House debates

Monday, 21 October 2019


World Suicide Prevention Day

12:36 pm

Photo of Rebekha SharkieRebekha Sharkie (Mayo, Centre Alliance) Share this | | Hansard source

Each October in our community we eagerly await the Strathalbyn country show. It is a traditional country show with a fierce fruitcake competition and rows of prize sheep and cattle. But, amongst the fairy floss, there was also a show of force from the Strathalbyn and Communities Suicide Prevention Network. The group spent the day promoting mental health by handing out quick guides on how to access help when you need it and working to ensure that we reduce the stigma of suicide. They visited every stall, including mine.

The network adopts a community based approach to mental health and empowers individuals, groups and organisations to look after the mental health and wellbeing of 'their patch', of each other, in our community. As they explained to me, it's about having the right conversations, offering the appropriate support and encouraging our communities to adopt a culture where it's okay to talk—an important message to get across in our rural communities at a time when even earning a living is proving to be a challenge for many of our farming families. Sadly, it is often our young men who find it hardest to speak up and ask for help when they are struggling to cope with the pressures of life. In 2018 suicide accounted for over 43 per cent of all deaths among 15- to 19-year-old young men and almost 40 per cent of males aged 20 to 24 years of age.

As a federal MP, you attend many funerals in your community, showing your support, paying respect and joining your community to say goodbye. Earlier this year I attended a funeral not as an MP but as a friend to a young man, just 19 years of age. I've known him since he was four, when he was at kindy with my eldest son. He was a little blonde Harry Potter. He was bright. He was creative. He had so much to give and live for. But he didn't realise, and it was too much. And now his family will never, ever be the same. I think of him so often and his beautiful, attentive mum, who kept every kindy painting. She adored her son. She will never get to see the man that he should have had time to become. She recently said to me, 'It's an epidemic, Rebekah.' Since the loss of her beautiful boy, she has heard from so many young people who have attempted or thought of suicide and from family members of people who have completed suicide. It is a fear that so many of us as parents face. The vulnerability of our young people is forever real.

I've spoken at great length in this place about the need to improve services available for our young people in rural and regional South Australia, and I will continue to advocate for increased resources to headspace services in Mount Barker and Victor Harbor and the surrounding regions, including Strathalbyn and Kangaroo Island. My community, before I was elected, did not have a single headspace area—no footprint—right across more than 9,000 square kilometres. Headspace is not a panacea for all mental health issues for young people, but it is certainly a start. We must do all we can to equip our young people with the skills they need to navigate life, because the statistics show that they will confront the same if not greater challenges in later life.

ABS data collected from Mindframe shows that, for men, the highest suicide rates occur after the age of 80. In 2017, Monash University reviewed 140 nursing home suicides that occurred between 2000 and 2013 in an attempt to better understand why. The study identified a diagnosis of depression in two-thirds of cases and that two in five experienced loneliness. This is something very real. Over half of men and women in residential care suffer from depression, compared to 15 per cent of individuals who live in the community.

A KPMG report commissioned by Suicide Prevention Australia and released in September this year found that tackling social isolation in aged care is a priority because the statistics are high. But depression is not a normal part of ageing; we need to look at how we are caring for the physical and psychological health of our older Australians. I hope that when we have the interim report from the royal commission it will shed some light for us onto the treatment of mental health in aged care.

I'd just like to close by saying that we're losing too many—too many—of our good young people and older people in our community. It is such a wicked problem that people have such a great sense of loss and a feeling that there is no hope. We must change this, and we can do this in our society.

12:41 pm

Photo of Katie AllenKatie Allen (Higgins, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to acknowledge the recent World Suicide Prevention Day. The mental health of each of us in our community is one of the most important things that we can pay attention to. I recognise and celebrate the fact that we are taking action to deal with suicide issues all around the world, but particularly here in Australia.

Mental disorders affect up to 45 per cent of Australians, and they have far-ranging effects that are long lasting. In fact, 3,000 Australians die each year from intentional self-harm. That's 3,000 individuals, 3,000 families and 3,000 communities affected by the terrible outcome of suicide. It has a major impact on our society. In fact, more than 100,000 life years are lost every year, and that's more than all the 20 leading causes of death around Australia.

Unfortunately, men are affected more than females, with three times more success rates—if you can call it success—for men dying from suicide than for females. My own family has been affected by suicide. In fact, my brother Tim was lucky enough to survive multiple attempts of suicide. But my cousin Matthew, unfortunately, did not. That's because of the lack of services which we could wrap around my cousin Matthew, who was actually in a rural area.

So I'm very proud to be part of the Morrison government, which is making prevention of suicide one of its highest priorities in health. There has been a significant commitment to the Long Term National Health Plan. This is not only a personal priority of our Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, it is also a personal priority of Greg Hunt, our Minister for Health. This is so important.

