"I note that the funding will allow Fortem to address a growing list of first responders who are seeking clinical support to address mental health problems as natural disasters continue to affect many parts of the country. This funding will also ensure that Fortem can expand its community engagement services on the ground in more locations across regional Australia."
Address to the Federation Chamber, Private Members' Business, Fortem Australia
Monday 21 November 2022
Let me first acknowledge the extraordinary work of emergency service workers and first responders who are, right now, in flood and storm affected communities across many parts of New South Wales. I also acknowledge the extraordinary work of first responders across Australia over a very challenging three years. They deserve the support of our parliament and they have the support of this government.
It has been a difficult time for communities, and I welcome the recent announcement of the disaster recovery payment being extended to the New South Wales local government areas of Cabonne, Dubbo, Parkes and Walgett. This support will help communities tackle immediate needs like food and clothing, and it complements assistance already available in the area, including 13-week income support for workers and sole business operators and the jointly funded Commonwealth and state government grants of $75,000 for primary producers, $10,000 for rural landholders and clean up assistance for land councils. The extension brings the total number of New South Wales LGAs to 14. This severe weather has been widespread and devastating, to say the least. I encourage all impacted people to check their eligibility for these payments.
We in this place all know that the latest flood crisis hitting New South Wales is on the back of other disasters across other states and territories. It feels never-ending and I can only imagine the impact on our first responders and their families. This motion notes that the mental health and wellbeing of first responders is vitally important, and I agree.
The challenges of first responders was first brought home to me during my years working with the members of the Australian Federal Police Association. It's there I gained a much deeper understanding of the traumatic and stressful nature of much of the work that falls within the remit of our first responders. We all need to support those who are there for communities in crisis and for individuals in crisis. The mental health of first responders is a priority for me and the Albanese government.
In relation to the substantive matter of the motion, the funding for Fortem, the full $10 million will be delivered. We are not just promising this; we are going to deliver it. Fortem Australia has welcomed the announcement to allow the not-for-profit organisation to continue supporting first responders across the country. I note that the funding will allow Fortem to address a growing list of first responders who are seeking clinical support to address mental health problems as natural disasters continue to affect many parts of the country. This funding will also ensure that Fortem can expand its community engagement services on the ground in more locations across regional Australia. The Albanese government is actually doing what the previous government did not, by actually delivering the funding instead of promising it, stringing along a mental health charity and never delivering.
Although the start of this motion from the member for McPherson was broad in nature and is supportive and positive, the motion is critical of our government's actions. Just for the record: the previous government announced $10 million in funding for Fortem but did not provide any funding to them despite the announcement. Before the election, Fortem began to spend the funding based on the announcement, and asked the new government to urgently provide funding because of this. The former government, the one the member for McPherson was a cabinet minister in, tried to cut $4 million of funding for the National Emergency Management Agency during the floods.
More broadly, we all know that mental health support matters. This government believes in mental health support for first responders, and we are working on long-term sustainable funding solutions. In addition to Fortem, we fund a range of services to deliver this crucial work. The National Mental Health Service provides an online mental health assessment and triage service and a variety of mental health supports to emergency service workers and volunteers. This also includes direct referrals to the UNSW Traumatic Stress Clinic and the Black Dog Institute, who provide up to 12 free psychological sessions—either face to face or via telehealth—that do not require a GP referral or Medicare. Further, the government is committed to implementing the National Disaster Mental Health and Wellbeing Framework.
We're currently in the process of looking at long-term, sustainable measures to support communities and first responders impacted by disasters. I support the efforts of the department and the National Emergency Management Agency to work together to ensure transparent, responsive and cohesive structures are in place so we have a strong level of preparedness when disasters continue to strike.