The government wants the recession to be over to justify winding back stimulus measures | Greg Jericho | Business

Recessions should be a catalyst for change. But what we are seeing is the government wanting to quickly return to the path it was on prior to the pandemic – one which already had low wages, insecure work, low industrial action and an ever decreasing share of the national income going to workers.

This week the government was very eager to say Australia was no longer in a recession.

The reality is there is no “official” or even “technical” recession – those are just words used to hide the fact that two consecutive quarters of negative growth is just an arbitrary construct clung to by many as a definition mostly because it is very simple (and simplistic).

But one thing is clear: just because you have stopped digging does not mean you are no longer in a hole.

It’s a drum I have been banging a bit of late; not because I am a gloomy, depressive type who takes the “dismal science” to heart, but because these things matter – they shape the narrative.

The government wants the recession to be over so they can justify winding back their stimulus measures.

While they embarked on the biggest stimulus in history, do not be fooled into thinking they liked it.

The Treasurer may boast of research that suggests the jobkeeper program saved 700,000 jobs, but that only serves to highlight that denying the program to the university sector and many workers in the arts and culture industry was little more than a pointed slap at sectors they have little care for.

Even in the midst of a recession the government kept its eye on its ideological prize.

The sooner people believe the recession is over the sooner we can return to the old talk of debt and deficit and the need for tax cuts, more gas and greater IR “flexibility”.

The treasurer told reporters while commenting on the GDP figures that “we’ll look for targeted support where it’s appropriate, but as for our macro supports like jobkeeper, they are tapering down.”

Tapering down at a time when 462,000 more people are underemployed or unemployed than were in March.

Crucially he noted that “all along we have been talking about a private sector-led recovery” because “government is not the solution.”

And yet were it not for government spending, the economy would not have shrunk 3.8% in the past year but 5.3%.

Coincidentally 12 months ago when the last lot of September quarter GDP figures came out we were in much the same state – only government spending was keeping the economy from going backwards.

And back then I was also noting the shrinking level of income going to employees.

Graph not appearing? View here

One of the quirks of the jobkeeper program is that it has led to a massive boost in company profits. Because while the money is intended to go to employees it was provided to businesses and thus is counted as corporate income.

That is one reason why in September a record share of national income went to companies and a record low went to employees. But it is not a weird blip – it merely reflects the story of the past 45 years.

Sixty-one years ago when employees last received less than half of the national income, companies received only 19%; now they receive 31% (the rest is government income, and things like rents and interest earned).

Another record set this week was that the past year had the fewest days lost to industrial action. Now clearly that is also due in part to the pandemic, but again it is also a long-term trend – even before the pandemic the number of strikes was essentially the same as occurred under WorkChoices.

The two aspects are not unconnected; neither is the long run of low wages growth nor the tendency towards casual work and push towards treating workers as self-contractors in the “gig economy”.

The drive to keep this in place is evident in new IR laws to be introduced by the government this week that will give employers “powers to change employees’ hours, duties and location of work and to offer part-time workers extra hours without overtime rates”.

Prior to the recession our economy was experiencing weak growth, with poor wages growth and strong profit growth.

The pandemic forced the government to intervene but it was only temporary and it is quickly using the pandemic and claims that the recession is over to return to where things were heading in February – lower wages growth, less employee power, and greater company profits.

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Government Supports Hear For You – 16 News

Young deaf and hearing-impaired Australians will benefit from a $300,000 investment to support their mental health and well-being announced today.

The Australian Government will fund Hear For You to deliver online mentoring, collaborate with mainstream youth mental health services providers, and produce a campaign to reduce stigma and encourage deaf and hearing impaired young people to seek help for mental health issues.

Announcing the funding during a visit to Hear For You’s headquarters at the Australian Hearing Hub in Sydney, Regional Health Minister – whose responsibilities include hearing services – Mark Coulton said Government is committed to ensuring Australians who are hard of hearing get the services they need.

“The Government is committed to improving the health of all Australians, particularly the most vulnerable among us,” Minister Coulton said.