And it's not just an investment in terms of money it's an investment in terms of strategy. There is $736 million being invested in mental health. That's a significant investment; in fact, it's the largest investment to date. Of that, $500 million is for youth and Indigenous mental health, and to look at suicide prevention plans. Importantly, Christine Morgan has been declared the National Suicide Prevention Adviser. That's to ensure that we have a whole-of-government approach to suicide; because mental health actually affects so many different sectors of society we need to have a whole-of-government approach.

What are the specifics of what our government is doing with regard to investment in this very important problem? We are establishing 12 National Suicide Prevention Trial sites across Australia. These are to look at trials and factors that can be used to prevent suicide. There is $48 million being invested into this initiative to help understand how to improve strategies for the effective prevention of suicide. We're also investing $9 million in infrastructure projects, through state and territory governments, to ensure that we can deter people from using locations which we know are at high risk of being used for suicide. We're investing $33 million in Lifeline, which is an incredibly important telephone crisis support service. We're investing $36 million in the National Suicide Prevention Leadership and Support Program and we're investing $12 million in Suicide Prevention Australia. Importantly, as we know, headspace is a wonderful initiative for our youth. It helps with prevention, and we're rolling out 36 new headspaces across the whole of Australia. I'm delighted that one will be rolled out in Higgins, my own electorate. This is important because we have one of the highest proportions of young people in my electorate and we have a thriving LGBTI community. We know that those who are from that important community have a much greater burden when it comes to issues with regard to mental health and suicide. So I'm very delighted that this vibrant community in Higgins will be supported by new Higgins headspace.

Additionally, there are two significant changes that we are making at the system level, and they are a real-time suicide and self-harm monitoring system with a $15 million investment, which is a really exciting change, and also that we are appointing this National Suicide Prevention Adviser. Investing in mental health and suicide prevention is not a choice; it's a must.

12:46 pm

Photo of Chris HayesChris Hayes (Fowler, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The 10th of September marked World Suicide Prevention Day, a day which we observe to raise awareness and to commit to action to prevent suicides in our communities. Suicide is an issue that no doubt directly affects many communities and families across the nation. Recent statistics by the ABS have found that last year alone 3,046 deaths by suicide occurred. Suicide rates amongst males are three times higher than for females. To put these figures in perspective, that's eight people dying by suicide each day in Australia. These numbers make it remarkably clear that we must work together to develop an integrated and coordinated response to this very concerning issue.

On this note, I'd like to take the opportunity to acknowledge the tireless efforts of an organisation called MATES in Construction. It's an undertaking and it's worked in this sphere, and I pay particular respect to a good friend of mine, Brad Parker, who is the CEO of the New South Wales division of MATES. I pay respect to his dedication and commitment to leading the charge against suicide in construction. MATES in Construction was established in 2008 with the support of employers and the trade union movement to address high levels of suicide in the construction industry. It was formed in direct response to a report commissioned by the Australian Institute of Suicide Research and Prevention. The report found suicide rates in the construction industry were up to 2½ times higher than the national average. The research also revealed some very confronting facts. Every year, 190 Australians in the construction industry taking their own lives. This means that we are losing one construction worker to suicide every second day. Research also indicates that most men in these industries tend not to speak about their feelings and emotions with their colleagues at work, pride being the main barrier. But also they found that a second problem was people being prepared to seek out support. Given that I have two sons, Nicholas and Jonathon, both working in the construction industry, this area is pretty close to my heart. MATES in Construction's program is based on the notion that suicide is everybody's business. In order to see a sizable improvement in the building and construction industry, we must not shift the responsibility solely to mental health professionals; rather, we must ensure that everybody in the industry is playing their role.

For workers in the construction industry, suicide appears to be part of the reality of working in that industry, which is dominated by tough working conditions, very strict guidelines, time constraints and a highly transient workforce. MATES in Construction recognises that the program must be aimed at providing both training and support. Without both, the results would be insufficient. According to MATES, to do only training, without pathways, is potentially dangerous and to do support without raising awareness is simply another employee assistance program.

The MATES in Construction program delivers general awareness training to workers on site, firstly to raise awareness that there are problems with suicides in the construction industry and also to alert workers to the contributing factors and warning signs that they should look out for amongst their fellow colleagues. The next step is to provide support through clear pathways of help, with case management processes being an integral part of ensuring that workers in need of support are connected with the appropriate help. On-site visits by field officers are also conducted to support a site and its workers, ensuring their presence until the site is closed.

As have many of my side, I have had the opportunity to attend training sessions with MATES in Construction. I did one at one of my local construction sites and got to see firsthand the grassroots work that they are undertaking to improve mental health and suicide rates in the construction industry. As I said, MATES in Construction is supported by all major employers in the industry, as well as by the various unions operating in that space. I encourage every member to get behind this great organisation. Make an arrangement to attend, as I did, a training session on a site. You'll get to see the absolutely instrumental and groundbreaking work being undertaken by this organisation, which is making a difference for the better in our industry.

