enormous need. We have had chronic underinvestment in this space for years. I fundamentally disagree with some of the policy positions the previous government took on funding for training, and particularly its decision to increase the level of fees to the degree that it did, to the point that we have seen a direct drop-off in the number of people who are undertaking TAFE qualifications simply because it is unaffordable. I am frustrated that despite the good words that have come from this government about wanting to make sure that training is more affordable, firstly, money has not been released within the envelope of the state budget itself and, also, we have gone backwards on this front in terms of federal government investment in this area. What a disgrace to the federal government. It should not be prepared to talk about jobs when it is not prepared to talk about training. I hope that negotiations in this area will be successful. I would love to see a bit of a bidding war between the various federal parties around how much better each can do in the training area, and specifically in funding for TAFE.
That is not the only area in which we are talking about decreased federal funding. Even looking at areas like childcare regulation, there is decreased funding. A lot of the time we are talking about the atrocious situation with our GST. That remains an ongoing thorn in the side and one that will need to be raised over and again until we get something even approximating a fair arrangement. It is by no means the only area in which we are seeing a failure by our federal government in crucial areas of investment, which state governments have been expected to step up and fund. I remain deeply concerned about that.
Having said that and having made my general comments about my disappointment with the state budget, I do note that the state budget was not all bad news. I particularly note the government’s ongoing commitment to establishing the mental health step-up, step-down services in regional areas over the forward estimates, including a 10-bed facility in Geraldton, to add to existing services in Joondalup and Rockingham. I am really pleased that these subacute services are not being completely ignored and that we are looking at the rollout of these services. They are a really important way of making sure that we take pressure off our acute services for people who are mentally unwell. I am hoping that the commitment to both the building of these bricks-and-mortar establishments and ongoing funding will continue to gain momentum going into the forward estimates. It is part of the 10-year “Western Australian Mental Health, Alcohol and Other Drug Services Plan”, otherwise known as “the plan”. It is going to be very important that we stay on track with that.
I also hold out some hope that the new Department of Communities’ Target 120 program will be able to deliver what it hopes to deliver, which is early intervention and specialist support for vulnerable young people, particularly at the initial sites in Bunbury and Armadale. I asked quite a number of questions about this in estimates. I note that there is still work being done to develop the full scope of what Target 120 is going to look like. I will wait with anticipation to see what that looks like. I am hopeful that it will be able to deliver on at least some of its promises. It is vital that we also maintain appropriate and comprehensive services that will enable families to be referred to the Target 120 program in the first place—we need to make sure that we will not be losing what is already out there. Target 120 needs to be a value-adding proposition.
It will probably come as no shock that I would like to make some comments about the mental health budget in this state. Mental health is everybody’s business; it is something that everyone should be concerned about. I do not doubt for one second that every member in this place is contacted at various times in their electorate offices by members of the community who either are having difficulty accessing mental health services themselves, have a loved one who is having difficulty accessing mental health services or possibly have had some negative experiences with mental health services. Not everyone who has had a good experience is going to go out of their way to contact their member of Parliament to say that. This is an area that really affects the community in a very immediate way. It should be very much at the forefront of the work that government should be prioritising.
With that comment, I point out that I am concerned that the budget papers make no explicit mention of the 10-year mental health plan. That is a concern, because this is a really important plan. We keep hearing that this government is committed to funding the 10-year plan. As I have said before, this is not a Liberal Party plan; it was developed under a Liberal–National government, but that was after extensive consultation with the mental health sector and the AOD sector. It is a mental health sector plan. It is really important that we do not lose sight of that and the important work that went into it. It was comprehensive, because unlike a lot of other blueprints we have seen in mental health, it was more than simply nice comments. It made quite clear what the projected demand would be for specific services and the sort of investment that was needed to ensure that we meet that demand going into the future. I again remind members that it was about turning around the make-up of the delivery of mental health, alcohol and other drug services, so that we could ensure that we were helping people before they became critically unwell. It is about investment in prevention, early intervention and, particularly, community-based services. It is with concern that I note that despite the comments from this government about remaining committed to the 10-year plan, in terms of the demand that was identified we are not keeping pace with the target set in the plan. The plan is about ensuring that we have a significant rebalancing of the mental health system.