“We understand that for Australians who are hard of hearing, their health needs are not defined purely by their hearing challenges and can – just like the rest of us – benefit from support for their mental wellbeing.

“Life’s not easy when you’re a teenager and if you’re deaf or hard of hearing, it can be even trickier.

“Hear For You delivers a modern service, tailored to support improved mental wellbeing for young Australians with hearing challenges, and I am pleased to announce our support for the work they do.”

Minister for Health, Greg Hunt said the Australian Government recognises the cumulative impact that COVID-19, bushfires, floods, and droughts had created for many Australians.

“This funding will address the additional mental health and communications challenges that deaf and hearing-impaired young people face, such as increased levels of social isolation, loneliness, anxiety, and depression,” Minister Hunt said.

“The Government is committed to supporting all young Australians with, or at risk of, poor mental health by improving access to early intervention services and preventative mental health support.”

This announcement follows $21.2 million invested in the recent Budget to deliver key initiatives from the Roadmap for Hearing Health and an additional $485 million for mental health services and supports.

For more information about Hear For You and their work, visit

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Health Minister among those concerned as NT Government cuts funding to parole rehab program

Drug and alcohol services supporting people on parole in the Northern Territory will lose program funding at the end of the month, sparking concern from the sector and — according to a leaked letter — Health Minister Natasha Fyles.

The grant funding worth $1.9 million covered beds at five residential facilities and counselling support in Darwin, Alice Springs and Tennant Creek, and was introduced as part of 2017 parole reforms aimed at addressing the Northern Territory’s high incarceration rates.

The ABC has confirmed the funding will expire at the end of December, with the Government blaming the economic impact of COVID-19 for the decision not to renew the funding in last month’s budget.

The cuts were flagged with the Health Minister by the sector’s peak body in September, a week after she was shifted out of the Attorney-General’s portfolio from which she introduced the COMMIT parole program.

In an October letter obtained by the ABC, Ms Fyles thanks the Alcohol and Other Drugs Association NT (AADANT) for advising her about the situation and bringing it to her attention.

The COMMIT program is partly aimed at reducing the NT’s high incarceration rates.(Nathan Coates)

“I am aware that the recent demand study for alcohol treatment services in the Northern Territory suggests that the treatment beds currently available is about right and the cessation of COMMIT will place pressure on bed availability.”

She says she understands the impact will particularly affect “clients under the management of the Attorney-General and Justice Department” and says the health department has no budget “to mitigate the loss of the COMMIT funding”.

Funding cut in COVID budget

Under the COMMIT parole program, the parole board can consider sending people who breach conditions back to jail for short periods, instead of only being able to issue a warning or revoke parole entirely.

The board said the program led to an immediate 24 per cent increase in the number of people paroled.

As attorney-general, Ms Fyles said the intensive supervision given to people on the program, including through rehab support, would help smooth their transition back into the community and reduce reoffending.

A spokeswoman for new Attorney-General Selena Uibo said the program funding provided when the initiative was launched had already been extended once after expiring last year.

The spokeswoman said parolees were still able to access existing rehab and support services in the community.

In a letter Ms Uibo sent to AADANT in October, she said the future of the funding “was subject to the outcomes of the budget process”.

She also said “analysis of service utilisation” was showing some of the funded organisations were seeing greater demand than others.

Service managers say the cut will affect 12 beds at Tennant Creek’s only residential rehabilitation service and spells the end of a dedicated support program at Drug and Alcohol Services Australia in Alice Springs.

Peter Burnheim has his arms folded and looks seriously at the camera. He is standing in Darwin City.
Peter Burnheim from AADANT says a reduction in treatment services will impact the NT’s ability to deal with alcohol issues.(ABC News: Andrew Hyde)

AADANT’s Peter Burnheim said the cuts were out of step with the Government’s broader alcohol reform commitments.

“Any reduction in treatment services is just going to impact further on our ability to deal with our alcohol problems,” Ms Burnheim said.

