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Category Archives: workforce planning

Michelle Grattan
May 17, 2009

The Coalition has slashed Labor’s lead and Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s popularity has fallen 10 points in an Age/Nielsen poll that also finds people don’t like the budget plan to raise the pension age.

Although most people believe the budget is fair and economically responsible, fewer are happy than with last year’s budget. Significantly more (38 per cent) say they personally will be worse off.

Labor’s two-party vote has fallen five points since March to 53 per cent, while the Opposition has risen five points to 47.

The poll is a reality check for the Government, and should scotch speculation about an early election.

Although they will hearten Opposition ranks, the figures still only take the Coalition back to its 2007 election position.

The Coalition’s primary vote has jumped six points in the past two months, with Labor falling three points. The ALP is now only one point ahead on primaries — 44 to 43 per cent.

This is the highest primary vote the Coalition has had since the election, although last September, with a lower vote, it led Labor on primaries.

In Victoria, the Coalition is five points ahead of Labor on primary votes — from being 20 points behind in March.

Mr Rudd’s approval is down sharply from his peak of 74 per cent but remains at a high 64 per cent; his disapproval has risen 10 points to 32 per cent. Opposition Leader Malcolm Turnbull is steady on 43 per cent approval and 47 per cent disapproval.

Mr Rudd has fallen five points to 64 per cent as preferred PM and Mr Turnbull is up four points to 28 per cent.

The national opinion poll of 1400 was taken from Thursday to Saturday.

Pollster John Stirton said that while Mr Rudd’s approval had dropped significantly, John Howard’s approval during his years as prime minister was 64 or better only four times.

Only 40 per cent backed the big budget surprise of a rise — phased in between 2017 and 2023 — from 65 to 67 in the eligibility age for the pension. This is designed to help finance the higher pension rate, boosted in the budget, for an ageing population. The increase was opposed by 56 per cent.

The budget was seen as fair by 56 per cent (down one point compared with the response after last year’s budget); 62 per cent were satisfied with it (down four points), while 52 per cent thought it economically responsible, and 38 per cent said it was not.

People feel notably more disadvantaged by this year’s budget than they did by the first Swan budget. There has been an eight-point fall on a year ago in those who say they will be better off (23 per cent), and an eight-point rise in those believing they will be worse off (38 per cent).

Mr Turnbull confirmed yesterday that the Opposition is set to let through the Government’s $1.3 billion alcopops legislation from last year’s budget, rejected earlier this year, which comes back into Parliament next month. It had been expected to become “trigger” legislation if the Government decided to have a double dissolution.

“We’ve got to take into account the budgetary environment has changed,” Mr Turnbull told Channel Nine. “Last year the budget was solidly in surplus, this year we have a record deficit.”

But the Coalition will vote against the means test on the health insurance rebate, which is worth $1.9 billion over the budget period.

Mr Turnbull said the means test was “an ideological political move to attack private health insurance and had nothing to do with budgetary or financial necessity”.

Treasurer Wayne Swan said he had always had private health insurance, “but I don’t expect to be subsidised by taxpayers on low and middle incomes, many of whom can’t afford private health insurance themselves”.

Adele Horin
May 14, 2009

“I’m jack of it “…sewer repairer Richard Bishop wants to retire but the later eligibility for the age pension will affect his plans. Photo: James Brickwood

RICHARD BISHOP began working at 14 and after decades of hard manual labour he is keen to retire as soon as possible.

“I’m jack of it,” said the 57-year old who repairs sewers for a living. “I’ve just had a knee reconstruction and by the time I’m 60 I don’t think I’m going to be getting any better. I want to enjoy what I’ve got left.”

Mr Bishop’s plans to put his feet up have been derailed by the Federal Government’s plan progressively to raise the pension eligibility age to 67 from 2017.

He admits the plan will hurt him and he is not alone – most Australian workers will not applaud the initiative, according to social researcher Julia Perry.

“Employers don’t want older workers, and a lot of mature-age workers want out, too,” said Ms Perry, who produced the Too Young To Go report on older workers for the NSW Government.

