By Rowan Forster
Narre Warren South MP Judith Graley has pledged to open the state’s chequebook and bankroll Berwick College’s mental health hub just days after being goaded by the Liberal Party.
The long-awaited cash injection of $1.3 million in the Victorian Budget will secure the future of the facility, which has been sought after for more than six years.
Casey-Cardinia’s harrowing rate of teen suicide sent shock waves through the community when 12 young people took their lives between 2011 and 2012.
A State Coroner’s report was even launched to investigate the phenomenon’s “elevated frequency”.
The announcement, made on Friday, came shortly after Gembrook MP Brad Battin committed to funding the pivotal project – if a Guy Government came to power in November.
Mr Battin – a Berwick High alumnus – said the opening of the hub will still be one of his proudest achievements.
“It will be an emotional day when the shovel is put in the ground for the first time,” he said.
“We’ve met some of the parents who have lost their kids and it’s completely devastating; you just wish you could have done more.”
Mr Battin said it has become increasingly important to support the region’s youth with the growing pressures of social media and bullying.
On Thursday, prior to Ms Graley’s announcement, he implored the Andrews Government to replicate the commitment.
“We want the government to put this in the budget and we don’t care if they get the credit,” Mr Battin said.
“It’s too important to play politics with.”
The proposed Health and Wellbeing Centre will contain facilities for counsellors, space to access and deliver programs by specialists, amenities for sick students and an area for young people who need a mental health break.
Ms Graley said the Health and Wellbeing Centre will be a “great addition” to the community.
“This new important Health and Wellbeing facility is exactly what the school has asked for and we are delivering it,” she said.
“This new Health and Wellbeing facility will be a great addition to Berwick secondary college allowing staff and specialist services to support and guide students former students and local community members especially during challenging times.”
Berwick College school council president Roger Hall described the announcement as the “best news for a long time”.
He revealed that the facility will also be available to ex-students.
“Our present facility supports 1600 students, 120 staff and our local community,” he said.
“This funding will now make the Health and Wellbeing Centre adequate to support the needs of all.”
According to 2017 figures, the college employed five welfare staff who were required to work in “acutely cramped” spaces..
Youth worker Matt Simms – who has worked with troubled teens – said the need for the facility in the Casey-Cardinia area is “paramount”.
“It’s more important than money or budgets because it could save a life,” he said.
“In an ideal world, every school and every community would have something similar.”