Wednesday, 3 December 2008
Questions without Notice
Men's Health Ambassadors
My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for Health and Ageing, Senator Ludwig. The Minister for Health and Ageing recently appointed Mr Barry Williams of the Lone Fathers Association as one of the ambassadors for the national men’s health policy. I note that, in 1999, the current Minister for the Status of Women, Tanya Plibersek, expressed serious concerns about the Lone Fathers Association. She described them as an extreme group and said, ‘Remember that this is the group that refuses to believe that women experience domestic violence more often than men.’ And when, as prime ministers, both Bob Hawke and Paul Keating refused to meet with Barry Williams, Minister Plibersek then stated that she was proud to belong to the ALP because it refused to deal with extreme groups such as the Lone Fathers Association. What evidence does the government have that the Lone Fathers Association has changed its stance on the issues of domestic violence and the rights of women? And does the government believe that it is appropriate for a person holding such views to be an ambassador for the national men’s health policy?
I thank Senator Siewert for her question. It is important that we raise the issue of men’s health. Men, unfortunately, do not live as long as women and they die at higher rates from coronary heart disease/vascular disease, suicide, traffic accidents and injury. Development of the first national men’s health policy for Australia is a significant step in improving the health of Australian men. We have appointed five men as health ambassadors who will be a focus point for awareness raising. They will help with our community forums and talk to men about men’s health issues. We will be appointing more. They will be from a range of professions because the aim is to have a cross-sample of Australian population capable of representing a wide range of men’s issues.
These ambassadors do not necessarily have expertise or specific knowledge of men’s health issues; rather, they will bring together other skills such as the ability to raise the public profile on this issue and their ability to talk to men about issues that affect men. The ambassadors are engaged on a voluntary basis and, aside from their travel accommodation and associated expenses, they will not be paid. The government will provide estimated expenses of around $250,000. These funds will be spent on getting ordinary men together to talk about men’s health. When we talk about the consultative process, we will have a look at all of those issues that you raised. I am not aware of the specific issues that you raised in respect of Mr Williams. However, as this government has made it clear, not everyone will necessarily share every view of every ambassador on every issue, but I will take those issues and examine those comments. (Time expired)
Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I further note that Barry Williams, on behalf of the Lone Fathers Association, signed an international petition opposing the UN report on violence against women—a petition which described the UN report as ‘ideologically anti-male’ and included the following statement:
… the result of such domestic violence programs has been to weaken families, bias divorce proceedings, and deprive children of contact from their fathers.
It also stated that the Lone Fathers Association recommends that all men entering a permanent relationship should insist upon a prenuptial agreement, commenting:
Remember if she is not prepared to sign such an agreement there must be a hidden agenda.
Does the government believe it is appropriate that a person representing an organisation with views that are openly hostile to women should be an ambassador for the National Men’s Health Policy? When offering him this senior, high-profile position, did the minister ask Barry Williams if he repudiates the views of the organisation of which he is president? If not, will the minister remove him from this position?
I thank Senator Siewert for her question. As I said in answer to the first question that you asked—and it applies to this one as well—I am not aware of the individual comments that you have raised. I have indicated that I will seek to raise those comments with the Minister for Health and Ageing and ask her to examine them. I will say more broadly that, in terms of the issues which surround this matter, the minister did make it clear that the views that were expressed—and this is going back to the views that I think started the issue—included extremely offensive statements made by two recently appointed ambassadors for men’s health which were drawn to her attention. Those views are abhorrent in her view and in mine. The minister immediately sought an explanation from those two people. (Time expired)
Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. I note that this particular person who has been appointed as an ambassador has made blatantly anti-gay comments, comments about domestic violence and comments that are anti-women. The Minister for Health and Ageing has publicly accepted responsibility for the appointment of this particular ambassador. Can the minister explain what selection criteria were used to appoint the ambassadors and how these three specific issues got through that selection process?
As I said in response to the first supplementary question, the minister made her position quite clear. She took full responsibility, as I think Senator Siewert said. Men’s health is an area that has always received insufficient attention. The minister will continue to engage, as will the government, with men from all walks of life and with widely divergent world views and backgrounds. This will inevitably mean that the government will not necessarily share the view of every ambassador on this issue.
As I was saying, people will be selected from all walks of life. The ambassadors are not appointed to provide expert advice to government but to engage men in looking after their health, to be prepared to talk to men about their problems and to encourage them to seek help. (Time expired)