TV Interview with Johanna Nicholson and Fauziah Ibrahim – ABC Weekend Breakfast – Saturday 16 May 2020


SUBJECTS: Mental health, unemployment, easing of restrictions.
JOHANNA NICHOLSON: Well, the Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, has pledged $48 million for a mental health plan amid serious concerns about the wellbeing of Australians struggling through physical isolation and the economic slump.
FAUZIAH IBRAHIM: Let’s now bring in our Politician Panel to discuss this now and we are joined by Liberal MP Jason Falinski. We’re also joined by the Shadow Minister for Housing, Homelessness and Regional Services, Jason Clare. Welcome to you both. Now this nearly $50 million that’s been earmarked to boost mental health care sector, we’ve spoken to Professor Patrick McGorry a little earlier on. He says it’s good that the government is starting to recognise that mental health is definitely a very serious fallout from the pandemic. But something he said was quite worrying. And that is the case that the healthcare system, mental health care system, really isn’t up to par at all. So Jason Falinski, this $50 million, nearly $50 million dollars is basically funding to try to boost the healthcare to try to cope with what’s happening now, rather than what’s happening after the pandemic?
JASON FALINSKI: Fauziah and Jo, thank you for having me on this morning. Well no, I don’t think that’s quite accurate. There was a half million dollar boost in the budget last year, which has been about expanding the mental health services right across Australia. I think that that’s done a great job. And the half million dollars that, sorry, the $48.1 million that was signed off by the government yesterday and National Cabinet is about undertaking more research and data analysis to see what impact the lockdown has had on people so that we can get further ahead of any mental health issues. Patrick McGorry has been an extraordinary advocate for mental health services in Australia. But I would think that even he would admit under both governments, and under governments of all stripes at the state level too, where we have come in the last 15 years in terms of provision of mental health has been really extraordinary and something that all state levels should be proud of. 
IBRAHIM: I would have to contradict you there on that, Jason Falinski. Professor Patrick McGorry actually said successive governments have not paid close attention to the mental health issue here in Australia. I want to read to you a quote from Professor Ian Hickey, who basically described the mental health system as being dysfunctional. So really, if our system mental health system isn’t up to par right now, this extra funding is basically trying to boost it to try to catch up to the gaps, which Patrick McGorry has said, isn’t really going to be filled.
FALINSKI: Well I’m disappointed to hear that because I think it’s really a question of what we’ve managed to achieve. And once again, this isn’t a single party issue. This is something that both parties have turned their mind to, going back to the Howard government in the early 2000s. There has been substantial increase in funding and resources for mental health in Australia. It might not be where Ian and Patrick feels that it should be. And in fact, they’ve made that quite clear for some time. But I would have thought that they would at least concede or admit that we have made substantial progress in the last well, decade and a half.
NICHOLSON: Jason Clare, I’d like to bring you in now. Obviously, we had the jobs numbers released this week, and that was showing some terrible figures when it comes to the number of people that lost jobs in April. Almost 600,000 people lost their jobs in April and no doubt that is strongly linked to the mental health concerns that we are seeing. Do you think that the government is doing enough to preempt the mental health issues that we’re likely to face in the future?
JASON CLARE, SHADOW MINISTER FOR HOUSING AND HOMELESSNESS:Well these aren’t just numbers, they’re people. They’re hundreds of thousands of people that over the last few weeks have lost their job. And if you’ve never lost your job, there’s no real way to understand the anxiety or the emptiness in the pit of people’s stomachs, the things they’re going through right now. You’re dead right. It affects the mental health of so many Australians. We’ve done a lot in the past, Jason’s right. But I think we can all agree there’s a hell of a lot more that we need to do. 
And there’s more pain on the way. We’re now told the economy’s not going to snap back, those numbers aren’t going to drop instantly. If anything, unemployment is going to get higher. And there’s an economic nightmare coming for lots and lots of Aussies over the next few months. As the safety net of JobKeeper and Jobseeker gets pulled away in September, there’s a real risk that there’s a lot of people that are going to hit the ground really hard. 