To prefer to work beyond 60 has always been a minority taste. At most, 25 per cent of mature-age workers enjoy their jobs so much they want to keep going beyond the usual retirement age, research consistently shows. “Only a minority of workers have the kind of job that is exciting or fulfilling,” said Sol Encel, emeritus professor at the University of NSW who is an expert on the ageing population. “Work is a chore for most people, especially as they age.”

Yet most experts agree the decision to lift the pension age is a necessity in the absence of higher tax rates to fund burgeoning health and aged care services, as well as pensions and superannuation concessions for a greying population. Australia is following a trend set by the US, Germany, Iceland, Norway and Denmark. In Britain 68 is the age for pension eligibility.

Australia’s plan will affect workers now aged 57 or younger. Those aged 55.5 to 57 will not be eligible for a pension until they are 65.5 and those aged 52.5 or younger not until 67.

Australians appeared to be resigned to their fate, Professor Encel said.

In the past decade, workers have reversed the trend to early retirement. Since 1998, the proportion of men aged 60-64 in the workforce has risen from 43 per cent to 52 per cent, and the proportion aged 65-69 has jumped from 19 per cent to 27 per cent, with most working part-time. For women the proportion of those aged 60-64 in work has almost doubled to 36 per cent.

But most, Professor Encel said, were economic conscripts. “The boomers have come to realise they don’t have the money to retire at 60. They’ve got responsibilities upscale and downscale – ageing parents and dependent children,” he said. “And they know if they have to rely on the pension, they’ll suffer a dramatic drop in lifestyle.”

Ms Perry said it was regrettable to compel low-skilled and low-paid workers, many with health problems, to work longer for the pension if highly skilled workers continued to be able to retire early by accessing superannuation at 55 or getting it tax free at 60.

The Henry review of the tax system recommended the preservation age for super be aligned with the age pension age.

If employees are expected to work longer, employer attitudes will need to change, experts say. “It’s a good idea to encourage people to work longer but you have to encourage employers to employ them longer,” Ms Perry said.

David Murray, 57, a company director, said though he was unlikely to be affected by the change in the eligibility age, he had lost retirement savings in the downturn. “Most people have lost 25 to 30 per cent of their retirement funds, so it’s going to take them another four to eight years before they can start to recoup some of that. Most retirements have been pushed out anyway.”

with Jonathan Dart

By Europe correspondent Emma Alberici

Posted 6 hours 3 minutes ago

The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) has welcomed Australia’s plan to introduce a parental leave scheme but says it is less generous than what is offered by other countries.

Of all the advanced economies, Australia and the United States are the only countries that do not offer statutory paid-maternity leave.

Economist Willem Adema of the OECD’s Social Policy Division welcomes the announcement of an Australian scheme to begin in 2011 but says the amount allocated to it is low when judged against similar schemes around the world.

While Australia’s proposal is means tested, the paid leave offered in the other 38 other OECD countries is open to all parents, regardless of income.

The OECD reports that in many European countries parents are given between 75 and 100 per cent of their wages for up to 18 months.

Michelle Grattan and Tim Colebatch
May 12, 2009

The second Rudd Government budget will predict a huge $58 billion deficit.

TONIGHT’S second Rudd Government budget will predict a huge $58 billion deficit in the new financial year — a record 4.9 per cent of GDP, higher than in any post-war recession.

It will also estimate almost a million people will be unemployed, with the unemployment rate rising from 5.4 per cent to 8.5 per cent.

Costello: Swan ‘desperate’
Peter Costello accuses Wayne Swan of desperation over the looming budget deficit but fails to answer whether he would run a deficit himself.

The budget will cut into so-called middle-class welfare, and slice spending in other areas, but the collapse of revenue and the cost of the earlier stimulus packages will bring a string of red numbers.

The deficit is an $80 billion turnaround since the forecasts in last year’s budget.

The leak of the figure last night prompted the Opposition to declare that “the Australian Labor Party has lost control of the nation’s finances”.

