Socialist Alliance members were outraged by the harsh neo-liberal budget handed down by the Tasmanian Labor-Greens government on June 16. The government has pushed for and then backed down on a plan to close 20 schools. Now the government wants to slash over $110 million from the health budget in the next financial year alone. Mental health services in the south of the state have been one of the first targets.

Inpatient and community teams have been told that they will lose clinical case management, nursing, allied health, admin, emergency crisis worker and diversional therapy positions. Staff at the 12-bed mental health residential facility in Campbell St have been told that the service will be closed down or transferred to an NGO and the Department is even considering outsourcing the Mental Health Helpline – the critical gateway into the service which is responsible for responding to crisis calls! Staff have expressed anger and alarm to Socialist Alliance about the impact that these proposed cuts will have on people with serious mental illnesses who need treatment and support.

All the community mental health teams already have big waitlists for people needing case management. Existing staffing resources are not enough to meet even the current needs of the seriously mentally ill. Professor Patrick McGorry has convincingly explained that mental health services in this country remain drastically under-funded in comparison to other health services.

Burnout, stress and work overload is already an issue amongst Tasmanian mental health staff. “If the Health Minister goes ahead with plans to cut all these frontline clinical positions, we will see more people with serious mental health conditions going untreated and unsupported and the stress on existing clinicians will be extreme. This is likely to lead to more hospital admissions, more social disruption, greater physical harm and more risk of suicides,” warned Linda Seaborn, spokesperson for the Socialist Alliance.

Seaborn asked “How can these cuts make economic sense when you consider the long-term costs to our community of not treating illnesses early? This is true even if you just consider the economic costs of increased hospital admissions and potential loss of working capacity.” The Socialist Alliance says “Hands off mental health services’ frontline positions!”

Socialist Alliance members are disappointed that Greens MPs are supporting and actively implementing this budget. Greens leader and MP Nick McKim said in a media release: “The Greens welcome the move to a new fiscal strategy.” He said that they have “rolled up their sleeves” to take “tough remedial budget action” and they won’t “shirk from this responsibility”.

“This Labor-Green government has got its priorities all wrong”, said Rose Matthews, spokesperson for the Socialist Alliance. “The government is punishing ordinary people by slashing into the services we really need. Nobody believes that you can axe millions of dollars and over a thousand jobs from health, education, and police without leading to poorer services. They may even slash the Royal Hobart Resource public services, not Gunns!

For a healthy, socially just, sustainable and democratic state Hospital’s budget by 20% ($70 million), the Launceston General Hospital by $39 million according to reports today. Grassroots workers will be the ones to face the sack, not the top-levels of the bureaucracy.”

The Socialist Alliance pledges to stand side-by-side with the mental health and other public sector workers that are currently campaigning against cuts to their services. “In fact, we need to defend health, education, housing and child protection services across the board. Cuts will lead to the most vulnerable people in our community suffering. They will also result in a loss of skilled staff to the mainland and more flow-on unemployment in the private sector,” Matthews said.

“Governments need to stimulate the economy by maintaining a strong public sector and investing in jobs, especially in times of economic crisis.”

Yet Premier Lara Giddings is too eager to listen to its ex-TCCI (Tasmanian Chamber of Commerce and Industry) economist who she recruited to be her senior advisor. Roz Madsen from Unions Tasmania pointed out that last year, the state government cut land tax, payroll tax and tax on betting exchanges which led to a reduction of $185 million in government income. The government has also spent taxpayers’ money on propping up Gunns and other favored businesses, with no public benefit.

The Socialist Alliance advocates an alternative approach that protects services and boosts the economy.

We call on the government to:

– Boost grassroots professional jobs in essential services like health, mental health, education, child protection, ambulance services etc to meet the needs of all Tasmanians

– Take up the offer of the Federal Government to fund 50% of an evidence-based EPPIC (Early Psychosis) treatment service for young people, which we badly need in this state.

– Invest in rail, renewable energy, national parks and public housing, going into debt in the short-term if necessary, in order to stimulate jobs and the economy Instead of slashing essential services, they could balance the budget by doing things like:

– End subsidies and pay-outs to Gunns and other private companies (especially when there are no guarantees of long-term jobs)

– Increase corporate payroll tax

– Increase mining royalties significantly from the meager rate of 5.5%

– Reduce the frivolous budget spent on maintaining a full-time governor and Government House

– Charge market rates to the three big corporate electricity users instead of selling our electricity to them at below-cost

– Tax the excess gaming profits made by Federal Hotels (which according to Greg James on Tasmanian Times, amounts to $225 million per annum)

– Take action to recoup the $721,000 owed to the government by the Walker Corporation for planning costs associated with their failed Ralph’s Bay marina application

– Return water and sewerage to council control

– Reduce parliamentary and top-bureaucrat perks, privileges, superannuation and wages.

ABC Online: Hospital boss warns budget cuts impossible