Victorians will pay a new mental health tax or levy, the state’s premier confirmed, after the mental health royal commission tabled its interim report to parliament on Thursday.
Since it began its hearings in March the commission has received more than 8,200 contributions so far, including through consultations, roundtables, public hearings, surveys and submissions from individuals and organisations. The commission is due to deliver its final report in October, with the interim report making key initial recommendations.
The report said while an estimated 3.1% of the population lives with severe mental illness, Victoria’s health system currently only offers enough public specialist clinical mental health services for 1.1% of the population. Victoria’s per capita expenditure on mental health is lower than all other states and territories.
“The commission recommends that the Victorian government adopts a new approach to secure a dedicated and stable level of investment for the mental health system,” the report found, recommending the government design and implement “… a new revenue mechanism (a levy or a tax) for providing mental health operational funding”.
Premier Daniel Andrews told reporters on Thursday afternoon that the levy would take effect some time in 2020, but that it would take some time for the government to establish what form it would take. He said while a national levy would be preferable, Victoria needed to take immediate action.
“Senior members of the government will spend the summer looking at options,” he said.
Commission chair Penny Armytage said there was “no question that the status quo must change”.
“One thing we have heard very clearly is that we are in the midst of a mental health crisis, that the system is failing and not meeting the needs of those who need it most. This must change,” Armytage said.
“The time has come to get the funding of mental health services right.”
The commission report estimates that the economic cost of poor mental health to Victoria is $14.2bn a year.
“Once admired as the most progressive in our nation, the state’s mental health system has catastrophically failed to live up to expectations,” the report said. “Past ambitions have not been realised or upheld, and the system is woefully unprepared for current and future mental health challenges.”
The interim report also proposes the first residential mental health service be designed and delivered by people with lived experience. Other recommendations include an additional 170 youth and adult acute beds to help respond to urgent demand, boosting the mental health workforce including through funded graduate positions, postgraduate scholarships and psychiatry rotations, creating an Aboriginal Social and Emotional Wellbeing Centre, expanding social and emotional wellbeing teams to better support Aboriginal people, and funding outreach and clinical supports for people who have attempted suicide.
The state government has committed to implementing all the recommendations made by the commission.
Victorian Council of Social Service CEO Emma King, agreed that a levy could be part of the mental health funding solution.
“The cost of inaction is much greater than the cost of action,” she said.
“The key thing will be ensuring new investments flow directly to the low-income Victorians who need them most, and who are currently missing out. But our mental health services also need a massive funding boost, right now. That funding can’t be pushed back until the end of the commission.”