I note that the government has committed to increasing funding in the midyear review, but this is not providing the community-managed mental health sector with much certainty or confidence in planning service provision into the future. This is a problem particularly for this sector, which relies on some degree of certainty in the delivery of not just core funding but also funding for particular projects or grants, so that it can ensure that it continues to deliver its very vital services. We need to bear in mind that all of them are running on the smell of an oily rag as it is. There is absolutely no fat to cut. I will keep a very close eye on that big concern. I hope we will see some steps in the right direction in the investment in that space. I will talk a little more about that in a moment.
The government has made some progress in developing the accommodation prevention strategies identified in the plan, but despite the Mental Health Commission beginning a lot of the work and activity around developing the frameworks, no money has been allocated in the budget or forward estimates to develop these parts of the plan. We can do the best planning in the world, but, at the end of the day, if we are not backing it up with dollars, effectively we have not done it. The job has not been done. I remain concerned, and I will keep on raising the issue that we have not had final confirmation that we will ring-fence in the mental health budget any of the funds that come out of the decommissioning of Graylands. The previous government made that commitment when it talked about the decommissioning of Graylands. I want to be very clear that the mental health sector is very supportive of the decommissioning of Graylands. It is an outdated facility, and the move from an institutionalised setting into ensuring that we have appropriate services right around the state where people can be closer to their homes is welcome. In the past there have been some really good ideas for how to re-use the heritage-listed buildings on the Graylands site, with something along the lines of what happens in, for example, Trieste in Italy, where the old asylums have been transformed into quite amazing buildings for art therapy classes and a whole range of things like that. Some really good ideas are out there, but, at the end of the day, this quite important and valuable land needs to be ring-fenced and put back into the mental health budget to ensure that at the very least we can continue to fund or make significant inroads into funding the building of the facilities identified in the 10-year plan. It is frustrating. I raised this last year, I have raised it again this year, and I assure members that I will raise it again next year. Cabinet has to look at the business cases and undertake its deliberations, and I urge cabinet members to be very mindful of the very strong expectation that that money will be reinvested back into mental health. It is very, very critical to try to at least begin to make some progress.
During the estimates hearings I was pleased to hear the parliamentary secretary for mental health once again confirm that, despite all the machinery-of-government changes and rumour-mongering, this government remains committed to ensuring that we have a standalone Mental Health Commission. That is great. Whenever a lot of changes occur—particularly large-scale change of the sort that is currently being undertaken—that brings uncertainty. There has been asuggestion that the Mental Health Commission will become part of the Department of Communities, so well done to this government for standing its ground and sticking to its election commitment of ensuring that the Mental Health Commission will stand alone.
I will talk a little more about the rebalancing of the mental health system. After the government’s last budget in September, the Western Australian Association for Mental Health, which is of course the peak body for the community-managed mental health sector within Western Australia, undertook modelling to identify how the funding commitments were tracking against the needs identified in the 10-year plan. WAAMH estimated that to meet the funding targets for community support for 2025—community support being just one element of the plan—the required annual increment would need to be in the order of an additional $20 million within this budget and for the remaining six budgets after that. This is just for community-managed services and to keep up with the identified demand going into the future. But instead, this budget shows a funding allocation for 2018–19 that is $1.3 million less than the actual for 2017–18. The allocation to community support will increase only marginally over the forward estimates. In 2014, when the work on developing this plan began, only one in five mental health consumers were able to access the support they needed. Only 20 per cent of people who needed mental health support were able to get the services they needed. The plan tried to turn that around, to make sure that people were not just left in the community without the support they needed, and just getting more and more unwell and ending up in the acute and, dare I say it, expensive end of the system. But that is not what we have done.
It is similar for prevention. WAAMH estimated that the annual increment to meet the required target by 2025 would be an additional $5 million for each year until then. Again, instead in this budget we have seen a substantial decrease in prevention funding. The government maintains that the drop in funds is due to outstanding agreements that have not been signed with the commonwealth and other state agencies, and I have already commented how appalled I am at the way the federal government continues to drag its feet on funding a whole range of areas—we can add mental health to that big fat long list. But I have to say that at best the government will be seeking to maintain the status quo, not increasing the allocated funding. In any event, the plan refers to the need for a greater commitment of state funds; it was always intended to be state money. It was not intended to rely on federal money. But I am happy to accept that the feds can cough up, because they have all our money anyway. Again, I recognise the budget constraints, but there is no doubt that this short-sighted approach will cost us more going into the future. It is just reality. Not investing this money now will only cost us more in the future.
