Consideration of Tabled Papers
Resumed from an earlier stage of the sitting.
HON ALISON XAMON (North Metropolitan) [5.42 pm]: I rise to make some comments about the budget. I particularly want to make some comments about the portfolio areas that I cover and that pertain to the Greens. I will not make general commentary about revenue raising; I could say lots on the GST distribution issue and how we got to this budgetary dilemma. I am the first one to acknowledge that. We have canvassed some of it in this chamber during our discussions on proposed budgetary measures and, undoubtedly, we will keep doing so. I think it is really important that I make some comments about the way the government has chosen to spend and also, importantly, not spend in areas of particular concern to me. I will make some observations.
We are part of a civil society. In a civil society we ensure that essential services are provided. Today I will talk about what constitutes essential services that enable people to live well and to live productive lives and that ensure that communities remain healthy as a whole. I will start by talking about my favourite subject—what is happening in mental health and mental health expenditure. I have spoken many times in this chamber about the 10-year mental health and alcohol and other drug services plan. The plan was put forward by the previous government, and I have tried to make clear time and again that it is not a product of any particular political party; it is very much a product of the sector. At the time it was released, it outlined the needs of the mental health, alcohol and other drug sector over the next 10 years; we are now getting close to two years in from the development of that plan. Importantly, it was about mapping projected needs and the cost of not meeting those projected needs.
One of the things the plan outlined was the need to ensure that we invest in a whole range of specialist services. I was particularly disappointed to note that as yet no moneys have been allocated in the forward estimates to progress any of the key essential specialist services. For example, I was concerned that there is nothing in the forward estimates for the establishment of a transcultural mental health unit. During the estimates hearings there was an attempt to suggest that we have a transcultural mental health unit, which we of course do not. I was pleased to see that there was a backdown from that position pretty quickly. We really need one. Work has been done in the creation of a hub-and-spoke model of service that will ensure that people who come from multicultural backgrounds can walk into any health service, from a general practitioner through to the emergency department, and receive at least a basic level of mental health service and access to specialty services, such as interpreting services and people with an appropriate cultural knowledge—a whole range of things. This is really important because an increasing number of people coming to live in Western Australia are from multicultural backgrounds and they are not having their needs met when they present at health services. It is a very big concern.
We also know a lot of work is still to be done around particular areas of mental health such as the provision of services to deal with particular diagnoses from which people can fully recover. I have spoken about bipolar disorder as an example, as well as various personality disorders. Highly complex specialised services are required for people with these disorders, yet we have not seen the sort of investment required to make sure that people can fully recover. There is a cost to this. If we do not assist unwell people—in this case we are talking about people who can often be severely unwell—to become well, they fail to achieve the outcome that we ultimately want, which is to become productive and contributing members of the community. We know that with intense investment in services, people with personality disorders can fully recover and go on to lead full lives. It is a false economy to continue to fail to provide these specialist services because it means people stay perpetually unwell, and their family members are often pulled out of the workforce to take on caring duties or they too end up becoming unwell through the stress of what is happening to their family.
We also need to ensure that we invest in specialised neuropsychiatric services. People with developmental disability have fallen through the cracks, particularly when they have co-occurring health issues. We need to pick up the modelling identified a couple of years ago and start looking at where we are going to start investing in the services because it is not good enough that we are not doing so now. Members should not be surprised when they hear individual stories that eventually make their way to our newspapers about how people were failed by the services. Plenty of people get good services from our mental health system, by the way, and some amazing and committed clinicians work in our system. I have had the privilege of working with many of them for quite a long time. They are extraordinary human beings, but they are overworked and there simply is not the capacity to deal with the breadth of services required.
I will also make some comments about the Statewide Specialist Aboriginal Mental Health Service. I asked some questions about this in the Standing Committee on Estimates and Financial Operations hearings on the budget estimates. This really important service was established by the previous government and identified a very particular need. Last week I was in the Kimberley for the Rural and Remote Mental Health Conference, catching up with old colleagues and meeting many new friends; it was absolutely fantastic. However, post June next year, there is no money in the budget for the Statewide Specialist Aboriginal Mental Health Service to continue. I understand that the service is in the process of some sort of review. There is a lot of disquiet about how this review is being conducted, the lack of consultation with people on the ground and how it will be measured. I understand that the Mental Health Commission is very supportive of the service, as it should be, but people are concerned that this service might not continue beyond June.