One and a half million people will be asked to live on $40 a day. That’ll bring with it a lot of pain, a lot of anxiety, a lot of worry, and a lot of mental health struggles for a lot of Aussies and that’s what I urge the government to focus on in the months ahead.
IBRAHIM: Jason Falinski, I just want to pick up on something that was just said just then about the fact that you know, Prime Minister Morrison wants to see a snap back, shall we say, in September that the JobKeeper scheme will be reviewed but the Jobseeker scheme will then be reduced back down to $40. Given the fact that we are heading towards a mental health crisis, it is looming, should the Jobseeker scheme really be maintained at what it is right now?
FALINSKI: Jobseeker or JobKeeper sorry Fauziah?
IBRAHIM: Jobseeker.
FALINSKI: Jobseeker. Look, I think, you know, that’s obviously a matter for review that will be taking place very shortly. Look, Jason Clare’s absolutely right in what he says. It’s something that everyone in Parliament is very cognisant of, we want to make sure that we help everyone in the community, especially those people who may never have lost a job before through this very difficult period. But the best way to help people is by creating jobs. And the best way to create jobs is to get the economy open, to get ordinary Australians who are willing to take a risk, to create jobs for other Australians, to have a government and have a parliament that rewards people who have a go, forgives people who fail and get helps them get back on their feet. And you know, most of all, we are in this hole through no fault of our own. But this is where we are. This is when Australians always come together. And look, it’s gonna be a long journey out. But a journey of 1000 miles begins with one step. And the sooner we take that step, the sooner the journey is over,
NICHOLSON: Jason Clare, as Jason Falinski speaks about the lifting of restrictions that we’re seeing this weekend, and we’ve seen over the last week in states and territories at different levels, do you think the states and territories are being careful enough in the lifting of restrictions to avoid a so called “second wave”? Because I think what would be very damaging to the national psyche is if we started to open things up, and we saw a spike in numbers, and everyone had to go back inside again. 
CLARE: Absolutely right Jo. We’ve got to get people back to work, Jason’s right. But we’ve got to get people back to work without the virus going back to work. And we’re seeing just how dangerous this virus is. You turn on your TV, you see what’s happening in America or the UK or Italy. This virus can get out of control real fast. But I pay credit to the Premiers – Labor, Liberal, Calathumpian, whatever – they’ve all worked together well as a team. And more than that, Australians right around the country have done a good job. I pay credit to Australians for staying in their homes as we’ve been told to do and helping to stop this virus from spreading around the country. And I’m sure that Australians will continue to do a good job as we open up the economy and get Australia back to work. 
IBRAHIM: This is a really difficult time for the whole country. We’re seeing unemployment rise, we’re seeing this mental health crisis that is looming in light of this fallout of this particular pandemic. We here at Weekend Breakfast would like to ask both of you, and I want to start with you Jason Clare, what your personal struggles have been throughout this pandemic and particularly throughout the period of isolation?
CLARE: Well last weekend was Mother’s Day, and my mum came over. She was able to give my little boy a cuddle for the first time in eight weeks. I wish I had a camera at the time to take a photo, I’ve never seen a smile that big. You know, this is really hard. We’re not grizzly bears, we’re not used to hibernating. And when you don’t get to see your parents or your grandparents, you don’t get to give them cuddles, then it has a real impact. 

That’s just one little story. I said earlier, I feel for people who’ve lost their job and they don’t know if they’re going to get it back anytime soon. They’re the Australians that I’m worried about now and that we need to focus on to make sure that we work as hard as we can to get people back to work without a second strike or a second wave of this virus.
NICHOLSON: Jason Falinski, is there anything that you’ve personally struggled with during this pandemic?
FALINSKI: Look, I’ve gotta be honest. Yeah, Mother’s Day was pretty tough. But look, I feel a bit guilty. I’ve been quite lucky during this process, this lockdown, I’ve got to spend a lot more time with my family than I normally would. But what has been most difficult is, as Jason was just saying is dealing with people who’ve never lost their jobs, who’ve lost them for the first time, people who went overseas in February and, you know, in some cases, some very exotic places, who have family here in Australia, but also them overseas, couldn’t get back and there was very little that we could do, as a government and certainly as a Member of Parliament to try and get them back. And then, you know, people who are just worried about what this looks like at the end of the day. So like Jason, I think the entire parliament is focused on getting us back to normal and getting and starting the long road out of the hole that we’re in, not through any fault of their own. But the great thing is that this is usually when Australians come together and thrive. So that’s the thing that, it’s that hope that’s giving me pause for thought at the moment. 
NICHOLSON: Yeah, I think this is a time when you see the best of people as well. Jason Clare and Jason Falinski, thanks for joining us this morning and particularly for sharing those personal stories with us as well. 
CLARE: Thank you. 
FALINSKI: Thanks Jo.