Statewide subspecialty services were identified in the plan to meet a whole range of needs within the community, but no money has been put aside for their establishment. There is no money in the budget for meeting a proposed statewide transcultural mental health unit—something that has been on the cards for a while. From answers to questions I have asked in this place, I understand that a business case was presented to the Mental Health Commission from the mental health subnetwork of Multicultural Mental Health, but there is no money for it. Likewise, we still do not have additional money for personality disorder services, which is a huge problem. It is largely people with personality disorders who are being turned away from our emergency departments and subsequently taking their lives. These people are severely at risk. We need to invest in these specialist services and have youth and adult streams, so that we can help people turn their lives around, and, for that matter, help people stay alive. I am concerned about that. We know we need specialty services to deal with neuropsychiatry and developmental disability, but there is no money there. People are falling through the cracks in a whole range of complex areas, yet no money is being put into the budget or forward estimates to start developing the identified subspecialty services that we need.
I have asked questions about what is happening with the recovery college. The government’s response has been to say that that will be subject to a separate business plan. I expect there to be some money in the budget for that for next year, even though at the moment it is not in the forward estimates. Having said that, though, I am quite supportive of the way the government is trying to develop a business plan for the recovery college. I think there is a genuine attempt to be comprehensive and inclusive, and to make sure that when we finally do get our first recovery college in Western Australia, it will hopefully be a model that will get general agreement from the community. That would be good. I will wait to see what happens with the money for that.
I will make some comments about the statewide suicide prevention strategy, which is obviously coming to an end. I appreciate that the Ministerial Council for Suicide Prevention and the Mental Health Commission are currently undertaking their evaluation of the existing program as a whole and that the individual streams, or at least some of them, that have been funded with that money are also undertaking individual evaluations. It is going to require a good investment by government going into the future. I note that the previous government put in quite a lot of money for suicide prevention services, and that was after years and years of desperate underfunding. I urge this government to continue what it has been doing at the very least and to recognise that emerging populations, such as older people, are going to require specialist services in the future. I really hope that some of the pilot programs, particularly the children grieved by suicide program, which is currently being run as a pilot within the metropolitan area, are able to continue, but we must make sure that they are available statewide. I flag now that regardless of what happens with the new plan and when that money is going to be available and how much will be available, it is really important that some funding is allocated towards the continuation of the strategy in some form. We need to make sure that we protect against breaks in service delivery and eroding the work that has been undertaken so far. That happened between the strategies with the previous government and it was really problematic for those programs. There should not be a disrupted delivery of service, particularly in the area of suicide prevention. I urge this government to do everything it possibly can—it can do a lot—to make sure there is continuity in the delivery of those services and some certainty, particularly for those services that are more than likely to continue in the future plan.
I have some comments about the assertive patient flow. This applies to health, but particularly mental health. We know that the mental health system is struggling with an assertive patient flow. In February this year, the Australasian College for Emergency Medicine reported that WA had the worst wait times in the country for mental health admissions. I note that the government has been reviewing its assertive patient flow protocols, which of course needs to happen, but I also note that Deborah Karasinski, who is the chairperson of the Child and Adolescent Health Service Board, pointed out in a letter to the Mental Health Advocacy Service that there are insufficient beds for young people across the system and that that, coupled with inadequate supports for some patients in the community, is preventing discharge. I note that the new youth beds have now come online. It has been a long time in the planning. The new Perth Children’s Hospital has released some new beds. We already had in place the beds at Fiona Stanley Hospital, and also the repurposing of the Bentley Adolescent Unit. But we need to ensure that those area health services get their act together and work together to make sure that we have assertive patient flow across those areas. It is pointless if some area health services have beds but other people, particularly those from regional areas, are left languishing and not able to get into those necessary beds. It is really important work and I hope that we see significant progress. It is difficult to get the area health services to agree to cooperate in a devolved health system, but it is really essential. I hope that we will see some progress there. I was pleased to hear that the new protocols will include a central point of escalation to ensure that those who have the highest clinical needs have priority over beds irrespective of where they live in the metropolitan area. But I express my concern that I do not think it should be up to the Mental Health Commission to intervene on a case-by-case basis; it is really important that it happens as an automatic flow within the system.
