Ms PATTEN (Northern Metropolitan) (12:26): My question is for the Minister for Health and relates to gambling harm. I refer the minister to the Victorian Public Health and Wellbeing Plan 2019–2023. In Victoria the Public Health and Wellbeing Act 2008 imposes a responsibility on state and local governments to plan for, protect and improve health and wellbeing, which is reflected in that health and wellbeing plan. Except for the cursory and only mention under ‘Improving mental wellbeing’, gambling harm is not considered in the plan, despite the Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation estimating that gambling accounts for 22 per cent of Victorian mental health sector costs. My question for the minister is: what is the actual cost of gambling harm to the Victorian health system in terms of both lives and dollars?
Ms MIKAKOS (Northern Metropolitan—Minister for Health, Minister for Ambulance Services) (12:27): I thank the member for her question. Obviously the issue of gambling and gambling harm does sit with the minister who is responsible for the gambling industry. In terms of a specific quantification around direct links to the health system, I will seek some advice as to whether that has been able to be quantified. I imagine that may be something that may be very difficult to quantify, but I will seek some advice as to whether that has been undertaken.
What I would say also is that the public health and wellbeing plan is something that is developed every four years under a statutory requirement. We did release the latest plan early this year. The 10 priority areas that were identified in that plan related to key areas where preventative action can actually reduce and prevent health harm to Victorians. We have identified those key areas, and they are tackling climate change and its impact on health, reducing injury, preventing all forms of violence, increasing healthy eating, decreasing the risk of drug-resistant infections in the community, improving mental wellbeing, increasing active living, improving sexual and reproductive health, reducing harmful alcohol and drug use, and reducing tobacco-related harm. As part of those 10 areas there were four areas that were regarded as priority areas, and they related to issues such as smoking, active living, increasing healthy eating and also the climate change one. They were the four of the 10 that were identified as the priority areas.
As part of improving mental wellbeing, that would of course touch upon things such as gambling, but it is a broad umbrella, I guess, in terms of how we improve people’s mental wellbeing. I think it is very timely that you are asking me this question today, as we have just received the interim report of the mental health royal commission. The government is now considering that report, and I want to take this opportunity to thank Minister Foley for the work that he has done in this area.
We know that we have a lot of issues that we need to address in terms of service delivery in mental health. There are Victorians slipping through the cracks now, and it is costing lives. This is why the Premier has made it very clear that we will work to deliver the recommendations of that report, and of course we look forward to receiving the final report of the royal commission next year.
Ms PATTEN (Northern Metropolitan) (12:30): I thank you for your response, Minister. The Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation also estimates that people seeking treatment for mental ill health are eight times more likely to be experiencing high levels of gambling harm. That information is absolutely out there, and you mentioned that mental wellbeing is one of the target areas, so I am still curious as to why gambling harm would not be included in the Victorian public health and wellbeing plan.
Ms MIKAKOS (Northern Metropolitan—Minister for Health, Minister for Ambulance Services) (12:30): Thank you for that further question, Ms Patten. As I have explained, the 10 key areas that have been identified include mental health and wellbeing. It is an important area that we know touches upon so many lives, and this is why as a government we have commissioned this really important royal commission to guide our way forward here. I am not seeking in any way to suggest that gambling does not cause harm in the community—I absolutely acknowledge that, and that is why there are a range of harm reduction, minimisation and support services that exist and that sit under Minister Kairouz’s portfolio—but I am happy to provide some further advice around those types of supports and programs to the member. I will seek some advice from Minister Kairouz about that and the issue that you touched upon in your substantive question. This plan has been developed through extensive consultation with health prevention agencies to really drill down to the 10 areas where we can put in some concerted effort to reduce poor health outcomes for Victorians, and this is why we are going to focus on mental health as one of those 10 areas.