Alice Springs independent Robyn Lambley tied the issue to the Government’s recent move to facilitate a new decision on the controversial bid to open a large-scale Dan Murphy’s liquor outlet in Darwin.

“With the monumental flip flop over Dan Murphy’s and now this slashing of AOD services, the Government’s alcohol policy is in tatters,” she said.

In a statement, a spokeswoman for Ms Fyles said the program was funded through the Attorney-General’s department, but the Health Minister’s office was aware of the funding expiry date and the matter remains under consideration.

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Federal Government proposes laws to break up merged unions

Attorney-General Christian Porter has announced proposed laws that would give merged unions a vote under the Fair Work Act to sever ties with each other.

On Saturday morning, the Industrial Relations Minister painted a picture of unhappy union members being trapped in large, amalgamated organisations.

He framed his demerger bill as a way out, arguing current laws have made it “virtually impossible” for unions to opt out of associations.

Mr Porter said the Fair Work Act currently prevented parts of a registered organisation from demerging five years after amalgamation.

“Members of unions are being denied the opportunity to leave a union that they no longer believe is acting in the best interests of their members,” Mr Porter said.

“And we want to make sure that people can exercise their freedom of choice and their freedom of association.”

CFMEU targeted in announcement

In announcing the legislation, Mr Porter targeted the CFMEU construction union, suggesting to reporters that some parts of the body representing tradies might want to jump ship.

“If it is the case, that the mining part of the CFMEU want to leave the CFMEU, that they could have a ballot and they can make that decision and they can go establish their own union,” he said.

In October last year, CFMEU’s Victorian boss John Setka was expelled from the Labor Party and placed under a good behaviour order after pleading guilty to harassing his wife, Emma Walters, via text messages.

Mr Setka has also been accused of making disparaging remarks about domestic violence campaigner Rosie Batty — claims he has denied.

The CFMEU has reported having more than 100,000 members.(AAP: Dave Hunt)

The ABC has contacted CFMEU national secretary Dave Noonan to respond to Mr Porter’s suggestion that CFMEU members might vote to disband the movement.

The CFMEU has reported having more than 100,000 members.

Under the bill, the Fair Work Commission will have the power to approve the ballots after considering the amalgamated union’s past performance on behaviour and safety and weighing it against the smaller union’s prospects of success should it become standalone.

The legislation will be introduced to Federal Parliament next week with no word yet about whether it will be backed by Labor.

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Losing seam – As the federal government harrumphs, Australia moves away from coal | Asia

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Cities do more than federal government to protect LGBTQ rights

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David Littleproud says Government ‘happy’ to have a sovereign aerial firefighting fleet

Emergency Management Minister David Littleproud says the Federal Government would support a national sovereign aerial firefighting fleet, in an apparent turnaround to the initial cautious response to the bushfires royal commission recommendation.

The royal commission found that Australia was left vulnerable during last summer’s devastating fires because it relied on heavy aircraft from North America which were unavailable when needed.

It recommended developing a national aerial fleet based in Australia made up of heavy-hitting large air tankers and helicopters. 

Last month, the Federal Government simply “noted” the recommendation, saying it had “no desire to replicate or replace” the existing aerial capabilities of the states and territories. 

But Mr Littleproud has now told 7.30 that he will support any proposals from the nation’s fire chiefs for a national sovereign fleet. 

“We’re happy to have a sovereign fleet but we want the fire commissioners to tell us,” he said. 

“We’ll support anything that the fire commissioners come back with in terms of their determination about what that fleet of aircraft needs to be. They are the professionals.”

He was also open to Federal Government ownership of firefighting aircraft, which the commercial aviation sector said was unnecessary. 

“I have no issues with respect to the Federal Government or any federal agency owning aerial assets but again I’ll take the advice from the fire commissioners,” he said. 

“If it makes it easier for the Federal Government to own [the fleet], we’re supportive of that, we just want them to give us their direction.”

What does sovereign mean?

The royal commission used the term “sovereign”, in other words, a fleet based and registered in Australia.