The clinicians, particularly those from the Kimberley and the Pilbara who work with Aboriginal clients and families, have made it abundantly clear that they will not be able to do their job if this service closes. It has become such a critical and important part of the way those services are delivered. I express my deep concern about the delivery of mental health services in not only the Kimberley and Pilbara, but also the metropolitan area, down south, Kalgoorlie and all these areas, if this service does not continue. It is not a huge service but it is very specialised and very important. One of the important thing that SSAMHS is doing is building up the Aboriginal workforce in mental health and alcohol and other drugs. It is critical that the service continues and I express my concern that there is nothing in the forward estimates beyond June to indicate whether that service will continue. I assure members that if there is any suggestion that the service is to be closed or diminished, I will have plenty to say about that.
I also want to talk about the lack of progress being made in increasing the number of forensic mental health beds. I was really concerned to read in the budget that people are churning their way through Frankland Centre and are unable to stay for the time that they potential need because of the sheer number of people requiring forensic services. That means that people are being sent back to prisons prematurely. I am particularly concerned if it also means that people are being turfed out to other areas of Graylands or other services prematurely. We are talking about some of the most unwell people in Western Australia and it is an absolute travesty that we have not expanded the number of forensic beds in the last 30 years in line with the population—let alone the issue of acuity with people presenting and the intersection with alcohol and other drugs. I am really concerned about the lack of progress in that area.
I was pleased to hear that the Mental Health Commission is making slow progress towards commissioning mental health and alcohol and other drug services within prisons. We will need money for that, but at least it is a step in the right direction. The Department of Corrective Services has no place trying to deliver services in the prisons. It is not any good at it. That is a really positive step and I am looking forward to seeing in future budgets, or perhaps in the mid-term review, whether money will be put into those services.
Again, there is no money in the forward estimates for the implementation of the suicide prevention strategy. I realise that the current strategy finishes in 2020. However, I anticipated that something in the forward estimates would indicate at least a commitment to a future suicide prevention strategy. We have had some progress in the area of implementation of suicide prevention services. As we know, we have some really important trial programs, such as the one for children bereaved by suicide, which is a really important service. However, there is still so much to do. I have said it before and I will say it again. I wish the feds would get out of this space and just hand over the money to the state. The feds are really bad at delivering suicide prevention services in Western Australia and we could use the money so much better.
I was reminded of this when I was in the Kimberley recently. I was in the Kimberley a year ago to look at what was happening with the suicide strategies. The crossover and the lack of coordination between the federal strategies and the state strategy does my head in. I am eternally concerned at the way the feds sort of swan in and try to take over this space without any proper consultation with their state counterparts. I will tell members something: they are good at chucking around the money if they think it suits their purposes, but really they need to get better at coughing it up and handing it over to the people who are better placed to determine how best to coordinate those services.
I was concerned to hear that Silver Chain has had to withdraw the provision of mental health services in the Pilbara, thereby creating a gap that nobody else is able to fill. I understand that this has been put down as a line item in the budget as a saving, but let us call it what it is. It means that a really important service is no longer being delivered. It highlights the challenges within our regions with the delivery of some of these services. They cost money to run and if even very large organisations such as Silver Chain, which is very well equipped to absorb a lot of the costs, is feeling that it cannot run it anymore, that is very, very problematic.
We know that there is concern about mental health beds and pressures there, but overall I am very concerned about the lack of focus on early intervention and prevention services. It means we will continue to go down the same old path. If we do not turn off the tap, if you like, and assist people when they start to become unwell—people very rarely become unwell overnight—to deal with their mental health issues and seek support as soon as possible, it ends up being a bigger cost. It is a false economy. The budget does not have the money that was identified as being required in the 10-year services plan, so that is very frustrating.
I also want to comment on alcohol and other drug services. I acknowledge that there has been significant investment in dealing with the issue of meth use, and that is good because it is a problem. What we have seen with meth that we have not seen with other illicit drugs is how much collateral damage comes from meth use. It is not the main cause of death from drugs. Alcohol is more dangerous in that regard. The massive increase in the number of overdoses and deaths is coming from prescription drugs. That is where the problems are if our principal concern is around hospital admissions and deaths. When people are in the grip of meth use, frankly, it has a terrible impact on the community and people around them. That is one of the reasons that people are particularly concerned about addressing the meth issue. It is a really nasty drug and it destroys people.