I will make some comments about the lack of forensic beds within the system as a whole. I know that there is no additional money for forensic beds in either this budget or the forward estimates, nor does there appear to be any clear plan for the development of future forensic beds. In 2014, we had less than half the beds that we needed at that point to meet demand.
Debate interrupted, pursuant to standing orders.
Sitting suspended from 4.15 to 4.30 pm
Resumed from an earlier stage of the sitting.
HON ALISON XAMON (North Metropolitan) [5.12 pm]: Before we broke for question time, I was speaking about my concerns with the lack of money in the budget, either now or in the forward estimates, to deal with what I would deem to be a crisis with the lack of forensic mental health beds in this state. When work was being done in 2014 to develop the projected need for the 10-year plan, it was determined that we had less than half the beds we needed to meet demand. The plan called for the state to have 92 beds by the time the plan finishes in 2025. As part of that, we need some specific beds for women and youth. It is not just a matter of having a shortage; there is also a real problem with not having dedicated, population-specific services in the area of forensic mental health. Investment in this space has effectively ground to a halt.
There are currently only 38 forensic beds to cater for more than 5 000 people in our prison system who may need access to acute mental health services. I heard that the Mental Health Commission has ensured that in-reach psychiatrists will go into our prisons, but that is very much a stopgap measure. If someone is severely mentally unwell, they need to be in a purpose-built medical facility; they do not need to be in our prison system, because it is simply not equipped for that and it is not appropriate. I am glad that we are looking at having some services. Prisoners have traditionally had very, very poor mental health and alcohol and other drug in-reach. It is really not going to be enough. At some point we are going to have to look at investment in this space. I know that we have a tight fiscal budget, but when we do not invest in this space, we end up having critically unwell people going through quite a disturbing round of living between the streets and our prisons and maybe having a few limited nights within a forensic mental health service. I have raised in this place before, and had some undertakings from a previous minister, about ensuring that Medicare is available for prisoners. I hope this issue is being pursued within the Council of Australian Governments. I have asked questions about where that is at. This area of reform needs to be urgently addressed. It comes back to the issue of the federal government once again not pulling its weight. It needs to fund states to better deliver mental health, health, dental, and alcohol and other drug services in this state. That remains ongoing.
I will make some general comments about health. Health is where our money goes. I could spend the rest of the week talking about health, but I promise members that I will not do that. I will talk about a few bits and pieces within the health system itself. I remain concerned about the lack of investment in prevention, and particularly in statewide community services. Those services are provided by community organisations such as the Australian Men’s Shed Association and Coeliac Western Australia, which provide critical community-based work that ensures that people remain well and stay out of our hospital system. That is really the way we should be funding and doing health. When the government takes away the measly amount of dollars that these services require to run and they shut down, that ends up putting a huge impost on the system further down the road. It is a false economy. Money has been stripped out of these areas. I note that the minister and the director general suggested that they hoped to be able to use savings from hospital services to reinvest into prevention programs in the future. I will just point out the bleeding obvious: it makes no sense to demolish existing, effective service programs that are keeping people out of our hospitals and to then start again from scratch. I am tearing my hair out here. I cannot understand the rationale for taking money away from these organisations that are keeping people well. The government has defunded them. In some cases they are folding. At some point, magical money is apparently going to allow them to start up again. I do not know how the savings are ever going to be achieved because all the people who should have been kept out of the system in the first place have not received the early support that they needed to keep them out. Logical I know, but what am I thinking!
I was pleased to hear that the government remains committed to at least some of the structures for continual improvement in the health system itself, and most notably the Clinical Senate. It sounded quite sensible in terms of the reforms being proposed. I am obviously waiting to see the details of the funding for the health networks, which were effectively gutted under the previous government. That was such a short-sighted and silly decision, but I have not seen that more money has been put back into them. These are the areas that enable systems to work.
I asked questions about Home and Community Care funding, and sought assurances that people in areas where the National Disability Insurance Scheme has not yet been rolled out can apply for increased support, should they need it. I note that the government undertook to check with the department whether that is indeed the case. This is another concrete example of the uncertainty facing people while the transition to the National Disability Insurance Scheme takes place.