But it confused some in the sector because Australia already has a national fleet — 85 per cent of the firefighting air services are either owned by Australian state and territory governments or leased from the Australian commercial sector. 

The remaining 15 per cent is from overseas, which the royal commission found was problematic. 

It said the overlapping fire seasons overseas and in Australia made it more difficult to source aircraft. In addition, some overseas aircraft were unable to be scrambled at short notice last summer.

The New South Wales RFS already owns a small fleet of nine aircraft to fight bushfires.(ABC News: Jerry Rickard)

Even when the Federal Government poured $20 million into leasing additional aircraft in January, natural disasters overseas caused delays.  

The overseas contingent is critical — they are the big guns capable of dropping whopping big loads.  

They are heavy aircraft known as very large air tankers, large air tankers and heavy helicopters like the familiar orange “Elvis” Erickson Aircranes. 

The debate over buying versus leasing

In the long term, some argue buying and owning aircraft will better prepare Australia for the next unprecedented disaster. 

The New South Wales Rural Fire Service already owns a small fleet of nine aircraft, including the powerful Marie Bashir 737 air tanker, named after the state’s former governor. 

Last summer, the Marie Bashir bombed bright pink retardant over fires in NSW and also flew to the frontline in Western Australia. 

The NSW Rural Fire Service Commissioner Rob Rogers told 7.30 that he will be pushing for governments to buy and own more aircraft. 

Man in uniform stands in front of an array of flags.
NSW RFS Commissioner Rob Rogers was the deputy commissioner during the catastrophic fires last summer.(ABC News: Michael Nudl)

“I think there should be more owned machines here,” Commissioner Rogers said.

“They should be based here and they should be employing Australians.

“Our challenge now is to fight the last fire season again some time in the future.

“The NSW fire season has lengthened considerably in the last 60 years and if it goes on current trends, having assets like the Marie Bashir in NSW will become important and increasingly important in future years.”

This means Australia will have to decide what it’s willing to pay. 

The Marie Bashir and two smaller aircraft cost the NSW Government $26 million to purchase. 

That’s the exact equivalent of the annual Commonwealth funding of $26 million for the National Aerial Firefighting Centre, which coordinates the entire existing fleet.  

Commercial sector wants longer contracts 

According to the commercial aviation sector, leasing aircraft is more cost-effective and if expanded, would boost Australia’s expertise in aerial firefighting. 

But it said the contracts of 80 to 90 days per season over three years were too short for the long-term investment in upgrading and improving fleets. 

Commercial operator Sydney Helicopters, which operates water bombers in western Sydney, is contracted to fight fires — but only for part of the year. 

Chief pilot Mark Harrold told 7.30 that longer-term contracts would give Australian businesses more certainty for ongoing investment. 

Caucasian man stands in front of a helicopter.
Mark Harrold says longer-term contracts would give Australian businesses more certainty for the ongoing investment in upgrading and improving fleets.(ABC News: Shaun Kingma)

“It would be far more effective if local operators were given contracts on a longer-term basis because it gives us the ability to financially take on board the costs involved, employing the experienced crews, buying the equipment,” he said. 

Separately, Mr Harrold’s firefighting operation is being “killed off” by the NSW Government, which is taking over the site for a major transport project. 

He’s been told to vacate by late next year. 

“I am absolutely gutted,” Mr Harrold said.

“It will be the end of 10 firefighting helicopters and a business that flew 4,500 hours on the fires last year. It’s crazy.”

Extra aircraft for this season 

For this season, there’s no big change to the current firefighting fleet, except for an extra large air tanker from overseas that will be leased as a “national reserve”. 

The national body representing Australia’s fire chiefs, the Australasian Fire and Emergency Service Authorities Council (AFAC), told 7.30 that the aircraft would be shared between the states.

AFAC said it intended to act on the intent of the royal commission recommendation on a national fleet. 

“Progressively, we’ll move towards closer to 90 per cent [Australian],” AFAC CEO Stuart Ellis said.