I was really pleased to see that a rehabilitation centre in the south west is back on the table. I was really concerned that in the previous budget that project was put on the backburner for a bit and that other areas that I do not necessarily agree with had been prioritised instead. I was really, really pleased to see that is back. It is long overdue. We absolutely need it and it will be very welcome in the south west. As I have said before, illicit drug use needs to be treated as a health issue, and that means we need to invest in addressing the issues that lead people to illicit drug use so that people do not take drugs in the first place. It is incredibly costly from a human and community perspective, as well as financially, to try to pick up the pieces once people have found themselves in the grip of addiction. We still need to look at greater investment in both treatment and support for people affected by drugs, but I want to acknowledge that there is at least some investment in that space, and not before time.
I want to make some comments about health. We have talked ad infinitum about the debacles around the hospitals and the sheer amount of money that is being lost. I am thinking about the parking issues, for example, and the fact that in the case of the children’s hospital we have to stick with the dilapidated Princess Margaret Hospital that is no longer fit for purpose. The staff are really struggling. The fact that we need to look at putting in temporary upgrades while we are waiting for the new hospital is a terrible waste of money, and people will be talking about that. I also refer to the ongoing problems with Fiona Stanley Hospital. However, it looks like we might be finally starting to have that settle in accordingly.
Sitting suspended from 6.00 to 7.30 pm
Hon ALISON XAMON: As I was saying, I understand why people looking at the health budget have a concern about what is happening with expenditure on our hospitals, particularly the new Perth Children’s Hospital, because it is a genuine concern. Many of us—probably all of us—look forward to seeing that facility being opened, but it is a very big problem that it is costing us such an extraordinary amount of money waiting for that to occur and at the same time we have to look at the interim measures at Princess Margaret Hospital for Children. I want to express concern about what has happened around the health budget as it pertains to early intervention and prevention services more generally and also services and supports that enable people to live well outside of hospital. We know that they are the most cost-effective ways to provide services.
One of the things that has become apparent in this budget is that some key services provided by non-government organisations are no longer being funded at all. I am really concerned about that. In this chamber I have already raised concerns about organisations such as Coeliac Western Australia, which was receiving some important core funding and as a result of losing that funding has lost its manager and is not able to provide the scope of services it previously did. As an example, one in 70 Western Australians have coeliac disease. We know that the effects of poor management of conditions like coeliac disease simply result in significant costs to the health system elsewhere. Apart from the fact that it means that people are not able to live good and productive lives, it also means that the government will just end up spending more money as people end up in our hospital system anyway. I remain eternally concerned that very important organisations such as The Bump WA and ConnectGroups, which are providing many of these self-help services, are being denied what are peanuts in terms of funding. Their services are so important, and we will end up paying more for them in the long run. I understand that these sorts of services become really easy to just cut off, but it is a problem.
I have spoken already about my concerns about services like Living Proud, for example, which was receiving $80 000 a year from the Department of Health. It has received $30 000 this year and will receive no additional funding from December. That is a huge problem, because Living Proud was providing and continues to try to provide really important services for LGBTIQ people who are at risk, which means that we are keeping people out of our hospital system. It is just a tiny amount of dollars from a government perspective that has a really big impact in reducing expensive presentations within our hospital system. That is without even looking at the human cost of these things. Because of their size within the Department of Health, which is the bane of my existence, the really important services provided by these sorts of organisations are suddenly not being implemented. This has already been mentioned quite a few times in this place, but it is concerning to see that funds have not been allocated to support and expand on the important work that organisations such as Palliative Care WA provide, particularly in the context of our ageing population and the community discussions being generated at the moment about death and choices around death. These all need to be considered with a view to getting funded, but this is not where the dollars are going. I am concerned that we have a very short-sighted approach generally to health and to our mental health services in that we are simply not investing in early intervention and prevention and the community-based services that ensure that we keep people out of our very bloated hospital system.
I want to make some comments about the NDIS. I note that we are currently on foot with a motion on this that we will be debating further. Just in case I do not get an opportunity to respond in tomorrow’s debate, I want to make a few comments. I note that when the budget came out, I received feedback from people in the disability sector that they were quite despairing that no certainty had been provided in the budget. We have since been advised by the Minister for Disability Services that there is certainly a commitment to make an announcement in December. I think people just want certainty. I have been asked whether I am trying to push for a state or federal system and my response to that is that I am pushing for a system. It is not up to me to make a decision. I am relatively agnostic about whether it should be a state or federally based system. My issue is that is up to people in the disability sector to make that determination, not me. I have just been calling for some sort of clarity and certainty around that.
