HON ALISON XAMON (North Metropolitan) [6.44 pm]: I rise because I want to make some comments about the mental health and police co-response teams. This was an initiative of the previous government—a pilot program—and it has continued to receive support from the current government, about which I am very pleased. In September last year, the government finally released the evaluation of this co-response trial. Members may recall that I spoke to that evaluation in Parliament at the time because it found that, not surprisingly, the trial had been very successful. I say not surprisingly because the evaluation findings echoed what I had been hearing from mental health practitioners and police officers ever since the program began, so I was not at all surprised. I was nonetheless pleased that that official evaluation mirrored what I had been hearing.
Given the resounding success of the trial, at the time I urged the government to put resources into expanding the program across the state without diluting or compromising the co-response team’s capability. I say that because, at the time, there was concern that the same resources might be applied to a broader area. Some two months later, late last year, the government announced that it would be expanding the program to two more districts as part of its methamphetamine action plan, which is welcomed. It was announced that in addition to the north west metropolitan and south east metropolitan districts that were part of the trial in the first place, there would now be two units in Perth’s southern and eastern areas. Of course, I wholeheartedly welcome this announcement, but, unfortunately, I think the expansion still falls far short of what is needed. In particular, I want to talk about people in regional WA, who I know are desperate for more support.
The 10-year mental health and alcohol and other drugs plan specifically cites the need for a police co-response team in the south west region. The plan also outlines the need for dramatic growth in mental health community support, community treatment and hospital-based services in our regions. As I have spoken about before on many occasions, there simply are not enough mental health and alcohol and other drug services in the regions currently to service the need. Further, the latest Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission wastewater drug monitoring report, published late last year, found that meth use in the Perth metropolitan area is at its lowest point since testing began but that the downward trend is not happening in regional WA. People living in the regions are continuing to use more meth than their regional counterparts anywhere in Australia.
We are talking about insufficient service provision coupled with high need, which unsurprisingly results in an even greater burden on the police and the health system than what we experience in the Perth metropolitan region. As the authors of the evaluation stated, until community members are able to readily access the relevant services, there will be a continued need to contact the police in the first instance, particularly when they are dealing with a mental health crisis.
There is no doubt that people in the regions will need access to the co-response teams every bit as much as people in the Perth metropolitan area do. Although I accept that there are different logistical challenges for rolling out the program in regional areas, I would argue that larger population centres such as Bunbury and Geraldton, with populations of 87 000 and 37 000 respectively, would be ideal locations to begin a staged regional rollout for those co-response teams. As well as having sizeable programs in their own right, they are the capital cities for their respective regions and, as such, are already operating as hubs for a number of mental health, alcohol and other drug services.
In addition to the evaluation finding that the co-response teams had made a big difference to the experience of mental health consumers who come into contact with police, the teams are dramatically reducing the number of people who subsequently need to be taken to hospital. Consequently, having these teams is resulting in significant savings to the health budget as well as increasing better outcomes for people who are subject to these teams. So, it is making sense socially and fiscally to ensure that as many Western Australians as possible are able to derive the benefits that are being brought about by the co-response model.
I urge the government to consider as a matter of priority rolling out the co-response teams to the regions. Doing that will save money; however, if the government will not commit to the whole state at this stage, I suggest it should at least prioritise putting the teams into the larger regional centres as a first step. I think it is really important.