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PACFA Advocacy Update June 2020

As the restrictions in place under Australia’s pandemic response slowly begin to ease, PACFA is continuing to advocate for greater recognition of the training, skills and experience of our members. Over the next couple of months, PACFA will be increasing our level of direct advocacy to governments and pushing for the inclusion and recognition of Counsellors and Psychotherapists in workforce legislationpolicy and funding responses to the mental health impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.  

We would like to thank all those PACFA members who have continued to engage directly with us and raise crucial issues, as Australia gradually adjusts to this new normal. A key component of the new normal for PACFA is finding new ways to engage, network and collaborate on key advocacy issues 

The advocacy landscape has shifted radically over the last few months, not only as a result of closed parliaments, social distancing measures and strict travel restrictions, but also in response to new ways of conducting Government business, including the recent dissolution of the Council of Australian Governments (COAG). This change will have a profound effect on the way that the states, territories and federal government collaborate on shared policy and funding responsibilities, including mental health. COAG will be permanently replaced by the National Cabinet, which has been meeting regularly to coordinate Australia’s Coronavirus response, and State and Territory Governments will now meet every month. PACFA is hopeful that this new arrangement for intergovernmental coordination will result in a more responsive approach to meeting the mental health and wellbeing needs of all Australians. 

Several members have recently reached out to PACFA’s advocacy team inquiring about our current advocacy priorities, including the continued push for GST exemption for Counsellors and Psychotherapists, inclusion of PACFA members in state and territory funded emergency responses, and the expansion of government funded support for telehealth beyond those services already recognised under the Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS).  

Members have also noted that the current pandemic response, coupled with the federal government’s focus on suicide prevention, several key mental health reviews and a shift to a greater focus on social and emotional wellbeing and trauma informed practice in mental health, provides an unprecedented opportunity for PACFA to lobby for greater recognition of our members. 

PACFA is fortunate to have so many proactive and engaged members and we encourage all our members to stay informed of our current advocacy priorities. We will continue to engage with all levels of government to call for an expanded mental health workforce and we are continuing our conversations with the Australian government regarding GST exemptions and the expansion of the MBS  

If you’re new to PACFA or  interested in learning more about some of our key advocacy messages you may be interested to read PACFA’s Submission to the Productivity Commission’s Inquiry into Mental Health from earlier this year. The submission outlines in detail the changes we are calling for in Australia’s mental health system.  

Over the last month, the Australian Government has made several funding and policy announcements, including an additional $20 million funding for mental health and suicide  prevention research$48.1 Million for a National Mental Health and Wellbeing Pandemic Response Plan announced at the May 15 meeting of the National Cabinetand an opinion piece by the Deputy Chief Medical Officer for Mental Health acknowledging the enduring mental health impacts of COVID-19.  

Despite these announcements and acknowledgements, the Australian Government is yet to make a significant commitment to a long term, recoveryoriented response, despite this being the perfect opportunity to expand and diversify the Mental Health and Allied Health workforces through increased recognition of Counsellors and Psychotherapists. 

In PACFA’s April Advocacy Update, we provided some details on ongoing national inquiries and consultations. Meanwhile, in Victoria the Royal Commission into Mental Health has been forced to cancel its final round of public hearings due to the impact of COVID-19 and has been granted an extension on the delivery of its final report, which is now due to Government by 5 February 2021. The Commission has begun the process of publishing witness statements collected as part of the inquiry on its website and more information about the inquiry can be found here 

PACFA is taking every opportunity to remind all levels of government that there’s significant, untapped potential and a highly skilled mental health workforce waiting at their fingertips. We also continue to liaise regularly with colleagues from other Allied Health and Mental Health professions and with consumer and carer groups, through our membership of the peak body for Allied Health, AHPA and our membership of Mental Health Australia.  

PACFA will keep all our members informed of the outcomes of our ongoing advocacy at the national, state and territory levels. Members are encouraged to keep informed through the Latest News on the PACFA website and by liking and following the PACFA Facebook page.   

 

Fleur Smith 
Advocacy and Communications Coordinator