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Home > News > Paul Healey's letter to Mental Health and Alcohol and Drug Services members: October

Paul Healey's letter to Mental Health and Alcohol and Drug Services members: October

2020-10-01

Dear members, 

It's really pleasing to see the COVID-19 numbers continuing to decrease in Victoria. I hope you know that you have played a big part in this, as members of our frontline. On behalf of everyone at HACSU, I'd like to thank you all for your tireless efforts in keeping Victorians safe. Now that we are progressing to COVID Normal, HACSU is ensuring the steps we are taking now will not only benefit workers now but also into the future. 

Mental Health Month has certainly lived up to its name this year, with our continued work on the new Mental Health Enterprise Bargaining Agreement (EBA), the appointment of a new Mental Health Minister in James Merlino and the launch of the biggest Mental Health Safety Audit in Victoria in our history. The Federal Budget was also handed down, with some big outcomes for the mental health sector. 

Firstly, I'd like to speak about where we're at with your new Mental Health EBA. You have been absolutely fantastic in posting your ballots to the Australian Electoral Commission, which has ensured that protected action will go ahead. This is currently slated for mid-November, but don't worry, myself and our team will keep you updated on exactly when it's happening and what your role will be. As you know, we take no pleasure in having to take industrial action. We would have much rather got a result at the bargaining table, but an impasse has led to this. And you know that we will fight tooth and nail to ensure our members get the pay and conditions they deserve. I'd like to thank you for your continued support so far and encourage you to get in touch with HACSU Assist if you have any questions. 

As you know, we're here for you at HACSU, and while your clients are in the best hands possible, we want to make sure you are as well. Right now, the mental health system is in crisis. The state is currently in the midst of a Royal Commission into the system but so far, changes haven't been felt. That's why we took action of our own by launching the largest Mental Health Safety Audit in Victoria in our history. We are overwhelmed with all the responses and would like to thank you for taking out the time to provide your input. Your input will help us ensure your safety, your family's safety and your clients' safety is the number one priority and that we can hold key decision-makers accountable. We're focused on fixing this broken system. 

As addressed above, Victoria has a new Mental Health Minister. In light of Jenny Mikakos' resignation as the Minister of Health, former Mental Health Minister Martin Foley took her position. We would like to thank Minister Foley for all of his hard work for the sector over the years and wish him luck in his new position. We are continuing to work with Minister Foley to get the outcomes our members deserve. We are also working with new Mental Health Minister James Merlino, who has been doing a great job in his new role. As many of you may know, Minister Merlino also has the portfolio of education, so he is very interested in ensuring the pathway for mental health workers from university into the workforce is sound. We look forward to providing our input and expertise on behalf of our members to unite and fix this system. 

You may have seen that the 2020-21 Federal Budget was handed down earlier this month, with a huge injection of cash poured into the mental health sector. Overall, $5.7 billion was invested into mental health, the number of Medicare-subsidised psychology sessions per year doubled, there was an increased investment into Headspace, $76 million invested into mental health (telehealth) for bushfire trauma recovery, over $47 million for an investment in mental health specific to Victorians and $102 million over four years for veterans' mental health support and services. While we appreciate how much investment has been made into the sector, we do wish that more was done for our workers in these tough times. With increased services comes increased work and we want to make sure we have the staff to match the demand. Right now, our members are often being overworked, leaving vulnerable people with no help in these challenging times. We're continuing to work with key decision-makers and the Royal Commission to ensure this does not continue. 

