Latest News – March 2014

I had a very interesting trip to Canberra this month. I went to Parliament wearing my ARCAP hat with Maria Brett to get a feeling of the lay of the land with this new government and to continue lobbying for greater recognition of counsellors. There is both good, and not so good, news. Two of the politicians we met with were Don Farrell and Jan McLucas, both from the Labor Party, who were both very supportive of the concept of counsellors being given access to Medicare and who were both going to write to the current Minister for Mental Health (Hon Peter Dutton) to support our cause. We greatly appreciate their support and although they may not be in government it will be good to have such support in writing. Both did state that we would need to meet with Mr Dutton to forward our cause.

Meetings of a greater consequence were had with Sarah Marks, who is the adviser to Senator Nash, whose portfolio includes mental health in regional and rural Australia. This was an interesting meeting as my take (this is only my view) was that, although Senator Nash may seem to hold an important office, in relation to mental health anyway, her portfolio does not come with much power as all questions in relation to mental health were met with; you need to speak to Mr Dutton, the Minister for Mental Health. The adviser continued with the current party line in as much as the budget, the budget and the budget. As long as there is a deficit no Minister is to entertain any concept that could imply further spending. Even though we were able to argue and demonstrate that Medicare will save money, with our modelling, we were speaking to a broken record.

Interestingly when we asked about the drought relief program it seemed from the answer we received that Senator Nash was not consulted in regards to the roll out, or requirements which is extraordinary considering her portfolio. It would also seem there is a distinct lack of knowledge of the Mental Health review commission and audit that is taking place.  We were advised that we would need to meet with Mr Dutton to move our cause forward and receive further information on the review.

We then met with Jordi Procel, the adviser for the Minister of Veterans Affairs (Hon Michael Ronaldson), to discuss the issue of counsellors being able to offer their services to Veterans through DVA. This meeting was very productive, in that the concept was well supported. Jordi explained that there is no resistance within the Department to use counsellors, the only obstacle is that DVA only use Medicare providers for outreach work for Veterans. Jordi did comment that the department would consider writing to Mr Dutton in this regard. At the end of the day all roads lead to Mr Dutton.

The positive that we took out of this trip is that at no stage we were given the impression that the concept was not valid, it was expenditure that was the issue. The days of needing to plead our validity as a profession, do seem to be over. There was not one word, or implication, that we needed to justify our professions creditability. Much of the last 6 years of pounding the blue carpet at Parliament House do seem to have paid off somewhat in this regard. It was refreshing to not have to justify who we were, and why we, as a profession, should be recognised.

It was also uplifting to be recognised. We will be following up on several leads we were also given during our time there.

Until next month,

Philip Armstrong
Chief Executive Officer.