I have said before that the NDIS is a huge reform, and it is always going be complex. There is no getting around that. But there are still no concrete assurances about what will happen on an ongoing basis with either systemic or individual advocacy. I am, however, pleased that the minister has undertaken a separate process to try to ensure that the state funds systemic advocacy. I think that is really critical, because that is how we will make the system work and get the intelligence, if you like, from people on the ground who know what on earth they are doing. It is a really complex system, and making the transition will not be easy. I do not envy the minister, quite frankly, because it is a difficult job. I do not want to pretend it is not. If I were the minister, I would want to have as many people on the ground as possible to give me that information. I think that is how we will ultimately ensure that we iron out the many, many kinks that come with it. It is huge reform to move from the state-based system to a federal-based system. I understand that members of the previous government are perhaps critical of that move; I do not share those concerns. I recognise that there were some broad opinions within the state, but I talk to a lot of people in the disability community and I have to say that the majority of people—most notably people with disability and their families—wanted to go to a federal-based system. I just think that is the case. I acknowledge that a lot of the large state-based providers are particularly unhappy because a lot of them have had years of positive experiences working within the state-based system. Having said that, let us remember what this system is meant to be about: people with disability. At the end of the day, I really care what they think. If the majority of people with disability say that they want a federal system, I feel it is my job to listen to and respect that.
We still have a lot of concerns about how it will happen. The state government needs to make sure that we have enough money in the transition fund to ensure that it happens smoothly. I do not know whether there is enough money. As the transition occurs, we will become more aware of whether it is covered. I really sincerely hope so, but I will keep a very close eye on it. I do not think I will be the only person who will do that; I suspect the minister will keep a really close eye on it as well. I guess it is also of quite large import to the minister.
I was pleased to hear the minister acknowledge the lapses in communication with a number of people with disability. That means that a lot of people are really struggling to get across what is happening, and that in itself is generating quite a degree of anxiety. The next 12 months in particular will be really critical in terms of what is happening in the space, and it is just one of those areas in which, at a state level, we will be working across both fronts—seeing what is happening at a national level while keeping a very close eye on our obligations at a state level to ensure the smoothest transition we can possibly have under the circumstances.
For good reason, all eyes have been on the NDIS. It is such a massive reform that we really need to get it right. That means that we should not lose sight of the other areas of disability reform—there are many—that we need to make sure we are progressing. During the estimates hearings I mentioned the national disability strategy and the concern of people within the sector that with all the necessary attention on the transition to the NDIS, the work progressing the NDS may be taking a bit of a back seat. The national strategy is currently under review, but it is really imperative that we do not lose sight of the need to ensure that our community as a whole is more inclusive and accessible more generally for people with disability. We will have to keep that in mind across our state budget in areas of transport and education and areas in which people participate, and there will have to be investment. It means investment in training and infrastructure—these things will have to happen. It is very important that we do not lose sight of the fact that all this work in disability needs to continue, and it is a responsibility across every single government department. We need to make sure that that is at the forefront of our minds.
Funding for the Bennett Brook Disability Justice Centre remains stable, and there will not be additional money to implement the recommendations of the review. I will withhold judgement on that, because it may genuinely be that that money is not required. There will be no change in the funding allocation for the centre beyond indexation, despite the underutilisation of the centre. It is very difficult to determine what really needs to happen with its budget until we see the necessary legislative reforms around that space, particularly the Criminal Law (Mentally Impaired Accused) Act. We need to make sure that this important centre is appropriately utilised for those really vulnerable people. I will keep a close eye on what is happening with that.
The other big thing I wanted to talk about is justice. It is frustrating that this budget misses an important opportunity to look at serious strategies to reduce imprisonment rates and to use the savings for more prevention, diversion and in-prison programs. It is precisely because we have a constrained funding environment that we need to look at reducing the number of prisoners within our system. We know that many who are there at the moment would be better served by being managed in the community and that we would be better off investing the funds saved back into our prisons, even while we cannot increase the overall money allocated. I continue to be specifically concerned about the government’s failure to commit to address the ongoing problems with youth justice in our state. I have given a fair bit of attention to that area. It is quite clear that fixing youth justice is still not the priority that it should be. Since the election, I have been asking questions about which, if any, parts of youth justice services will move from Corrective Services to the Department of Communities, and also some idea of the time frames for this. Frankly, the answers are nothing but evasive. I notice there is nothing in the budget to do that, and nothing in the forward estimates that gives any indication of a time frame. All I can say is that if I was a staffer working in youth justice at the moment, I would probably be losing my mind. They have absolutely no idea of what the future holds. I am supportive of moving youth justice into Communities, but Banksia Hill Juvenile Detention Centre also needs to be taken away from Corrective Services. It is all a bit pointless unless we have a continuum across youth justice and are taking a holistic view of how we will approach it. The lack of answers or clarity around this space is intensely frustrating. The only thing that is clear is that the Minister for Corrective Services does not seem to be making this a screaming priority. I am comparing him with other ministers who have been almost ruthless in pursuing their agendas in a really vigorous way, but I am not sure that this particular minister has.
