Australian governments to spend $1.1 billion on mental health

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Saturday, February 11, 2006

Australian Parliament House, where the COAG meeting was held
Australian Parliament House, where the COAG meeting was held

Australian Prime Minister John Howard and state and territory leaders have promised to spend an extra AU$1.1 billion on mental health over the next five years. The funding is part of a broad strategy to improve the standard of mental health care, and includes additional places for medical students and a national phone advice network.

The announcement was made at the Council of Australian Governments meeting. NSW Premier Morris Iemma praised the plan. "At long last there is real hope for the mentally ill and their families," he said.

The focus of the strategy will be prevention and early detection. This includes a tougher stance on cannabis cultivation. In the past few weeks the Prime Minister and a number of state Premiers have linked cannabis use to mental illnesses such as schizophrenia.

The number of medicine positions at universities will be increased by increasing the cap on full fee paying students. Loan assistance for medical students will also be increased.

Federal Opposition leader Kim Beazley was critical of the announcement, saying that the mental health system has been in need of reform for ten years.