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ADAM BURNS, LOCAL DEMOCRACY REPORTER

National Party leader Christopher Luxon is backing his “great mate and body double”, on the front bench, to lift the mental health crisis out of the doldrums.

The leader of the opposition visited the Waimakariri district on Friday as part of a wider South Island excurison, as he reached out to various communities and to nail down some more National Party “repealing Three Waters” billboards.

But while he continued to speak on several issues, and convey his credentials more than 12 months out from the election, Mr Luxon provided a ringing endorsement for his Waimakariri MP and mental health spokesperson, Matt Doocey.

It comes amid the Goverment’s efforts, and spend, to improve mental health services being put under the microscope.

Mr Doocey, who has aspirations to be New Zealand’s first Cabinet mental health minister, recently called out the Government’s $1.9 billion spend after a report by the Mental Health and Wellbeing Commission revealed little change to acute and specialist services, which the Government has defended.

The Waimakariri MP has trained in mental health and studied counselling and psychology and has previously spoken about his own struggles.

Mr Luxon says he could see a sea change with a dedicated mental health minister, saying the Waimakariri MP, who was the most qualified person in Parliament to tackle the problem.

“Matt’s got a lot of passion and connection with it,” he says.

“He’s a great mate and a good friend.

“With his expertise and his background up against [Health Minister] Andrew Little, I would take Matt Doocey every day of the week.”

Mr Luxon continues to take aim at the Government over the mental health package, saying it had nothing to show for the investment.

“That’s the frustration…they’ve announced a budget of $2 billion, the reports have come back and there’s absolutely nothing to show for it,” he says.

Mr Little has previouly blamed the demand for specialist care on the previous Government’s neglect of mental health services which he described as “run down”.

Last week, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern defended the Government in the House, acknowledging access to specialist mental health services required improvement but primary care had been the focus.

“The very specific focus that came from those who had experience of the system and those who worked in the system was the complete absence of primary mental health care. That was adding extra pressure to acute needs,” she says.

“That is why we have built a primary mental health system for the first time in New Zealand’s history. It is providing tens of thousands of appointments for New Zealanders who previously had no access to early mental health support.”

Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air