Hon Stephen Dawson: I was prepared for a question from you last week in the Standing Committee on Estimates and Financial Operations hearing. I had something in my folder. I can’t recall the full answer but it is a complex issue. That minister is working closely with Minister McGurk at the moment on that issue—if I can just leave you with that.
Hon ALISON XAMON: Thank you, minister; I appreciate that interjection. I, of course, had pages and pages of questions I wanted to ask but, unfortunately, we had limited time in that estimates hearing and I was unable to get more questions in. I imagine that one of the reasons the minister had them there was because he was aware that it is a priority area for me and was one I would bring up. I can assure him the questions on notice have been submitted and he will have that opportunity. I have been asking these questions in this place for quite some time. The answers I have been given have shed no light on this whatsoever. It is a real concern. We need to remember that a lot of elements to this are unclear, including when, if at all, the younger children or the girls who are held in Banksia Hill Detention Centre are recognised as being particularly vulnerable, will be removed from Banksia Hill to more suitable accommodation, and this is a concern. The other area that really concerns me is the number of children being kept in Banksia Hill who have been deemed suitable for release, but who cannot be released because there is no appropriate accommodation for them outside the prison system. That is absolutely devastating. I keep asking for the number of children affected by this. By necessity, they are always six to eight weeks behind whatever the last numbers were. The last number was about five children who did not need to be there and were deemed to be better off elsewhere. Every day a child is kept in Banksia Hill when it is deemed they should not be there is one day too long. The first thing we want to do with these children is turn their lives around so they do not end up becoming career criminals. If they miss out, the community misses out. When we delay these necessary reforms, it has a real human effect and I would like people to be mindful of that.
I was pleased to see in the budget the allocation for more magistrates because there is a backlog of around 40 weeks in some locations. That is too long. It is ridiculous actually. I also welcomed the successful negotiations with the federal government. It is great to see the federal government coughing up some money regarding the introduction of a custody notification service. I hope that more than a 25-year delay in enacting this recommendation will soon end. This was first recommended by the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody and was most recently mentioned again and recommended again by the coronial inquest into the death of Ms Dhu. I am really pleased that we are finally seeing the establishment of that in this state.
I am disappointed the government has yet to address the issue of fine defaulters ending up in prison because we should not be locking up people in prison. Specifically, the number of Aboriginal people we are locking up for fine default is not a sensible, cost effective or, indeed, humane way to deal with the issue of fine default. I was disappointed that the budget did not include specific information on what the government hopes to do in this space.
I will make some comments on independent statutory bodies. I totally heart them. I am thinking particularly of the Ombudsman, the Office of the Inspector of Custodial Services and the Equal Opportunity Commission. There have been funding cuts to bodies such as the Ombudsman, the Public Advocate and the Equal Opportunity Commission. These are really concerning. These are important statutory bodies that undertake a critical role in this state. We should not be looking at funding cuts. If anything, I would have liked to see their budgets growing. It means we are going in the wrong direction. The Office of the Inspector of Custodial Services is a statutory entity in this state of which we should be very proud. We are very lucky to have what I think is a sentinel organisation looking at upholding human rights and improvements within our custodial settings. I was very concerned to note that that office has lost staff, yet it has to oversee more prisoners than ever. I note that during estimates in the other place, OICS said, “If we can no longer find efficiencies, we will have to reduce our outputs in some way.” That means, effectively, that the office will have to report less. That office is responsible for reporting to us. It is the office that can tell us independently, on the ground, what is happening within our prison system and what is happening to people who are incarcerated. I am therefore very concerned that Parliament will effectively lose capacity for that very critical statutory voice.