The Government will today seek to rush through a bill to allow it to keep $365 million in revenue collected from its defeated alcopop tax. It has also signalled that it will try again to get the tax hike through the Senate.

Its fate will depend on a change of heart by Family First senator Steve Fielding, who voted against it last time. There is agreement to validate the $365 million already collected.

Treasury now forecasts that the economy’s collapse will lift unemployment to record levels. While the unemployment rate is expected to peak at 8.5 per cent, well below its 10.9 per cent peak in the last recession, the total numbers out of work would rise even above the 933,000 unemployed in December 1992.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, preparing to justify the unprecedented deficit, said Treasury advice to be published in the budget was that if the Government had not brought in its earlier stimulus measures, unemployment would have reached 10 per cent.

The budget would “support the jobs of today by investing in the infrastructure we need for tomorrow”, Mr Rudd said yesterday.

Treasury’s advice was “the final nail in the coffin for those who argue that governments should do nothing to support jobs during a global recession”.

“We are in the worst recession, the worst global recession since the Great Depression,” Mr Rudd said.

Meanwhile former NSW Labor treasurer Michael Costa launched a sharp attack on the Government, saying he had always taken the view “the Prime Minister and his Treasurer don’t know what they are doing”. The stimulus had been a “disaster”, Mr Costa said.

“The issue comes down to how many jobs did you actually save for that level of spending and the cost-benefit of the stimulus becomes an issue.”

A pension rise of about $30 a week, a go-ahead for major infrastructure programs and the promised parental leave scheme will be among the budget’s good news, but many people will be hit in the hip pocket by losing their private health insurance rebate and superannuation concessions.

Shadow treasurer Joe Hockey said the Rudd Government was “a reckless spender”. “Every man, every woman and every child will have a burden of $2600 just for next year’s budget.”

But he refused to say what would be an appropriate level of debt. Mr Hockey said it was “inconceivable that we could have such a deterioration of unemployment in such a short time. We left the Labor Party with unemployment levels at 4 per cent, with a $22 billion surplus, with no debt.”

Mr Rudd said every government worldwide was “engaged in temporary borrowing”.

The Government has the added problem of a hostile Senate, which puts at risk some of its savings measures.

The Opposition is reserving its positions on measures such as the means test on the private health insurance rebate, which has been criticised by Senator Fielding and independent senator Nick Xenophon.

Opposition Leader Malcolm Turnbull said this was “unquestionably a broken election promise. “There was no election promise that was made more repeatedly or more emphatically by Mr Rudd than that there would be no change to the private health insurance rebate.”

Attempting to apply heat to the Coalition, Treasurer Wayne Swan said: “The Opposition on the one hand can’t be out there saying they’ll support a pension increase, then knock back the savings that make that pension increase sustainable for the long term. They can’t have it both ways.”

Mr Swan said the budget was complex. “We have to stimulate the economy now to support employment. We have to make room for vital investments and also for pensions.

“But also, we’ve got to make those longer-term savings that bring the budget back to sustainability over time given the new global circumstances.”

Business confidence has picked up — the NAB confidence index held on to most of its gains in April to come in at a near six-month high of minus 14 points, well above the minus 32 points recorded in January.


Kate Hannon
May 10, 2009 – 6:59PM
Labor’s Left faction will push the Rudd government to develop renewable energy sources as a way of creating “green” jobs.

It will also press for further changes to industrial relations laws at the next Australian Labor Party (ALP) national conference, to be held in Sydney at the end of July.

It will be the first national party conference in more than two years, and the first since Labor returned to government federally in 2007.

The party’s National Left faction met in Canberra on Saturday and Sunday to discuss a range of policy areas, including the fallout of the global financial crisis.

A National Left convenor, NSW Senator Doug Cameron, said the meeting endorsed the government’s revamped climate change policy announced on Monday by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd.

The government decided to delay by 12 months the start of its carbon pollution reduction scheme to July 1, 2011, and extended its reduction targets from five per cent to 25 per cent below 2000 levels by 2020, depending on the outcome of the UN climate change summit in Copenhagen in December.