“We haven’t got a set figure, but I think we will see in the near future an increasing number of aircraft based in Australia.” 

But for those who lost property last summer, Australia needs to move faster — something fire chiefs have been demanding for years

A woman picks fruit from a tree
Fruit grower Margaret Tadrosse believes having extra waterbombers might have helped her property during the bushfires.(ABC News: Jerry Rickard)

“Things don’t change very quickly,” said fruit grower Margaret Tadrosse, who lost thousands of trees and $3 million in infrastructure at her orchard at Bilpin in the Blue Mountains.

“It’s a very slow process, so they’re not really prepared as they should be.”

Ms Tadrosse told 7.30 her husband and son fought the fire by themselves and said extra water bombers would have saved more of their farm. 

“For a country this size, we need a lot more,” she said.

“I believe every country should have their own fleet. You shouldn’t be sharing. Every country should be self-sufficient.”

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CEO Update: From community led initiatives to whole of government – we need to prevent suicide

Sadly it’s not hard to find stories, and lived experiences, of brave people who have been bereaved by suicide, or who have struggled with their own despair and suicidal thoughts. But it is always hard to hear them.

And for many of us in the mental health ecosystem, not only are we touched by these experiences and stories regularly, but they also drive us to help improve systems and reform. Drive us to help prevent suicide.

In my previous role at the Western Victoria Primary Health Network I had the opportunity to support the development of suicide prevention trials in Ballarat and Warrnambool.

I will never forget the crucial and defining work of drawing the community together. We listened to the lived experience, examined the suicide data, and the demographics behind the data that told the story of who was most at risk, and why this was the case. And then we worked with the community for the systematic design of a range of responses, not just one activity or idea, but a range of community led initiatives that together have helped change the dialogue and provide people with ownership, but more importantly hope.

But as we know change is not easy and it needs broad engagement, strong leadership, and in the case of suicide prevention a comprehensive community based response.

Last week we saw another catalyst for such change in the release of the Interim Advice to the Prime Minister on Suicide Prevention, and I’m sure many of us will take up the opportunity to review and provide feedback on this important piece of future reform.

“The Interim Advice calls for a national whole-of-government approach that strengthens and builds on what our health systems can offer. To be effective, we need all jurisdictions and portfolios working together. It also means using the levers of government and partnerships with other agencies to reduce and respond to the social and economic drivers of distress that are often deeply rooted in the social determinants of health – job security, economic security, safety from violence and abuse, meaningful participation and social connection.” National Mental Health Commission

The document is a welcome partner to the Productivity Commission’s Inquiry into Mental Health Final Report, and at Mental Health Australia we have welcomed both reports and acknowledge the important work of bringing together these comprehensive set of recommendations in relation to suicide prevention for consideration.

Understandably the recommendations are wide ranging with a consistent theme based on learning from lived experience, the need for whole of government approaches, targeting priority population groups and improved data collection and monitoring that will be widely supported.

Similar to the whole of government strategies recommended in the Productivity Commission Inquiry, how these recommendations should be taken forward as part of a comprehensive reform agenda in relation to suicide prevention will also be something we as a mental health ecosystem need to advocate for.

At a federal level the proposed establishment of an Office of Suicide Prevention could  provide a further focus in this area, but with states and territories also playing a crucial role in any suicide prevention strategy we need to know how arrangements will work across jurisdictions, and how they will filter down and link into community led and driven initiatives.  

Initiatives that will help change the stories and lived experiences for many.

Have a good weekend

Leanne Beagley

Reminder that the Annual General Meeting of Mental Health Australia Ltd will be held on Thursday 10 December 2020 at 2.30pm (AEDST). Due to extraordinary circumstances presented by the COVID-19 pandemic, and for the continued safety of everyone in our community, this meeting will be held virtually using Redback webinar.  A link to the virtual AGM will be sent to all registered members prior to the meeting.

Mental Health Australia is pleased to invite you to the 2020 Grace Groom Memorial Oration to be delivered by Dr Brendan Murphy, Secretary of the Department of Health and former Chief Medical Officer for the Australian Government.

