Last week National Party MP Dr Shane Reti claimed in this newspaper that Minister of Agriculture Damien O'Connor and I have 'pulled' funding for farmer suicide research.
He also claimed this was evidence of a dismissive attitude towards rural mental health.
Both of these claims are incorrect and, unfortunately, appear to be a further attempt to mislead the public about this Government's support for rural health services.
I'm pleased to have the opportunity to clear this up.
Read Shane Reti's argument here: Shane Reti: State pullback on farmer suicide 'shocking'
Let me first deal with an error of fact.
Reti has seized on our decision to decline an application for $600,000 in new taxpayer funding for the Rural Health Alliance Aotearoa NZ.
It's worth noting that just $40,000 of the $600,000 requested was for suicide research. Much of the rest was for the alliance's operating expenses, which up until now have presumably been met by its membership, which includes some of the most significant agribusiness organisations in the country.
But let me emphasise, this was an application for new funding. It would have to be granted before it could be 'pulled' as Reti claims.
The suggestion we have withdrawn funding for the alliance is a misconception that its chairman Dr Martin London addressed in recent comments to Rural News.
"In some areas the media are saying the Government is withdrawing finance. That is not really the case. The only finance we have had from Government is in the form of contracts and if we don't have a substantial secretariat — a base organisation which is financially sound — the Government can't award contracts."
As Health Minister, I value the work the alliance does. I hope it can secure enough funds from its membership to continue operating in some form.
Turning to Reti's claim this Government doesn't care about rural health:
The contracts London is referring to include the $250,000 a year in Ministry of Health Funding the alliance has received since 2015 to deliver a mental health and wellbeing programme across the rural sector.
The ministry wishes to continue this valuable programme but the alliance has chosen to end its involvement at the end of this month. The ministry is now reviewing the programmes delivered by the alliance and is seeking to maintain relevant support for rural communities beyond June 30. This is important because the Government is mindful of the pressures on farmers, their families, and workers — including the Mycoplasma bovis outbreak.
Where these pressures affect their wellbeing, whether physical or mental, we will continue to support them.
Paradoxically, Reti is lamenting our decision to decline funding for the alliance's farmer suicide research while suggesting the current independent Mental Health Inquiry, which will explore similar issues across our wider community, is unnecessary.
I'm backing Minister O'Connor who has pledged to ensure the inquiry hears the voices of rural New Zealanders.
But I also believe all Kiwis struggling with mental health problems need to be heard and deserve our support.
WHERE TO GO FOR HELP:
If you are worried about your or someone else's mental health, the best place to get help is your GP or local mental health provider.
However, if you or someone else is in danger or endangering others, call police immediately on 111.
Or if you need to talk to someone else:
Lifeline: 0800 543 354 (available 24/7);
Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO) (available 24/7);
Youthline: 0800 376 633.
Need to talk? Free call or text 1737 (available 24/7)
Kidsline: 0800 543 754 (available 24/7);
Whatsup: 0800 942 8787 (1pm to 11pm)
Depression helpline: 0800 111 757 (available 24/7);
Rainbow Youth: (09) 376 4155;
Samaritans 0800 726 666;
Rural Support Trust: 0800 787 254