The Baillieu government’s decision to shut down Victoria’s only dedicated 24-hour mental health advice line is nothing short of a disgrace. At a time when governments should be supporting vulnerable members of our community, the Baillieu government has seen fit to abolish, without consultation, a very important support service for those Victorians suffering mental illness. Figures released by the federal government’s private health insurance ombudsman indicate that one in five Australians will experience some form of mental illness in their lifetime.
This decision is of particular concern to rural and regional Victorians, who, as data from the Department of Health’s website suggests, were responsible for one-third of the 9500 calls received by the advice line.
As reported on the ABC’s Ballarat website, critics, who include many health professionals, are asking questions about why the service was so poorly promoted and why there is no replacement mental health triage service, when there is clear evidence that there is a need in the community. A spokesperson for the Minister for Mental Health, Mary Wooldridge, was recently quoted in the Warrnambool Standard as saying that the advice line has not met expectations. This begs the question: what expectations need to be met in order to provide critical support for country Victorians facing mental health issues?
The slash-and-burn approach by this government to the state’s essential services will not be forgotten by country Victorians. This decision has been made simply to save money, and it will leave distressed Victorians without access to out-of-hours advice and support for mental health issues.