I also share the Minister for Disability Services’ concerns that were raised around the figure of 39 000 that was initially put forward. I have a very strong suspicion that at least 20 per cent more people will probably be eligible for the scheme. As I have said, the concern is that psychosocial disability has been significantly understated. One of the presentations I have seen recently was courtesy of Professor Allan Fels, chair of the National Mental Health Commission. He has been putting forward some projected figures on what is anticipated will be required. I have to say that it is far below the 39 000 that was originally put forward as the likely projected number of people who will be eligible for NDIS. I have heard assurances from the minister that even if it turns out to be more than 39 000, there is no suggestion that there will be a cap at 39 000. The very real concern, particularly within a constrained budget environment, is that people’s overall packages are going to be significantly lower than what they think or maybe fear. The even bigger fear is that they will be lower compared with other states. That is a very real concern and one that this budget has not been able to provide a lot of information on.
As I have said before, we need to look at making sure that we are also providing block funding for particular services. It is really difficult to ascertain what degree of block funding is appropriate in an environment in which we are moving to an individualised funding model, but there are some basic services that will just have to keep running. We cannot depend on individuals being able to sign up before, in order to ensure that they continue. The NDIS is meant to be something over and above; it is meant to provide an improved level of service. We need to guarantee that particular services are able to ensure continuity and have some consistency around funding. I have talked about interpreting services, for example, transport services and services around systemic advocacy.
We should bear in mind that the Productivity Commission has said that it is essential to make sure that the government is funding systemic advocacy, particularly in the face of a major reform like NDIS, as well as ensuring that we have funding for services of what I term “last resorts”, particularly for those clients who often fall through the cracks, particularly forensic clients and people who have co-occurring intellectual or cognitive disability and psychosocial disability. We have to make sure we are providing for them. Last week I was speaking to some providers about some of the people who are starting to fall through the cracks, not necessarily due to National Disability Insurance Scheme issues yet, because they are not yet eligible for services. But they are already saying that it is next to impossible to find the services to cater to their needs through referral pathways, particularly those who live in Graylands Hospital, or other services. It will be a really big issue and members have to be aware that it will be potentially a very big cost going into the future. But, as we have said, it is one of the biggest reforms this country has ever seen—as big as Medicare. We still have a long way to go. We know from the Productivity Commission report that much of the implementation is not going well nationally, so this is not about trying to point the finger at any one jurisdiction; it is about acknowledging the difficulties we are having implementing the NDIS. I recognise what an enormous challenge it is.
I welcome the increase in the number of education assistants and teachers but I note also that the disability sector is concerned that there is no extra support specifically for students with disability and specialist behavioural support. This is an area of great need that I am sure people may have heard about from schools and also school children’s parents. I note also that investment in the area of foetal alcohol syndrome disorder still has a long way to go. I have previously described it as a tsunami coming over the horizon due to the number of people coming through who are likely to receive diagnosis. We know that we have inadequate diagnostic tools and that often people do not even get diagnosed until they are in the very expensive justice system. We need to find a better way to make sure people are diagnosed much earlier to get the necessary supports and assistance they need. The most important thing is we need to be investing in whatever programs and services are needed to stop FASD from occurring in the first place. It is probably one of the most heartbreaking conditions we can think of because it is avoidable. It seems to me to be an area in which we have to look at some investment. I am really impressed with the work the Telethon Kids Institute has been doing in this space. I know that it needs funding for a second tranche of research and that that funding is not yet forthcoming. If we are to invest in and save money for the future, that is the area we need to look at. I note also that no additional funding was put into the disability justice centres. However, I hope that once we get rid of the vile and foul Criminal Law (Mentally Impaired Accused) Act, or at least dramatically reform it, which I still hope will happen this year, the number of people who potentially will need to access those centres may diminish. I do not know. Depending on what happens with the CLMIA, I am happy to withhold judgement about what is happening with the budget. I acknowledge that due also to the limitations of CLMIA, that very important service has been under-utilised. I hope we will see something there. We know that we need to improve disability accessibility across the community infrastructure generally. Often it is really difficult for people to do things like catch public transport. There are still a number of train stations that are either utterly inaccessible or that have access ramps with gradients that are almost deadly. Even just getting to a bus stop can be next to impossible, particularly for people trying to get to a bus stop surrounded by woodchips. I want people to think about what that must be like for people with mobility issues. We need to look also at appropriate housing and other accommodation options for people with disability.