But Senator Cameron said the Left believed more should be done to develop renewable energy and carbon capture and storage as a way to create green jobs.

“There’s employment available in a whole range of areas: tidal power, wind power, geothermal, solar and we believe there must be an even more focused approach,” Senator Cameron told AAP.

“We’re not arguing for closing the coal industry by any stretch of the imagination.”

The meeting also discussed a number of issues to do with the new Fair Work industrial relations system, most of which will begin operating on January 1, 2010.

As expected, the Left expressed its unhappiness with the continued existence until 2010 of the industry watchdog the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC) and the plan to transfer much of its powers to the new industrial body Fair Work Australia.

Senator Cameron said there was also concern about the new good faith bargaining rules, due to begin on July 1 along with new unfair dismissal rules.

“The range of changes introduced by the government are a good start but there may be other areas we will want to look at in terms of bargaining,” he said.

These included concerns that if an employer breaches an agreement the only means to deal with it is conciliation.

“There was quite a range of views that workers should be entitled, if there’s a clear breach of a contract, they should be able to take industrial action to force the employer to ensure the contract is fulfilled,” Senator Cameron said.

While Labor abolished Australian Workplace Agreements (AWAs) and will bring enterprise level bargaining back as the mainstay of industrial relations, many unions felt the legislation did not go far enough.

© 2009 AAP

May 11, 2009 12:00am

BUDGET 09: AUSTRALIA will finally join the rest of the Western world in introducing a paid parental leave scheme, but not till 2011.

And the scheme will not be universal. Around 140,000 stay-at-home mums – and the rich – will miss out.

But tens of thousands of women who work part-time or casually could end up getting more than their working wage.

Eligible parents will collect at least the minimum wage of $544 a week while on 18 weeks’ leave to look after newborns.

Treasurer Wayne Swan used Mother’s Day yesterday to announce the scheme, as final touches were applied to a Budget billed as the toughest in living memory.

An attack on middle-class welfare – including means-testing of the private health insurance rebate and elimination of lucrative superannuation concessions – will allow for tax cuts and an increase in age pensions.

But the Budget is still expected to plunge to a record deficit of around $60 billion, while borrowings will blow out to as much as $300 billion.

Consequently, the parental scheme is unlikely to begin until January 1, 2011 – possibly after the next election.

Mr Swan said that start-up date was necessary because the global economic crisis had ripped a $200 billion black hole in revenue over four years.

But shadow treasurer Joe Hockey said this was “putting promises on the never-never”.

Mr Swan said: “We are one of only two countries in the Western world that doesn’t have paid parental leave.

“We have got to get that balance between work and family right, and paid parental leave is an essential reform,” he told the Nine Network.

Families in which the main breadwinner earns $150,000 or more will be ineligible.

And to qualify, a prospective mum would have to have worked only 330 hours, or one day a week for 10 months in the 13 months before the birth.

The $5000 baby bonus will be bundled into the new payment.

But stay-at-home mums will get only the baby bonus, plus family tax benefits, halving the overall cost of the scheme to around $260 million a year.

“Stay-at-home mothers are being dudded once again,” Australian Family Association president John Morrisey said.

“And 18 weeks is not long enough anyway. A child needs two or three years of one-on-one with their mother, instead of becoming aggressive graduates of long day care.”

But working mum Sarah Horton wishes the scheme had been available sooner.

“It would have been fantastic to have had financial help with our first child. In all probability, we would have started a family earlier,” she said.

Mrs Horton, who gave birth to Ned Robert yesterday, said the scheme would be fantastic news for her next child.

“It means we can go ahead without the worry and concern about financial stability.”

Parents can share the 18 weeks’ leave, or one parent can take it all. And workers can still use parental leave provided by employers, either at the same time or back-to-back.

Employers will not contribute to the government scheme or cover superannuation on leave entitlements.

But Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief Peter Anderson warned the Government not to force businesses to pay administration costs, which could leave them out of pocket.

