In Senate Estimates this morning, the Coalition has once again refused to reveal how severely successive Budget cuts to the Health Flexible Funds will impact on alcohol and illicit drug treatment services.
For almost six months Labor has been seeking answers on how much money will be ripped away from treatment services helping people overcome alcohol and illicit drug problems, including crystal methamphetamine or “ice” addiction.
The 2013-14 Budget ripped $197 million from the Flexible Funds, which included an initial $7 million cut from the Substance Misuse Prevention and Service Improvement Grants Fund and $1.2 million cut from the Substance Misuse Service Delivery Grants Fund.
In this year’s Budget Joe Hockey announced that a further $596 million would be ripped from Flexible Health Funds. But it remains unclear how this latest cut will affect alcohol and illicit drug treatment services across Australia.
In addition to this, the Government has refused to provide information on whether federal funding under the NGO Treatment Grants Program (NGOTGP) will be extended beyond the financial year. The one-year funding extension announced in the closing stages of last financial year led to an urgent funding crisis and it looks like the sector is set for another one.
The Government’s evasiveness of drug and alcohol treatment cuts comes in the wake of:
- $20 million being spent on a graphic TV and Internet ad campaign warning of the dangers of ice and further funds dedicated to a “dob in a dealer” hotline.
- The Prime Minister receiving the final report of the National Ice Taskforce, which calls for an expansion of treatment services and more emphasis on treatment, education and community support to reduce ice demand.
If the Coalition was actually concerned about the impact of ice on vulnerable communities it would rule out any cuts to the substance misuse funds and extend NGOTGP funding without delay.
Instead, the sector continues to operate in a state of uncertainty. Families across Australia trying to get their loved ones the help they need continue to wait or choose expensive private treatment options.
Workers on the frontline trying to help people turn their lives around are doing their best with one arm tied behind their back. If money can be found for graphic TV ads and a hotline number it can be found for treatment services.