Ideas@TheCentre – The Centre for Independent Studies

Ideas@TheCentre

Ideas@TheCentre brings you ammunition for conversations around the table.  3 short articles from CIS researchers emailed every Friday on the issues of the week.

Full marks for mental health reform

Helen Andrews

04 December 2015 | Ideas@TheCentre

038e83b2-83a4-40c2-8b19-ab41bc25f8b7The first thing to know about the government’s new mental health reform package is that it doesn’t involve any additional spending.

That’s cause for celebration in any reform, but especially in the case of mental health, where funding has not been insufficient but insufficiently well-directed.

The second thing worth noting is its ‘stepped care model,’ which offers different levels of treatment for patients with different levels of need.

This is a huge advance over previous mental health reforms, which too often saw entitlements designed to help the truly needy swamped by the middle-class worried well.

Mild and moderate conditions like depression and anxiety disorder have been the main drivers of a near tripling in mental health spending over 20 years and the doubling of the number Australians receiving an MBS-subsidised mental health service annually over six years. These conditions are serious issues and deserving of attention and treatment. But government spending should prioritise those patients whose need is the greatest.

The latest reform package increases the number of services (including therapy sessions and nursing visits) available each year to patients whose mental illness is classified as severe. This will improve the quality of treatment in a more well-targeted way than the ‘Better Access’ overhaul of 2006.

Praise for the new reform has been bipartisan-even the editorial board of The Age says the government has ‘got it right’ this time. The applause is well deserved.

Downsizing homes and taxpayer hit

Simon Cowan

04 December 2015 | Ideas@TheCentre

05fcbfdb-209c-4b9a-9659-590090a0ce09The Productivity Commission (PC) released an excellent report this week on Housing Decisions of Older Australians. In it the PC argued that the exemption of the family home from the pension means test creates an incentive for over-investment in housing and is inequitable because it favours home owners over non home owners – despite the latter typically needing greater assistance.

The PC goes on to conclude that removing the family home exemption from the pensions assets test would be the most efficient and equitable outcome.

If those arguments sound familiar, it’s because they echo the conclusions of the CIS flagship report on this topic, The Age Old Problem of Old Age: Fixing the Pension.

There is, as always, strong opposition to these ideas. Sinclair Davidson, in a post titled Driving the elderly out of their homes, called it classic nirvana fallacy policy. National Seniors chief executive Michael O’Neill said ‘the family home is sacrosanct’.

Leaving aside the PC finding that many retirees would be better off in every sense of the word if they moved to smaller, more age appropriate housing, the big issue with the opposition is that they ignore the massive impact of the $44 billion a year age pension.

It is particularly galling for young people, who already feel locked out of the housing market because of taxes and government restrictions that boost prices for current homeowners, to be asked to fund welfare for pensioners refusing to touch the $700 billion they have in housing wealth.

You are perfectly entitled to do whatever you want with your assets, be they superannuation or the family home, right up to the point where you stick your hand in my pocket to pay for your savings choices.

How can we possibly cut government spending when even those with more than a million dollars of net worth aren’t expected to look after themselves?

Don't blame racism for high jail rates

Sara Hudson

04 December 2015 | Ideas@TheCentre

a2010e3e-a6f5-48e8-bfbb-4c1ed956c8faRecent reports by the Australian Medical Association and Change the Record Coalition imply that because Indigenous incarceration rates have increased by 88% in the last 10 years we need more culturally appropriate services and strategies.

But framing high incarceration rates as a product of institutional racism does no one any favours. It pits Indigenous and non-Indigenous people against each other and risks further alienating Indigenous people from mainstream society.

Police and court bias may be a factor in some cases, but overall, Indigenous offenders receive shorter sentences than non-Indigenous offenders for most crimes.

The reason Indigenous people are more likely to be locked up for minor crimes like traffic offences, is because many do not have the education to get a licence or the financial means to pay their fines.

Rather than viewing high Indigenous crime and incarceration rates as an Indigenous-specific problem, we need to see it as a problem of poverty and social dysfunction.

Crime occurs more in low socio-economic areas. These are places where parents do not know and often dont care where their children are; where a lot of people do not work; and where going to prison is a rite of passage rather than a deterrent.

Proportionally, more Indigenous people live in such neighbourhoods and communities than non-Indigenous people but this does not mean that Indigenous people are more predisposed to commit crime than other welfare-dependent Australians.

Poor educational attainment and unemployment are strong determinants of both Indigenous and non-Indigenous offending.  In fact, unemployment is a greater risk factor for offending than being Indigenous.

The majority of Indigenous people are doing okay. Most are employed and more Indigenous people are completing high school, going to university and establishing their own businesses than ever before.

Instead of stereotyping all Indigenous people as victims in need of culturally appropriate programs and services to keep them out of jail, a targeted approach that addresses the social and economic reasons for offending is needed.

Only when more Indigenous people are given the means to lift themselves out of poverty and into employment will Indigenous crime rates go down.