Though welcoming the announcement, Council of Small Businesses of Australia chief Jaye Radisich said its impact on small businesses would be greater.

“But if you want to encourage women to have babies, maternity leave is good for society,” she said.,21985,25458575-662,00.html

May 10, 2009 12:00am

WORKING mothers should be allowed time-out – and private space – for breastfeeding at work, says retired senator Natasha Stott Despoja.

The former leader of the Democrats, who quit politics last year to spend more time with her family, said Australian women were still being denied their chance to “have it all”.

And paid maternity leave, as well as breastfeeding breaks, were part of “a suite of reforms” needed for women to achieve a healthy work-family balance.

“I am a great believer that women can and should have it all and the only thing holding them back is a lack of support in society,” mother-of-two Ms Stott Despoja says.

“It’s not about us. We don’t have to choose one pursuit over the other.”

In an exclusive interview with the Sunday Herald Sun, Ms Stott Despoja also reveals:

SHE “wouldn’t rule out” a return to politics, but has no regrets about quitting Canberra last year;

BEING a mother to Conrad, 4, and Cordelia, 14 months, has made her “a more relaxed person”;

SHE believes family, and mothers in particular, are undervalued in Australia;

HER bid to help women in developing countries across the globe.

And the long-term campaigner for paid maternity leave admits feeling “nervous” about Tuesday’s Federal Budget.

Ms Stott Despoja says the global financial crisis would be no excuse if a government-funded plan was left out, because “the economics show it is easily do-able”.

And she warns that progress on family-friendly schemes, such as breastfeeding breaks, has largely stalled.

Ms Stott Despoja says the right to breastfeeding breaks could be enshrined in workplace agreements and that most businesses were capable of providing “a clean, private and secure room” for mothers to breastfeed or express milk.

“It’s a short interruption to her (working) day,” she says.

But while this issue remains close to Ms Stott Despoja’s political heart, it no longer applies personally.

She quit her 13-year senate career last June and lives in Adelaide with her husband, former Liberal Party adviser Ian Smith, and their children.

But her resignation was in no way an admission women can’t have careers and family.

“I have had a wonderful, full-time – more than full-time – career and I was really proud of how I balanced work and family because everyone knows it involves a degree of sacrifice or difficulty,” she says.

“I like to think I am living proof of what feminism is all about and that is choice.

“I have been in the fortunate position where I could make that choice. And for me (resigning) was such a clear decision, the right decision.

“That’s not because I don’t love politics or my party.

“But there were certain things in my family’s life that I didn’t want to miss out on, like going with Conrad on his first day (of pre-school) and seeing my husband more often.

“I’m really, really enjoying spending quality time with my children. It’s absolutely wonderful.”

The path to two-time parenthood was complicated for Ms Stott Despoja, who today celebrates her fifth Mother’s Day.

In 2006, when Conrad was almost two, Ms Stott Despoja had emergency surgery for an ectopic pregnancy, when the embryo grows outside the uterus.

Looking back, she says it was difficult when her private heartache became public.

“I had experienced media scrutiny (before) . . . but some issues are particularly private and personal,” she says.

“But as public figures, you don’t often get to decide to what extent these issues get talked about.”

As well as being a full-time mother, Ms Stott Despoja has positions on the boards of beyondblue, the Advertising Standards Board and the Melbourne-based Burnet Institute for medical research.

Ms Stott Despoja today launches the Burnet Institute’s Women for Women campaign aimed at improving the health of women across the globe.,21985,25454025-2862,00.html

08 May 2009 8:24am

Employers should stop thinking about recruitment and retention with a “war” mentality, and approach talent mobility with a new mindset, according to Melbourne Business School’s Dr Ian Williamson.

“The war for talent is over,” he told the Australasian Talent Conference in Sydney yesterday, “but it’s not because of the economic recession; it’s because talent won”.

“From the [employer] perspective, there’s no coming back from this defeat.”

Even while voluntary turnover has decreased as a result of the global economic downturn, the mobility of top talent has continued. “That hasn’t stopped at all, and if you talk to business leaders what they’ll tell you is the time to really get somebody of top talent is when you’re having a difficult business period.