The oration will take place at 3:00pm AEDT on Thursday 10 December, preceded by the Mental Health Australia Annual General Meeting at 2:30pm AEDTTo register for either or both events, please email RSVP by Monday 7 December.

It was great to catch up with a number of members and stakeholders actually in person, in Melbourne last week, and I’m looking forward to doing the same again in Sydney next week, and Brisbane later in December. As for visiting other states, I’m looking forward to scheduling these in the New Year.

On Monday I’m looking forward to meeting with former MP Cathy O’Toole who is a strong advocate for multicultural mental health services and literacy in Far North Queensland, while Harry Lovelock with be attending the first National Mental Health Digital Framework Workshop.
On Tuesday we’ll be catching up with Senator Rachel Siewert and later with the mental health team at the Department of Health. Also on Tuesday Lachlan Searle will be attending the National Mental Health Commission roundtable on wellbeing and mental health considerations for the Vision 2030 Roadmap, and Melanie Cantwell will be attending the Steering Committee for the COVID-19 carers project we are working on with Carers Australia and Mental Health Carers Australia.

On Wednesday I’ll be attending a digital mental health workforce workshop as part of the development of the National Digital Mental Health Framework, and also on Wednesday, the team will be holding another of our annual workshop-alternative monthly webinars for National Register, NMHCCF, and Embrace CALD Consumer & Carer Working Group members. This one is with Dr Michelle Banfield on lived experience research.

On Thursday I am meeting with ACOSS CEO Cassandra Goldie.

On Friday I have a CEO Forum with the NDIA and am also talking with the Board of the Mental Health Coordinating Council in NSW and hosting our webinar with Christine Morgan, Mark Roddam, and Tania Rishniw to discuss the Productivity Commission Inquiry into Mental Health and how it will link with Vision 2030.

The Framework for Mental Health in Multicultural Australia (the Framework) is a free, nationally available online resource which allows organisations and individual practitioners to evaluate and enhance their cultural responsiveness. It has been mapped against national standards to help you meet your existing requirements, with access to a wide range of support and resources. 

A new report has called for a Consumer Health Leaders Academy to strengthen the role of consumers in health system decision-making. The Academy would equip consumer advocates and advisers within health consumer networks and who work with governments, government agencies and other organisations where consumer involvement is vital to further develop their skills as leaders.

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Mental health services in Australia describes the activity and characteristics of Australia’s health care and social care services accessed by people with a mental illness. This web report provides the most recent data available on the national response of the health and welfare system to the mental health care needs of Australians. Data are progressively published as it becomes available throughout the year.

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A national organisation has officially launched this week, recognising the growing problem of loneliness in our community and starting a national campaign to bring people together. The coalition group – Ending Loneliness Together – has released a landmark whitepaper which delivered recommendations across multiple sectors to drive a national approach to ending loneliness. “The impact of loneliness in Australia is broad and deep; it cuts across all sectors of our society” said Scientific Chair, Dr Michelle Lim, Australia’s leading scientific expert on loneliness.

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Minister for the National Disability Insurance Scheme, Stuart Robert, this week released an Information Paper on the reforms that deliver on the Morrison Government’s commitment to all Australians to make the NDIS experience better and fairer. 

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Australian College of Mental Health Nurses
Australian College of Mental Health Nurses (ACMHN) is the peak professional mental health nursing organisation and the recognised credentialing body for mental health nurses in Australia. It seeks to represent the profession at all levels of government and across all health service sectors. In addition, the ACMHN sets standards for practice, supports mental health nursing research and provides a forum for collegial support, networking and ongoing professional development for its members. Importantly, the ACMHN also works to promote public confidence in and professional recognition of mental health nursing.

Lutheran Services
Lutheran Services provides quality and contemporary support and accommodation for older people, young people and their families, those living with disability or mental illness, and people experiencing domestic violence and hardship.  

