The emails have been flying back and forth between the major parties today, wrangling over the finer details of a possible second debate or ‘People’s Forum’. It’s apparently such important news that it’s relegated the death of a surfer from shark attack to well down in the headlines.
Meanwhile, there are some glaring silences on certain areas of policy. We literally just don’t hear about some things. There is a huge amount of attention being given to the relative merits of the respective paid parental leave and climate change policies, so much so that anyone could be forgiven for thinking that Australians have little else to concern them in this election. But we know that’s not true.
It only takes a quick scan of Twitter, Facebook, or any one of a dozen online forums to find otherwise. A short trip to the shops, or a wait outside the school to pick up your kids, will hear other things being mentioned. Usually, there’s a tone of puzzlement in these conversations – why are the politicians talking about such a small range of issues?
There are three main areas I’ve heard discussed – mental health, the Arts, and Indigenous issues. (Admittedly, the first has been used as a weapon by the Coalition when talking to the media – we have a policy, they don’t – but it doesn’t go much further than that.) So I decided to go digging around and see what’s actually on offer from Labor, the Coalition and the Greens.
What I found was a comprehensive set of policies that should be subjected to the closest scrutiny. For the most part, though, they have not even been announced, or at least not at a time when they’ve been covered by television news. Given that most of us now get our information from 5 or 6 pm bulletins, that’s a real oversight.
I’ve collected them in an overview, presented without comment for now.
Take a look at what you’re not learning in this election while the major parties, along with the major news organisations, tell you that ‘Breaking News’ is where or when a debate might be held, and whether Julia’s had her hair coloured again.
Australian Labor Party
You can find the policy document here. The entirety of its mental healthy policy follows:
* $276.9 million over four years will be invested in suicide prevention.
This is being spread across increasing places for psychology and psychiatry counselling, non-clinical support (social workers, relationship counsellors and the like) and carers. Some money will go to boosting Lifeline and other counselling services, and providing more services for men (statistically at greatest risk of suicide). Funds would be available to tackle the problem of ‘copycat’ suicides among younger people. The policy also mentions improving safety at suicide ‘hotspots’. It’s unclear what this means – nets around the Westgate Bridge, perhaps?
Part of the policy is aimed at helping existing organisations – Lifeline, beyondblue, and the like – with the work they are already doing. This includes tackling depression in the workplace, helping kids understand mental health issues that may arise in their families, and programs which help people suffering with mental illness to manage their everyday lives.
Other than that, Labor has said that mental health is a ‘second term’ priority for them.
Liberal/National Party Coalition
The policy document can be found here. In its nine pages, sprinkled liberally with criticisms of Labor, is the entirety of its mental health policy:
* $440 million to build 20 Early Psychosis Intervention Centres. (The bulk of this money will go into the initial setup of these centres – including staffing, while $40 million is set aside for ‘additional capital costs’.)
These centres would be targeted at young people (aged 15-24) who are deemed to be ‘at risk’ of psychosis, or who have suffered an initial psychotic episode. The emphasis would be on recovery and prevention of further psychosis.
* $832 million for 800 mental health beds.
These beds (20 acute, 20 sub-acute) would be placed in the Early Psychosis Centres.
* $225 million for 60 new youth headspace sites
This program, set up by the Howard government in 2006, is a system currently comprising a handful of centres and a website, aimed at educating young people about mental illness and providing them with ways to find help. It would be supported by the Early Psychosis Centres.
It’s worth noting that the Coalition has announced that this policy will be paid for by ‘re-directing’ funds earmarked by the current Labor government for GP super-clinics, e-Health, mental health and youth mental health programs.
Since the Greens do not have access to Treasury’s figures, their policies can only be considered as intentional, rather than completely defined. (And just as an aside, this puts the Greens at a tremendous disadvantage, since they are automatically vulnerable to accusations of ‘you can’t pay for that’. Political parties of every stripe should know what government monies are available.)
You can find the Greens’ entire health policy document here. On mental health, the Greens propose:
* Increase funding to mental health services in collaboration with states and territories, particularly to prevention models, and hospital and community-based support, assessment and suicide prevention services.
* Establish 24 hour community mental health services in a range of locations, staffed by the full range of mental health professionals.
* Expand community-based support services and agencies to support suffers and their carers in the community.
Australian Labor Party
The policy document can be found here. It’s notable for the outline of what is currently taking place and has already been completed. New policies include:
* 36 children and family centres across Australia, from the end of 2010, and creches in the Northern Territory. Indigenous parenting support services, starting in 2011. Expanding playgroup and mobile playgroup services. New and expanded Maternal and Child Health centres, including greater access to antenatal care and reproductive health.