“I don’t think that a recession has any impact on those individuals who are truly skilled in their position. Those individuals are always going to be in demand. So while we may have had some cooling off with voluntary turnover rate, for those truly valuable individuals this hasn’t been a big impact.”

Employers must work out how to deal with employee mobility, he says, because it will only increase.

“War” mentality unhelpful
The “war for talent” mentality of the last 10 years has not enhanced employers’ understanding of how to deal with mobility, says Williamson, an associate professor of management at the Melbourne Business School. The common thinking has been that when an employer lures talent from a competitor, it has “won” (and the competitor has “lost”), but he questions whether the issue is really that cut and dry.

Investment bank Goldman Sachs, he points out, pioneered a different way of thinking when it recognised that the hedge funds started up by former top talent became some of its most lucrative clients – “they lost talent, but it wasn’t as if they didn’t get something out of this”.

Employee mobility is not “win or lose”, he says. Employers must see every employee as a potential source of “social capital” and potential goodwill ambassador for the organisation – someone who will say good things about the business and help generate revenue.

So employers should think: “While I may no longer have access to your human capital – your knowledge skills and abilities – and while I may no longer have you as an employee, that does not mean that the organisation cannot still derive value from the relationships that we have developed over time.”

Develop alumni, manage exits
There are two broad ways to manage talent mobility, Williamson says. The first is to develop formal ties with ex-employees through alumni programs.

In most organisations now, “at best we might give them a pat on the back and say ‘good luck’; at worst we might think of them as traitors.

“But very rarely in organisations do we think and strategically plan to have an ongoing relationship with them.”

He points out: “We spend millions and millions of dollars on recruitment, trying to get people who have no relationship with us to talk to us – people who have no reason to pick up the phone – we call them all the time and plead ‘please, please, please pick up the phone to have a conversation with us’.

“How much time and energy do we spend trying to call people who used to work for us, who like us, who know us and who would gladly give us 30 minutes to talk about what’s going on in our organisation? Seems as if there might be a potential for a higher level return in terms of our time and our energy.”

The second way is to strategically manage employee exits. This is particularly important right now when many organisations are having a lot of involuntary turnover, Williamson says.

“What are we doing with those relationships? How are we managing that? We’re generating a whole population of former employees that are going to go off; some are going to work for our competitors, that might be a bad thing for us; some of them are going to work for co-operator firms – suppliers, potential clients, existing clients. How are we managing that process? What are we doing as they go through that exit process to ensure that we still maintain some type of positive relationship with them? Are we considering the potential social capital benefits as they exit?

“They’re going to have an immediate impact on shaping the brand and the image of that organisation, and no matter how much you might spend on a marketing plan or a branding strategy, it won’t overcome word of mouth.

“This has the potential to be a great thing. If we’ve done it right, they can be great ambassadors. They can recommend company products, they can refer new talent, they can be sources of new knowledge. But it can be very difficult to overcome if we do it wrong.

“It really is important to clearly communicate why we’re doing this. It’s important because it creates a sense of fairness. While things may have been unfortunate, you don’t want your employees saying it was an unfair situation, because that’s not going to generate goodwill.”

Outplacement services might seem expensive, he says, but employers will often recoup the cost if just one employee generates a new client.

Alumni recruitment often “hit or miss”
Alumni recruitment is often “hit or miss”, Williamson says, because few organisations have a formal strategy in place.

“It tends to be that a manager has an opening – they’re desperate to get somebody in, they want somebody good – and because they have a relationship with a former employee they call that person up [and] go outside of the HR process.

“What I would recommend is if you have the database of individuals who used to work for you, there’s nothing to stop you from sending out announcements of positions. You have their [CVs]; you know what they were doing in your organisation; you can screen before you even send out the messages, and so you can say ‘we think you would be an excellent candidate for this. I know you left – we have your information from your exit interviews as to why you left – we think we can address those concerns, would you mind having a conversation?’

“That’s an email you can’t send to a cold candidate.”