I will comment also on what is happening with the TAFE sector. Obviously, I welcomed the government’s promise that it made during the election to freeze student fees. We need to go further because we know already that TAFE enrolments have dropped dramatically and affordability is often cited as one of the key reasons for that. We will have to do more in that space. I was particularly alarmed during the estimates process to hear that the commonwealth is walking away from funding a lot of the general training in that space. I know from having spoken to people—I speak to many people in the TAFE sector, particularly from the colleges—that they are very alarmed about what will happen with their performance and training agreements and how much they will have to cut for the next calendar year. I hope we can get this resolved sooner rather than later. It seems to me to be yet another example of the feds failing this state. I am getting a bit tired of it, actually. Not enough money has been going into our TAFE sector specifically for quite a long time now. It is one of the things I am quite critical of the previous government about and we need to see a turnaround. As I have said before, I am particularly concerned because the indications are that we are looking at a looming shortage of appropriately qualified workers in about three years. Therefore, now is the time to start investing in the sector and making sure people are trained locally so that people can fill the jobs as we finally start turning around the economy. I note also that this will particularly be the case in areas such as aged care because of our ageing population. There is already a shortage of workers in the aged-care sector, and it will only get worse. The big topic I have been talking about is the NDIS. There is a massive worker shortage looming in the disability sector yet at the moment it is too expensive for people to go to TAFE only to then have to work in a sector that is not incredibly lucrative but that tends to have really good people working in it. Our concern is that we will not be able to meet the needs of people with disability via the NDIS, or anything else for that matter.
Education is another area in which there is uncertainty over federal funding amounts. It appears to be a common theme. I understand there is about a $9 million deficit from what we were anticipating getting from the commonwealth this year. That means that WA is likely to be at a significant disadvantage over the next four years. I welcome the increase, as I said before, in the number of education assistants and teachers. That is good because we need to make sure that we are maintaining what I think is one of the better public education systems within Australia but, obviously, I am really concerned that we will continue to be penalised by the federal government for having invested more than the other states in our education sector in the first place. In my electorate of the North Metropolitan Region I am having quite a bit to do with a lot of parents from the western suburbs in particular who are concerned about their schools. It is really unfortunate that we cannot get any clear answers. I accept that maybe the decisions have not been made yet about what is likely to happen to the City Beach high school site and the flow-on effect that will have for the International School of Western Australia and Doubleview Primary School. I really hope it is not going to be sold off for housing because once the land is sold, it is gone and we cannot get it back. Even though members in this place have acknowledged that the government will be proceeding as a matter of priority with a central school in Subiaco, which I acknowledge is required, it should not be done with an eye to cutting off future options in the western suburbs. I feel really strongly that we need to make sure we retain the site and keep it viable so that when money is made available to create another high school—it will be necessary—that the land will be there and that we will not have to go through all the concerns about how we will purchase the land required. I urge this government really strongly to think about that and not be short-sighted. It should keep that site as is.
We have had some good news in the budget about the issue of family and domestic violence. It is really good that two new refuges are coming through. Demand has increased in this area and it has historically been plagued with issues of waiting lists. I am going to sound like a broken record on this but I do not care. We do not have enough investment in early intervention and prevention to make sure that people do not get caught in a cycle of perpetrating in the first place. No money is in the forward estimates for a new male perpetrators service. It is an important initiative and we need to put money in it. Similarly, with child protection, no priority has been given to family support and early intervention. That is how we can save the bucks in the long run. It is also how to make sure that people lead better lives.
The budget will introduce a new 15 per cent gambling tax. Although we do not have all the details yet, I am quite comfortable with a gambling tax. I think it would be even better if money generated from the tax could be directed into services that support problem gamblers. I think that that is probably unlikely. I recognise that it might be used instead to prop up general revenue, but it would be really great if at least a percentage of it was put aside to deal with the issue of problem gambling. It is a blight and with the rise of online gambling, far too many people are affected by it. Provision for services would be absolutely wonderful.