I note also the coordinator of the independent visitor scheme has accepted a package and work is expected to be picked up by other officers, and that is very concerning. The independent visitor scheme of OICS is fantastic, and we rely on these highly reliable, hardworking people who are performing comprehensive reports—absolutely frontline stuff. These people do it for free, for goodness sake. Why we would cut back any capacity for our independent visitors to continue to do the best job they possibly can defies belief.
I note also that Legal Aid WA will receive less money and it will have fewer full-time equivalent staff, despite, as mentioned in the budget documents, an unprecedented demand for legal aid assistance. At the same time, the community legal sector is also not looking at getting increases. I have to say that access to justice is really critical. It is not cost effective to deny people access to justice. Again, it is these areas of investment within the community that enable people to resolve issues quickly at the source, and things do not drag on. In particular, the role that CLCs play in delivering community legal education is really important and cannot be underestimated. Again CLCs run on the smell of an oily rag.
I was pleased that despite the grandcarers’ assistance respite program not being originally funded in the budget, the Minister for Child Protection saw fit to at least give this program a reprieve of 12 months. That is because this program is really important. It provides important funding for respite, tutoring and a range of things that grandcarers specifically need to ensure they are getting some tiny measure of support for their grandchildren. Grandcarers do an extraordinary job. They have basically been left to look after their grandchildren, invariably in tragic circumstances, far too often because one or both parents have developed mental health, alcohol and other drug issues or perhaps a very serious chronic illness. These kids already have enough on their plate, quite frankly, and so do grandcarers. I think this community owes grandcarers an enormous debt. When we talk about really paltry programs, the last thing we should do is cut them; we just keep them going. This is bare minimum stuff to assist families that are doing it tough.
The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse pointed out some ways we should do better in protecting our children. I note particularly recommendations regarding independent oversight for out-of-home care and advocacy services for children. I am disappointed that as yet no funding is allocated, whether through the Commissioner for Children and Young People or elsewhere, to even look at progressing this or making this a reality within Western Australia.
I am not going to say too much about education because everyone has talked about education. But I will say that I share the concerns of the State School Teachers’ Union of WA that there has been only a 1.1 per cent increase to the education budget while we are looking at inflation of 1.5 per cent and student enrolment growth in public schools of three per cent. That effectively means that there has been a real cut to school budgets, at a time when schools are facing more challenges than ever before. That is the lowest increase that we have had over the last five years. My particular interest is the provision of appropriate programs for students who are at educational risk. I recognise that many of our school environments are becoming far more challenging. I accept the minister’s comment that our schools reflect the communities in which they exist. I absolutely agree that schools should not be expected to resolve the broader problems within the community. However, it is the case that for six to seven hours a day, schools are the frontline for children. That means we need to ensure that there is capacity for programs to be made available for students and families who experience difficulties for whatever reason. I am concerned to make sure that schools are well equipped, particularly in the provision of referral pathways to appropriate services, as well as in delivering the necessary in-school services to assist children who are struggling. There are obviously ongoing concerns about the cuts to education, and the community is still unhappy about that.
I want to make a comment about Moora Residential College. Personally, I wish Moora Residential College would be funded again. However, from my observations, I have a horrible feeling that because of the nature of the campaign, the government has almost been backed into a corner. I am not sure that Moora Residential College will ever be able to be funded again, because there comes a point at which, if an issue is pushed too hard, it does not allow people the space to make a decision to fund it again. I am really concerned about that because I think it would have been good to keep Moora Residential College open, and I still think that is the right thing to do.
I remain frustrated about the future of Tuart and Canning Colleges. I wish there had been some way to keep at least one of those colleges open for students who need alternative pathways to years 11 and 12. That is a valid pursuit in its own right. That was a real mistake. It was incredibly short-sighted to close both those colleges. If just one of those colleges had been kept open, we would have been able to ensure that options were provided for those students. The closure of Herdsman Lake Wildlife Centre was also short-sighted. To get back to the theme of what seems to be my entire speech, why on earth would the government defund community-based services that are operating with so little, yet delivering so much? What a shame. There is also the issue of the camp schools. We know from our forecasts that more workers and trainees are needed. However, the budget does not reflect that.