06 May 2009 6:28am

More than half of employers still believe there is a talent shortage and that it is having a negative impact on their organisation, according to the Randstad 2009 Employment Trends Report.

The proportion of employers affected by the shortage is lower than last year (59% versus 67%), the report says, but nearly half (46%) complain it is increasing workload stress among staff (46%).

Some 22 per cent say company performance is suffering and 14 per cent are reporting higher turnover.

These are problems that recruiters can focus on when selling the benefits of their service to potential clients, the report indicates.

Not surprisingly, respondents to the survey (2,682 across Australia, New Zealand and Singapore) say their biggest human capital challenges for the next 12 months will be managing internal change (20%), people and productivity (19%) and human capital costs (15% – up from 4% last year), rather than attraction and retention.

Report can be downloaded form here:

AM – Monday, 4 May , 2009 08:18:00

TONY EASTLEY: New figures show that the global financial crisis has coincided with a large increase in more Australians seeking mental health services.

The Mental Health Council has analysed Medicare figures and found a 40 per cent increase in the number of Medicare claims for mental health consultations in the past two months.

The council says the jump is alarming.

Jennifer Macey reports.

JENNIFER MACEY: In an effort to improve access to mental health care services, the Howard government introduced a Medicare rebate for visits to psychiatrists, clinical psychologists and therapists.

But in the past few months there’s been a massive increase in people claiming this rebate for mental health care services.

David Crosbie is the CEO of the Mental Health Council of Australia.

DAVID CROSBIE: So we know that the number of people getting a mental health plan from their GP has gone up by about 42 per cent.

We know the number of people getting clinical psychology services, has gone from about 54,000 in March ’08, to 83,000 in March ’09.

So it’s really a massive increase.

JENNIFER MACEY: He says mental health professionals expected an initial surge in people getting treatment once the rebate was initially introduced.

But he says he’s been surprised by the recent jump in the figures.

DAVID CROSBIE: I think it’s alarming in that so many Australians feel the need to have a mental health care plan, and so many are seeking psychological therapy.

We thought that would plateau, the number of people who would be using these services, but it’s clearly increasing quite significantly. In fact, quicker than it ever has before.

In some ways that may reflect that we’ve had a lot of unmet demand, and it’s a good thing that people are actually getting the help they need.

At another level it may reflect that the kind of broader psychological stress on people that comes from that feeling that we’re in crisis all the time is having an impact, and particularly when you marry that with higher levels of unemployment.

JENNIFER MACEY: The Mental Health Council has produced these figures after analysing Medicare rebate numbers.

It’s not certain whether the global financial crisis is the main reason behind the increase. The actual breakdown of the gender or age group of those people seeking mental health care services has not yet been released.

Professor Ian Hickie from the Brain and Mind Institute in Sydney says he’s heard of anecdotal evidence that people are worried about their jobs or other financial pressures.

IAN HICKIE: We’ve seen a lot of reports from young people, who we particularly access, about worries, about employment, difficulties getting casual work, difficulties paying their bills.

And certainly for those who are somewhat older, particularly the men that we see, concerns about whether they’ll be able to hang on onto their jobs, the financial pressure they’re under.

So it’s a topic that seems to be accounting for more people coming forward for services, and certainly top of their list of things that they are now worrying about.

JENNIFER MACEY: And he says many people who need the services the most might be falling through the cracks.

He says particularly men, and younger men may not be going to their GPs with mental health problems.

IAN HICKIE: Now we’ve been very lucky in Australia over the last decade that there’s been a 30 per cent fall in suicide altogether, up until about 2006, and a 46 per cent fall in youth suicide during that period, when we had very strong economic growth and very low rates of unemployment.

Now that essentially stopped about 18 months ago, best we can tell from the figures, and we’re now concerned that if the economic situation gets worse, you’re likely to see a rise in suicide figures.

Because that’s pretty much the history of these things in Australia and in other developed countries.
TONY EASTLEY: Professor Ian Hickey from the Brain and Mind Institute, ending that report by Jennifer Macey.