This Prevention Consensus Statement has been developed by the Prevention Coalition in Mental Health, an informal group of like-minded organisations with a shared belief in the importance of prevention in the mental health field.

The Prevention Consensus Statement sets out what we can do to prevent depression, anxiety, and other conditions right now as we work our way through the social and economic challenges wrought by COVID-19, and into the future. Enhancing our focus on prevention will strengthen individuals and communities, save money, and save lives.

Please access the full document and summary document below.

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The Mental Health Services Learning Network conference is open for registrations. The largest multi-disciplinary conference in Australasia, it will offer 4 day ‘blocks’ of topical, relevant and inspiring content across the sector. See the program here and register now to get Early Bird rates. TheMHS Conference is an opportunity for Australians and New Zealanders to come together to exchange ideas, build relationships, and work towards building better mental health systems and approaches.

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Mental Health Victoria is hosting the next lunchtime webinar in their Thought Leadership series on 9 December. “Not Home Yet: What the future could hold for mental health and housing” is a collaboration between MHV and Mind Australia, Council to Homeless Persons and the Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute. To find out more click on the link below.

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The Department of Social Services is currently seeking feedback on the usability of the pilot version of the Disability Gateway. The Disability Gateway is for all people with disability, their families and carers, and seeks to:

  • improve the navigation to access relevant information and services
  • span multiple sectors including health, housing, employment, transport and everyday living 
  • exist as a central point of entry for referrals to disability information, services and programs.

To participate in the survey, visit (or for the Easy Read format, visit


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Victorian Government raises trade concerns directly with China

The Victorian Government has raised concerns directly with China over escalating trade tensions between it and Australia.

Victorian Trade Minister Martin Pakula has told the Public Accounts and Estimates parliamentary committee that he raised concerns about the ongoing dispute with the Consulate-General of the People’s Republic of China in Melbourne as well as the Federal Trade Minister Simon Birmingham.

“I have spoken to Senator Birmingham on a couple of occasions and I have to say that he and I are in very strong alignment,” Mr Pakula said.

“I’m also happy to indicate that I’ve had detailed conversations with the Chinese Consul General to convey Victoria’s concerns and Brett Stevens, the Victorian Commissioner in Shanghai, who was on the conversations, has also had two direct meetings with the National Development and Reform Commission in China, again to convey Victoria’s concerns.”

Mr Pakula did not reveal what was specifically discussed but said there had been a response to the conversations.

He also told the committee that he would support a move by the Federal Coalition Government to refer the disputes to the World Trade Organisation.

Mr Pakula defended Victoria’s controversial Belt and Road agreement with Beijing but admitted it did not “immunise” Victorian exports from increased tariffs.

Opposition says Belt and Road agreement ‘has to go’

Yesterday, Premier Daniel Andrews condemned a Chinese official’s doctored tweet of an Australian soldier but said he would stick with his government’s Belt and Road agreement.

The offensive tweet was posted by a Chinese foreign policy spokesperson and has stoked diplomatic tensions between the two nations.

Mr Andrews said the post was indefensible but added it was important that a strong relationship was maintained with China.

“I hope the rhetoric, commentary and inflammatory social media posts comes to an end … this relationship is far too important to farmers, to manufacturers, to profits for Victorian companies and therefore prosperity for our state,” Mr Andrews said.

“This is not just our biggest customer, but it is all about jobs, we need a good relationship, but it has to be a fair and a respectful one.”

The Victorian Opposition claimed the Belt and Road agreement was “useless” if it could not be used to resolve trade tensions.

Leader Michael O’Brien said the Government had been compromised by its commitment to the Belt and Road deal.

“The Belt and Road deal has to go, not even Labor’s Federal Leader Anthony Albanese will have a bar of it,” Mr O’Brien said.

“We need to have a proper relationship with China, not a lopsided one.”

Victoria’s Belt and Road agreement could be torn up if new foreign interference laws pass through the Federal Parliament.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has been scathing of the Victorian Belt and Road Agreement with Beijing, claiming it is against the national interest.

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