In terms of the month ahead, I'd like to remind you about two important conferences. The first is the 21st Victorian Collaborative Mental Health Nursing Conference. This year's event will be held online from Monday 9th November to Tuesday 10th November. Keynote speakers include Professor and Canada Research Chair (Tier 1) in Men's Health Promotion at the School of Nursing, University of British Columbia (UBC), Dr John Ollife; founder/ director at Humane Clinic, Matt Ball; Senior Consumer at the Centre for Psychiatric Nursing, Cath Roper and Chief Mental Health Nurse, Anna Love. For more information, including the program, and to register, please click here . The second important conference is our 2020 Delegates Conference. This year, a separate conference will be held for our Mental Health and Alcohol and Drugs Services delegates on Friday, November 27th via Zoom. You'll get to hear about the latest sector updates, participate in interactive workshops and mingle with your fellow delegates all from the comfort of your own couch. HACSU will also be sending out packs including food, refreshments as well as the event program and accompanying flyers. Register now to ensure your pack arrives in time for the conference. I look forward to seeing you all there. 

For our Alcohol and Drugs Services members, I'd like to provide you with updates on the We Are Crystal Clear campaign, our work with Foundation House and the inquiry into the Use of Cannabis in Victoria. 

HACSU has become one of the main stakeholders for the We Are Crystal Clear campaign. We Are Crystal Clear is a collective of activists, medical professionals, legal practitioners, trade unionists, outreach workers and community members that are demanding that state and federal governments urgently rethink our current Alcohol and Other Drugs policies. We know that our members have been on the frontline of dealing with the negative effects of lacking alcohol and other drugs policies. Treating addiction as a health issue not a handcuffs issue saves money and more importantly, it saves lives. We know that for every dollar spent on treatment saves the community seven dollars and for every dollar spent on harm reduction saves the community $27. 

Our essential workers working in AOD and Mental Health services deserve jobs that are stable, without the fear of losing funding and should be able to see a clear career progression as healthcare professionals. 

So what do we want? 

  1. More investment in existing AOD services and improving access to these services like DASA in Alice Springs that is saving hundreds of lives each year but is always battling it out for funding. 
  2. State governments working together to expand services across the country that have a proven track record. For example, we'd like State governments to implement a Foundation House  model in every state, working in partnership with trade unions and employers to get working people the help they need. 
  3. Investment in community-based rehabilitation centres with outpatient support and outreach that respond directly to need by community, drug and workforce. 
  4. A country-wide emphasis on harm reduction. 
  5. Meaningful investment in the AOD workforce to ensure they have career progression, pay rises and full working rights that are consistent across the country. 
  6. An immediate halt of services having to beg for funding every three, six or 12 months even when their services are working. 
  7. An investment in AOD infrastructure to create much-needed jobs for our economy. Let's build social housing AND new treatment facilities. 

If you're keen to stand with us, email your local MP  and follow the campaign

Each year, between 200,000 and 500,000 Australians are unable to access treatment services for addiction. HACSU is acutely aware that inevitably these worrying statistics are likely to be exacerbated by the pandemic. Furthermore, we know that like COVID-19, addiction does not discriminate. In response, HACSU has been working with a group of Victorian unions to set up a trial based on the Construction Industry Drug & Alcohol rehabilitation outpatient support service, Foundation House . The service would offer a 28-day residential program, outpatient support, outreach support and mental health services for our members, the wider Victorian union movement and their families. We look forward to updating you on our progress. 

HACSU was delighted to offer a submission to the Inquiry into the Use of Cannabis in Victoria. We know that the War on Drugs has really been a war on people and to that end, it is our belief that the estimated $8 billion worth of illegal cannabis trade would be better used to fund and amplify our healthcare system. We believe that cannabis is legalised, taxed and licensed, then the profits made by criminals will be wiped. It is estimated that over $2 billion will therefore be available to spend on Mental Health, Drug and Alcohol, Homelessness, Indigenous Health and Wellbeing programs. The Royal Commission into Mental Health with the Andrews Government, prior to COVID-19 and the current economic turmoil, has promised to implement all the recommendations as presented by the Royal Commission. We believe in a greater emphasis on proactive investment and funding the Health Services and Supports for tax-paying citizens in our communities, rather than policing the conduct of criminals and perpetuating their potential streams of income. HACSU looks forward to updating you on our progress in this fight. 

Once again, I'd like to thank you for all your hard work this month, and for the whole year. Stay safe, take care and look after yourselves. 

Paul