Victorian Shadow Minister for Mental Health, Emma Kealy, in Mildura last November.

By VINNIE RODI

WITH the fallout from the Victorian Budget still being dissected across Mildura (namely discussions around a lack of anything substantial for Mildura yet again), one potentially life-changing project in desperate need of State Government support seems to have been forgotten.

While a lack of State funding for the Mildura South Regional Sporting Precinct (MSRSP) took centre stage last week, and rightly so considering just $8million is needed to complete the project, the need to build a residential drug and alcohol rehabilitation centre in our region barely raised an eyebrow.

Cast your minds back to the lead up to the Victorian election in November last year, when former Member for Mildura Peter Crisp and Victorian Shadow Minister for Mental Health, Emma Kealy, made local headlines when they vowed to “change the game” regarding how drugs and alcohol abuse is treated in Mildura.

Together they promised to build a $7million 20-bed residential rehabilitation centre for Mildura if the Victorian Liberal-Nationals won office in November. This, obviously, never came to be, with the Andrews Labor Government romping in a heavy victory, and taking a number of Coalition-held seats with them.

The Andrews Government failed to match the funding promised by the Victorian Opposition, despite calls from Mr Crisp at the time for bipartisan support.

New Member for Mildura Ali Cupper has, quite rightly, been focused on other things – like the MSRSP and the future of the Mildura Base Hospital – but should this project now become a major focus?

Let’s quickly revist the facts: The need for a dedicated drug and rehabilitation facility was made clear following the work of the Northern Mallee Partnership Local Drug Action Team (LDAT), which secured funding through Irymple Rotary, Mildura Rural City Council and the Royal Flying Doctor Service to fund an evidence-based analysis to investigate the need for such a facility.

The study, which was headed by 360 Degree Edge, identified a significant need for this facility, with the group’s director, Professor Nicole Lee, presenting results in early 2018.

Prof. Lee’s research found that the number of drug and alcohol-related cases presenting in Mildura were on par with Bendigo, which boasts a much larger population. 

In fact, the closest residential rehabilitation and similar services for our region’s residents were located some 400km away in either Bendigo or Adelaide.

Prof Lee investigated local data and current services available, while also engaging the community through one-on-one conversations and an online survey. Community consultation found that methamphetamine, namely Ice, and alcohol use was among the major concerns facing the region, followed closely by prescription drug abuse and cannabis use.

The findings also found that more needed to be done to link available services together to form a “holistic and complete service”, and provide more support for the families of those engaged in the service.

It was this study that prompted the Victorian Liberal-Nationals to make their $7million commitment in the first place.

WHERE TO NOW?

Now, nearly seven months after the State Election was run and won by Labor, the question needs to be asked, where to with this seemingly vital project?

Ms Kealy is well and truly still on board, and in a statement issued to the Mildura Weekly she said that a residential drug and alcohol rehabilitation centre for Mildura would not only change lives, it would save them. 

“Mildura doesn’t have a residential rehabilitation service, meaning local people trying to overcome drugs and alcohol addictions need to travel out of the area and away from family and friends when they need residential care,” she said. “Public transport to and from this region also makes it difficult to get to treatment services, putting extra pressure on individuals and their support network at what’s already a very stressful time. 

“The Nationals are very concerned at the lack of residential rehab services in Mildura, and the lack of interest from the Andrews Labor Government to deliver this important critical service that will save lives. 

“It would make a real difference for individuals, and it would complement existing non-residential programs, like that run by Sunraysia Community Health (Services). 

“A residential rehab service in Mildura would help keep people close to their family and support networks when they need them most. 

“As usual, city-centric Labor is focused on Melbourne, but the Nationals will keep advocating on behalf of this community because we understand that a residential rehabilitation centre would make a real difference to the health and well-being of Mildura families.”

And where does the Andrews Government stand?

The Mildura Weekly put several questions to Minister for Mental Health, Martin Foley. They included: 

• Has the Andrews Government met with anyone regarding this project since being re-elected? 

• Is there any scope or thought being given to this facility? What steps would need to be taken to put this on the government’s radar?

Minister Foley’s response was as follows: “We’ve funded a range of health services to provide treatment for alcohol and other drugs in Mildura, including Therapeutic Day Rehabilitation.

“This year’s budget invests $273.1million in drug services – this is an increase in investment of 65 percent over our last five budgets, building on our $180million Ice Action Plan and $87million Drug Rehabilitation Plan.

“The Andrews Labor Government will more than double the number of residential rehab beds in Victoria as a result of our investment, with more than half of those new beds in regional Victoria.

“We won’t be lectured by the Liberal-Nationals, who did nothing for drug and alcohol treatment except cut services and abandon people in need.

“Remarkable as it seems, when they had the chance the Liberals and Nationals actually reduced the number of alcohol and drug support services at precisely the time when ice and other drugs were extending their grip on regional communities.  

“The Andrews Government has already opened more beds in the regions than the Liberals ever did.”

Doesn’t really answer our questions, does it?

HAVE YOUR SAY: Should the State Government make construction of a dedicated drug and alcohol rehabilitation facility in Mildura a focus? Have your say on the Mildura Weekly’s Facebook page, or email your thoughts to lettersdesk@milduraweekly.com.au.