I want to comment generally on justice and law and order. I welcome the budget commitment to remove limitation periods for civil actions by victims of child sexual abuse, but I note that the state will have a significant liability when it passes the legislation and removes the statute of limitations. That will be an inevitable outcome of passing what I recognise is just legislation. My concern is that no funding has been allocated in the budget. As yet no funding has been allocated to a commonwealth redress scheme, if and when that gets up and running. I know that we had our own redress scheme and that there were problems with it. We do not yet know what any future commonwealth redress scheme will look like, the quantum of funds that can be expected or the amount that the state may be expected to contribute. I am concerned that we have not got anything in the forward estimates. Again, where is that money going to come from?
In budget estimates I asked some questions about investment in diversionary courts and I will continue to ask them. These are some of my pet projects. I was lucky enough to catch up recently with some people from the Start Court, otherwise known as the mental health court, to find out what is going on. They are really keen to expand the program out to the regions—it is really needed—as some kind of circuit court. I am pleased to see money in the budget for it to continue as it is, but we need to look at expanding these programs. This program is working; it is cutting rates of recidivism. For that reason alone, we need to look at investment to make sure that it continues. Likewise, for the Drug Court, which turns people’s lives around, we have not seen increased money. Ever since the Law Reform Commission report, I have been waiting to see some sort of expansion of the Intellectual Disability Diversion Program, which is a really important program. The Law Reform Commission recommended that it be expanded, but it has not happened yet. No details are in the budget about future funding or the government’s intention to expand these diversionary courts.
Target 120 was a key election priority but only $600 000 was allocated in the budget to the development of a business case and actuarial modelling. There is no money in the forward estimates. I think it is really good for the government not to rush into the program so I will not be critical of that, but I would like to see a commitment to address some serious gaps in investment in early intervention with at-risk kids.
I note that there is no new legal aid funding, despite the recognition of unprecedented demand. On a population basis, government funding for Legal Aid WA is the lowest in Australia. The cost of delivering justice services in WA is 28 per cent higher than the national average. There does not appear to be any additional investment in community legal centres. As someone who comes from the CLC sector, I want to say that these people are punching above their weight. We are getting our money’s worth and then some. They are well and truly carrying the load of the overflow from legal aid. They rely very heavily on pro bono solicitors—as I was doing—students and many others. There comes a point at which too many people who need justice have been turned away with no services whatsoever. I am disappointed that cost-effective services like CLCs are not receiving the sort of love that they should.
I welcome the introduction of a custody notification service but I note that this is expected to be funded by the federal government. I hope it does not fail us on that one yet again. I note $850 000 has been allocated to the introduction of a proposed justice pipeline model. The difficult of accessing and collecting justice data has been acknowledged for a long time. It hampers the development and delivery of evidence-based programs. Concerns have been raised that the proposed model will have a narrow justice focus and will fail to include early intervention and rehabilitation models and pathways as well as wider predictors of contact with the justice system. I hope the details of the model will be clarified soon. There are stakeholders who very much want to be involved in its development. I hope there will be extensive consultation on how it will look and what it will include. It has the capacity to be a really good use of government funds. But if we do not get it right in the first instance, what a waste of money it will be!
I note that $189 million has been allocated to manage the forecast growth in the prison population. I welcome the government’s commitment to look at ways to keep fine defaulters out of prison. That is not before time. What a stupid and expensive way to deal with fine defaulters! For a very long time it has been acknowledged as an issue that needed to be addressed. Other states have managed to address this very successfully. We do not have to be geniuses; we can just look at what is working elsewhere. Frankly, it should have been already addressed. If the budget crisis or the death of people in custody will not be the instigator to finally address this, quite frankly, I do not know what will be. The government needs to look at this issue more broadly but this is a great start. It needs to spend money on strategies to keep people out of prison, stop them returning to prison and somehow find a way to deal with the disastrous number of people being kept in remand for extensive periods. That has been the issue that has blown out the numbers to the unsustainable, incredibly expensive level that we have now. We can and should do an awful lot more when people are in prisons to make sure that they get the skills and services that they need, so that, ideally, they do not go back there again. I have said before and will continue to say that we have to make sure that we have proper investment in mental health, health, dentistry, and alcohol and other drug services. Many people who go into our prisons have problems in many, if not all, of those areas and need to get the basics sorted out so that they can lead productive lives. There need to be trauma services for people. A number of people, particularly in our women’s prisons, have been subject to ongoing childhood sexual abuse, adult sexual abuse and domestic violence. I am talking about deeply traumatised members of the community who need to get the support they need to deal with the impact of cycles of trauma.