* $62 million over four years to fight alcohol and drug abuse and domestic violence in indigenous communities.
* Inclusion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander perspectives in the forthcoming National Curriculum.
* Assistance with repatriation of indigenous human remains .
* Funding would continue and be expanded for existing programs such as language preservation, community broadcastings, arts centres, Stolen Generations family reunion, a Healing Foundation, early childhood education ($176 million) and safe houses and police in the Northern Territory.
* Constitutional recognition of indigenous peoples as the First Australians.
* $1.59 billion to improve remote housing.
* Streamlining the Native Title process.
* $967 million for health and to fight chronic disease.
* $467 million to improve school outcomes for indigenous children.
* $1.95 billion to assist indigenous people in finding work.
* $98 million to ‘improve services’ to remote communities.
* $438 million to improve communities in the Northern Territory, including teachers, community workers and family support workers.
Liberal/National Party Coalition
You can find the policy document here. It includes the following:
* Establish a Director-General for Indigenous Policy Implementation in the Prime Minister’s Department.
This person would act as a monitor and liaison across government department and non-government organisations to facilitate the development of policies.
* Constitutional recognition of indigenous peoples, to be put to referendum in 2013.
* $16 million over four years to support the Cape York Family Responsibilities Commission, aimed at helping community elders reduce school truancy.
The document also notes that Centrelink payment may be withheld if truancy continues.
* Fast-track the construction of boarding facilities to accommodate students from remote locations while they study.
* $8 million over four years to expand the Aboriginal Employment Strategy program.
* $8 million to support the Employment Covenant program set up by (among others) Andrew Forrest of Fortescue Metals.
* Abolish the permit system currently required to travel into indigenous areas in the Northern Territory, to facilitate tourism.
* Overturn the Wild Rivers Act, which currently protects Cape York rivers from fishing.
* $22 million over four years to improve dental health.
The policy document can be found here. It includes:
* Increased funding to community health and children’s health.
* Assistance to remote communities in dealing with the effects of climate change, including mosquito-borne disease.
* Establishing a 10 year housing plan.
* Supporting networks and policing to address issues of domestic violence and community safety.
* Amendment of the Heritage Protection and Native Title Acts, to protect cultural heritage and consistency with international laws.
* Requiring regular reporting on all indigenous initiatives by the Equal Opportunity Commission.
* Compensation for people who have unfairly lost land or wages.
* Working to preserve indigenous languages and culture.
* Supporting sustainable fishing, hunting and gathering practices.
Australian Labor Party
The policy document can be found here. It outlines current programs, and includes the following policies:
* $10 million for Australia Council funding.
This would allow the Australia Council to provide more grants for artistic projects of all kinds, as well as programs to encourage the Arts in young people and in schools.
* Move a series of programs under the umbrella of the Australia Council.
Programs such as Playing Australia, Festivals Australia and the Regional Arts Fund would be administered by the Australia Council and have access to Australia Council funds and corporate sponsorship programs.
* Investigate a new Arts funding model in conjunction with state and territory governments.
* Review the Australian film industry, with the aim of identifying areas of possible government intervention.
* Develop a plan to boost the Contemporary Music Industry.
* Continue to fund the Prime Minister’s Literary Awards, Indigenous Arts grants, preservation of indigenous languages and Artists-in-Residence programs.
EDIT (Thank you to Kat for the information)
* Joint funding with the Victorian state Labor government for the Victorian College of the Arts; an initial payment of $2 million, followed by $5.1 million each year.
Liberal/National Party Coalition
Try as I might, I cannot find an Arts policy on the website. All that I have been able to find is a few news reports such as this one. It summarises the following:
* $60 million into a loans fund to encourage local film development. Grants of $1-2 million would be given to match private investment.
* $14 million for regional arts, including grants of $100,000 for galleries that show local work.
* Loans for students who study music at institutions such as the Youth Chamber Orchestra would be eligible for a grant to purchase instruments, capped at $35,000.
The policy document is found here. It includes the following:
* Support and fund the Australia Council and the Commonwealth Art Bank.
* Introduce legislation for fixed-income support for emerging artists, and access to small business grants for artists who wish to make a living from their work.
* Scrutinise all international trade agreements to ensure the provisions do not adversely affect Australian artists.
* Introduce intellectual property legislation to protect artists’ rights.
* Provide funds to state governments to help them purchase venues for local arts groups.
Made it all the way through? Surprising how much is there, isn’t it?
This is part of the real meat that gets buried under rhetoric and headline-grabbing stunts. This is what we should know.