In my final moments, I want to say that I was interested to hear the response from government about foetal alcohol spectrum disorder. As I understand it, a cabinet committee is looking across the ministries to interrogate what each government department is or is not doing in the area of FASD. This area has never received the attention it requires. We are talking about an area of huge need, particularly into the future. I suppose my despair about this issue being part of cabinet proceedings is that clearly I will not be privy to what comes out of those proceedings. I hope we will soon see some announcements about proposals to address the issue of FASD, particularly in the education budget, and also in the youth, justice, child protection and health budgets.
The budget does nothing to address the gender pay gap in Western Australia, which at over 22 per cent is significantly higher than the national average. Western Australia does not have a pay equity unit. Western Australia also now has fewer staff than ever in the Equal Opportunity Commission. That is a shame.
I welcome the government’s intention to develop a 10-year plan to reduce and prevent family and domestic violence. Hopefully that plan will be substantive and some targets will be attached to it. I would like that plan to be along the lines of the 10-year mental health plan, although I am sure people wish that something so substantive was not floating around anymore. It would be really great if the plan spelled out what is required in service provision as well as legislative reform and put some time frames around that. Would that not be exciting!
I reiterate my concerns about the proposed reduction in funding for community resource centres from $13 million per annum to $8 million per annum. These centres provide essential services to regional Western Australia. My colleague Hon Diane Evers has spoken at length about this issue, particularly as it affects the CRCs in her region of the south west. It is important that these services are funded adequately. These are, again, community services that are being run on the smell of an oily rag. It is false economy to take money from these centres, because they always deliver far more than the meagre funding they get would reflect.
More broadly, I am concerned about the impact of the public sector cuts and the machinery-of-government changes. I note that according to the Community and Public Sector Union–Civil Service Association of WA, more than 3 000 public servants responded to a recent survey that found that over 70 per cent now have a higher workload than a year ago; 70 per cent of people are working additional hours and through meal breaks; and—this is particularly concerning—71 per cent of people are experiencing higher levels of stress and anxiety.
The Langoulant report was a very worthwhile report. A lot of important lessons can be learnt from that report. The Langoulant report identified that lack of expertise in the public sector can be a problem. However, because of the machinery-of-government changes, Western Australia is losing more and more experienced people from vital areas. I am specifically concerned about the loss of expertise, and corporate knowledge and history, in areas such as child protection and other areas that deal with some of the most vulnerable people in this state. There is a lot of confusion around what is happening with the machinery-of-government changes, from people within departments as well as from people externally. The lack of transparency about the machinery-of-government changes is a concern. That lack of transparency came to the fore during the estimates committee process. That was particularly the case with the Department of Communities. The budget of that department is all over the place. We do not know whether a budget line item pertains to Communities or Housing or Child Protection, or where it is sitting. We cannot ask about the work of a particular agency within that department more broadly. It is far from clear in the budget papers which line items are the responsibility of which minister. That is a problem, because we have not been able to find out what is happening with budgets in the past and particularly going into the future.
I am pleased to see that one positive outcome from the machinery-of-government changes is that Child Protection is now working more closely with Housing to address instances in which the three-strikes policy was making vulnerable families homeless. I am not bagging the entire project of breaking down the silos in government, because that is very important. However, we need more transparency around this.
I could go on for days, but I will not. My final comment is about the equal remuneration order. I note the significant concerns of the community services sector that it will face increased costs as a result of the equal remuneration order due to the increased need in the community for services and support. There has effectively been no recognition by the government of this concern. This area will need to come to the government’s attention over the next 12 months as we go into the future budget. This area has been overlooked, but it should not be, because it will probably break some of those services unless we can get a proper and appropriate government response to how it will deal with this issue.
As I have said, I could talk about so many things. I did not even go into any detail on training other than to acknowledge that the federal government is a bit of a dumpster fire with its lack of funding. Overall, again, it was a pretty uninspiring budget. It included some good things and some really not good things. A lot of community-managed services are just holding on by the skin of their teeth, with some going under. There is a lack of investment in those areas of critical need, particularly early intervention prevention and allowing people to be able to hold on. I really hope that we start seeing the government turn around and the federal government starting to lift its game with where it needs to fund. I am worried that vulnerable people will be falling through the cracks. As a community, the government needs to make sure that we are doing better.
Debate adjourned, on motion by Hon Ken Baston.