This harks back to the legal issues, but some CLCs, particularly the Gosnells community legal centre, provided cheap as chips services into the prisons around basic legal advice. We are talking about things like how to maintain a tenancy—things that enable people to live well in the community so they can better deal with the social determinants that are going to keep them out of prison. This is really cost-effective and it is much better to put in the handful of thousands of dollars needed to deliver those programs than it is to just keep people in prison. We want people working and living successfully within the community, not offending, and being able to get the skills they need.
Likewise, people are being kept in our prisons longer than they need to simply because they do not have access to the pre-parole programs they need in order to be able to get out, even when parole has been granted. That is actually what is happening. Again, if we take the dollars that are being used to keep them there on a daily basis and reinvest them into making sure that we have enough pre-parole services, people would be out of prison and in the community. We also need investment in training. So many of the people who end up in our prisons have not had adequate training or job opportunities in their lives, so one of the things we want to do is to make sure that people can be skilled so that hopefully, once they get out of prison, they do not go back in again.
I want to express my concern about the continued uncertainty around youth justice and what is happening with the machinery-of-government changes. I note that during the estimates hearings we were not given any indication of what is going to happen in that space, or even time frames for when the issue is likely to be resolved. The language in the budget around youth justice issues is appallingly punitive, with a focus on language like “controls” and “safety and security”, with no mention of rehabilitation or a therapeutic focus, which is what we should be doing when we are talking about children. There is no indication of any commitment to addressing concerns about Banksia Hill, particularly the concerns raised by the Inspector of Custodial Services. There is no funding to reallocate the girls and young women, and there is no funding to relocate 11 and 12-year-olds out of Banksia Hill. There is no funding to put into action the Kimberley alternative justice framework. There is no funding to address the large number of young people in detention who are currently on remand. It also came out that there are people being kept in Banksia Hill simply because they do not have appropriate accommodation options. These are children who have been found to be fit to be out of prison and who would be better off out of prison, but are still being kept in there at a cost of $1 000 a day simply because there is no suitable safe accommodation for them to go into. More emphasis and funding should be put into community-based rehabilitative programs rather than reactionary and punitive measures. This is simply about shifting around the way the government decides to allocate its budget.
I am concerned about the initiative to remove 3 000 public servants and what that will mean in practice in terms of delivery of services. I suppose one of my principal concerns is that it seems to be so haphazard. We have heard this mantra for years about how there will be no effect on frontline services; we already know that once we move back-end services, it will always have an impact on frontline services. Apart from that, no clear direction or strategy has been given about which areas of the public service will have 3 000 people taken away. Will they be taken from Child Protection and Family Support, for example? Do we want them to be taken from mental health? Which are the areas that are going to be targeted? Although the government is putting a lot of energy into making sure that these 3 000 jobs are taken from our public service, I am really concerned about the lack of transparency and about whether there has even been any strategic thought about where these 3 000 jobs are meant to be taken from. This is happening on top of what is for many public servants turning out to be deeply unsettling machinery-of-government changes. It creates a lot of stress and anxiety for public servants.
I want to make some comments on the issue of integrity of government. I am concerned that a number of our independent agencies that play a really important scrutiny role are being eroded, with many sustaining a reduction in funding for the current financial year. I acknowledge that it is generally not a huge reduction, but for small agencies—we are talking, in some cases, really small agencies—with growing workloads, it is definitely going to have an impact. We then see no real growth in funding at all over the forward estimates.
For starters, there is the Office of the Auditor General. I totally support the Office of the Auditor General; I think it is one of the best uses of taxpayers’ dollars that we have, but I also acknowledge that it has significantly more work, now that it has the new local government role, and thank goodness—someone needs to keep an eye on what is happening with local government, I can tell members. The Local Government Amendment (Auditing) Bill 2017, which has been passed, will result in an approximately 80 per cent increase in the number of entities being audited by the Auditor General. We are talking about a significant increase in workload. To successfully complete these audits, the Office of the Auditor General anticipates an additional FTE requirement of about 15 to 20 per cent. The machinery-of-government changes are also going to require substantial audit of the new agencies. In the past when we have created new agencies, there have been a number of teething issues related to restructures, yet the increase in the Auditor General’s budget is not going to be enough to cover these additional responsibilities. I am particularly concerned about that because the last thing we want at the moment is a reduction in the capacity of the Office of the Auditor General. It is stupid to take money out of that particular agency because apart from ensuring the integrity of government, it also finds where money is being wasted and where funding can be improved.
