Education and Employment Committee Report
Posted on Monday, 2 July, 2012
Mr RAMSEY (Grey) (09:29): by leave—I thank the member for Kingston, the chair of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Education and Employment, for presenting this report, Work wanted: mental health and workforce participation. She has encapsulated much of what the committee has been about so far. It has made unanimous recommendations. I would also like to thank all those on the committee who have worked so cooperatively together on what is a fairly large report which took up around 12 months of our lives—I have not checked the dates. In some ways it has not revealed anything we did not know. Many of the things that we state in the report are obvious but, I think, worth getting on the record.
These are not direct quotes but rather my thoughts on the matter. Many people operate in the workforce and cope with the stress of mental illness with their fellow workers not knowing anything about their issues at all. For others, employment and mental illness are an impossible mix. The loss of employment, or the inability to engage in it in the first place, because of mental illness is a debilitating barrier which can lead to disconnection from society and exacerbate the original condition. The cost to society of this disconnection is far higher than the cost of positive programs to engage these people. Those things are given but they were confirmed by the inquiry.
However, there were some things that were not, perhaps, quite so obvious, and we have had the opportunity with this inquiry to get them on the record. The widespread ignorance of services available to people with mental illness while they try to cope with finding and holding work was a surprise to me, at least, and possibly for those of us who, as elected members, deal with constituents coming to us on a regular basis with many of the issues that were raised during the inquiry. I do not think my understanding of the way the system works is all that strong. If my understanding of it is not all that good, considering the position I am in and the resources I have at my service, then it must be darn near impossible for many people dealing with a mental illness. The sheer complexity and overlapping of the support system are overwhelming for those who are not well and dealing with a host of challenges on a daily basis.
Most encouragingly—and this was perhaps one of the finest parts of the inquiry—we found a number of progressive businesses which are implementing programs to promote a flexible and proactive working environment for workers with a mental illness. The important point here is that they are not doing it out of some sense of obligation to society. They have these proactive policies because it is in their business interest. That is the greatest message of the report: employers that have the positive programs were telling us that the loyalty they receive from a worker that they make some allowances for, and offer a flexible workplace to, more than repays their investment—in fact, these are some of the most reliable workers. They are the most committed and most likely to stay at the company for a long time and, considering the retraining expenses of companies, this is an important thing. I think that is the best message we can sell: there are people out there who know how to do this. We just have to get the message out and say, 'It is positive for your business to engage people who may be suffering a mental illness but may indeed become some of your best employees.'
The report recommends that the government support many of the great organisations that work in that space—organisations like Beyond Blue to name just one—and should, as an employer, set an example for other organisations and private enterprises to follow. It also makes recommendations dealing with the internal processes of government departments and the skills needed to deal with this vulnerable sector of society and access their untapped potential. It makes recommendations in regard to the educational institutions and recognises that mental illness typically arises in the first 25 years of a person's life, is often episodic and is best dealt with early.
Many of the things in the report probably restate the obvious—some of these things we already know—but it has brought together a broad range of experience and I hope that it will benefit all in the future of policy formulation in this area. I would like to echo the chair's remarks about those who contributed to the inquiry. I thank them for their time and their frankness with the inquiry. I would also particularly like to thank the secretariat—the long-suffering Sara Edson and Glenn Worthington in particular—for their support and professionalism throughout the inquiry.
The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Ms K Livermore ): Does the member for Kingston wish to move a motion in connection with the report to enable it to be debated on a future occasion?