The Commissioner for Equal Opportunity is an important role and I note that there is an increased number of complaints from people who have complex needs. I ask when a permanent equal opportunity commissioner is going to be appointed; that would be good to know. That agency also now has a reduced budget, despite increased demand.
Similarly, the Commissioner for Children and Young People is important. We know that we need to do better for the children of Western Australia, particularly in respect of complaints and the wellbeing of vulnerable children and young people. I note that the commissioner will be working on the development of effective responses for children displaying harmful sexual behaviours, and undertaking work arising from the release of the final report of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, which is due in December. This is really important work, yet the commission has a reduced budget into the future.
Of course, there is also one of my all-time favourites, the Inspector of Custodial Services. The inspector has already publicly acknowledged the difficulties in undertaking the role and meeting statutory obligations within the current funding envelope. There are also significant workload increases due to the commencement of the Melaleuca Remand and Reintegration Facility and the upgrading of the old Broome Regional Prison from an annexe facility of the West Kimberley Regional Prison. Again, that agency is looking at a reduced budget, despite this increased workload. The inspector noted in the 2016–17 annual report the impact that budgetary constraints were already having on the operation of that very important human rights office. Unfortunately, in this budget the government has made that situation even worse.
I am pleased to see that money has been allocated to the development of a new work health and safety bill, and that WorkSafe will progress with increased penalties for offences under the Occupational Safety and Health Act, as it should. I am concerned that the increased average cost of inspection for investigations has resulted in a reduction in the number of available inspector resources to conduct other investigations and inspections. I am also concerned that the number of electricity-related serious injuries and fatalities has doubled in comparison with the previous year. That is a real concern, and it is obviously going to require some very specific and targeted attention. This is not the direction in which we should be heading. Further, there are reports that employers comply with the requirements of labour relations laws only 52 per cent of the time because the department has been unable to implement its program of proactive inspections. The fact that it has only enough resources to do reactive work is really concerning, and clearly short-sighted. However, I welcome and am glad about the $7.4 million for financial counselling. In the current economic environment, I think that that is going to be more welcome than ever and very necessary.
I am concerned about the reduction in funding for the regional aged-care accommodation program, which was previously funded under royalties for regions. Originally $43 million was allocated to the program; this has now been revised down to $22.7 million over four years. We know there is a huge need for access to appropriate housing options for seniors living in the regions, so I am really concerned about the likely flow-on impact of lack of investment in this space.
Making some general comments before I sit down, I am concerned about rising essential living costs, particularly for water, power and transport. We know that the economic downturn has been very tough for a lot of Western Australians. Too many people are already struggling and increased costs make it all the more so. Generally, a budget that presents favourable figures means that we have lost sight of the need for investment in early intervention and prevention services right across the board in a range of areas that end up being really expensive for the taxpayer, as well as having a human cost, when we do not do that early investment. I am really concerned that these continue to be the areas that are constantly cut because it just seems to be easy for successive governments, time and again. We need to somehow find a way to stop that cycle and start looking at investment in these areas.
The last comment I want to make before I sit down is about the machinery of government more broadly. I note that I am not sad at all that some of the people have moved on and received payment. There are some people whom I am quite happy to see out of the system, but I want to say how disappointed I am with the chronic lack of transparency about the payments to people who are leaving. I know there are good people who have decided to move on and have received significant payouts as a result. Some people appear to have been pushed out, and have received payments, but I do not really know. As I said, I was quite happy to have the door hit some of the people on the way out, because they are probably not very good to have in the system. The machinery-of-government changes need to be more than just trying to get rid of unpopular people. I hope it will be far more strategic, particularly in breaking down silos between government departments. The first tranche of machinery-of-government changes is still uncertain, and that is creating problems. We will wait to see what happens in the future. I suspect, however, that a lot of money will be put into creating these super departments, and then we will do what we always do; that is, in five or 10 years, we will realise that it probably was not a good idea, and they will all be separated out again, because people will say that it did not work, and then five or 10 years after that, they will all be melded in again. That seems to be what happens.
Generally, let us see how the budget rolls out. I look forward to seeing the midyear review, which should be just a matter of weeks away. Let us see whether we can get some further answers about what will happen, particularly in the key areas that I am concerned about.
Debate adjourned, on motion by Hon Ken Baston.