12:51 pm

Photo of Angie BellAngie Bell (Moncrieff, Liberal National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

World Suicide Prevention Day is a time to reflect on those lives we've lost to suicide and to share the responsibility that we as a community have to check in on our loved ones. It's also a time to restate the commitment the Morrison government has to progress the goal of zero deaths from suicide. I'm pleased to see the government's support for mental health and suicide prevention, delivering more than $60 million to the Gold Coast in the five-year period from 2016-17 to 2021-22 for various programs. Unfortunately, the Gold Coast endured a higher suicide rate than the national average of 12 lives per 100,000 people, losing 14 lives per 100,000 people between 2013 and 2017.

In Moncrieff, there are some very special community groups who provide invaluable services to our community to assist those with mental illness. Southport headspace are to be commended for the wonderful job they do to assist youth living with mental illness. Suicide continues to be one of the leading causes of death for our young people, as we've heard from many members today. This is why the Morrison government is delivering over $1.1 million in the next year to headspace Southport for the services they provide to those in need of help in our community.

Just a few weeks ago I had the privilege of attending the headspace day, where a toolkit for a healthy headspace, with seven tips for a healthy headspace, was highlighted. The seven tips are: to get into life, to learn skills for the tough times, to create connections, to eat well, to stay active, to get enough sleep and, of course, to cut back on alcohol and other drugs. Myf and Steve and the rest of the team are doing a terrific job to raise awareness of issues such as bullying and alcohol and drug use. Headspace Southport is one of the busiest centres in the country, with 11,600 occasions of service in the last financial year, compared to the national average of 3,700.

The Gold Coast Centre Against Sexual Violence is another organisation doing an incredible job of providing free counselling, advocacy, information and practical legal support for women who have experienced sexual violence. This centre was founded by Di Macleod and is the only one of its type on the Gold Coast. I commend her work and the work that she does at the coal face, which changes the lives of many Gold Coasters. It was incredibly moving to hear the brave survivors' stories as part of their candle-lighting ceremony recently.

Towards the latter years of our lives, there can also be a tendency to feel lonely or depressed. I want to acknowledge the great work men's sheds are doing in my electorate, helping our senior Aussies with their mental health and wellbeing by preventing social isolation and providing meaningful projects. On the central Gold Coast we have the Veterans Support Group Men's Shed, the Ashmore Men's Shed and the Nerang Men's Shed. I recently visited the Ashmore shed as part of national Men's Shed Week. The fellows there are currently putting the finishing touches on a mezzanine and a refreshments area, which is looking great. I was privileged to hear the stories of the president, Gil, and of Graeme, David, Mal and Don. Don summed up the importance of the men's shed quite perfectly when he explained that if it were not for his new mates at the men's shed he'd still be at the pub instead of enjoying two years of sobriety and a healthy social life.

The Vietnam Veterans Federation has just received additional funding from the Morrison government's BEST Program. The $135½ thousand will go to supporting their high-in-demand advocacy service, which assists ex-service personnel and their families with their entitlements. The service is important because it assists in reducing the waiting time when our veterans most need it. Next door to the advocacy service is a men's shed for male and female military veterans, which is an additional place for support. Congratulations to Peter and Peter, who have worked to get this project off the ground. Nerang's men's shed will be hosting an expo at Country Paradise Parklands this week—74 sheds have been invited to attend the event. Unfortunately, I will be unable to make it, but I congratulate them on holding this event, which is connecting men's sheds around Australia. There are so many great organisations that play an important role in reaching out to some of the most vulnerable in our community.

I take the opportunity to commend the government's commitment to work with local communities to reduce the number of deaths by suicide in Australia. I welcome the establishment in 2019 of the office of the National Suicide Prevention Adviser to support a whole-of-government approach to suicide prevention. This will ensure the coordination of suicide prevention activities to reach Australians in the right way at the right time. To close, a conversation can make a difference and it can save a life. Be sure to ask your loved ones the important question: R U OK?

12:56 pm

Photo of Peta MurphyPeta Murphy (Dunkley, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

This motion, noting World Suicide Prevention Day, provides an opportunity for this parliament to acknowledge the grief that we feel across our community about those we have lost to suicide and to share the responsibility of preventing further suicides. Modelling released in September of this year by Suicide Prevention Australia shows that suicide rates will grow by up to 40 per cent over the next 10 years without better prevention and earlier intervention. The government has the full support of Labor to bring about that better prevention and earlier intervention.

The Morrison government's target of reducing suicide to zero, along with the appointment of Ms Christine Morgan as National Suicide Prevention Adviser to the Prime Minister, is commendable. Like all other Labor members, I look forward to working with Suicide Prevention Australia and members of the government to bring about this ambition of zero suicide. There is of course much to be done by all of us in this chamber and across the community working together to achieve it.

Recommendations in the newly released National Mental Health Commission's 2019 report on mental health and suicide prevention reform are an excellent starting point for the work we need to get on with together, such as the collection of high-quality data, particularly on the scope of disorders and high-risk community groups, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders; undertaking a mental health service gaps analysis and implementing a National Mental Health Commission workforce strategy; addressing the broader social and economic factors that contribute to mental illness and suicide; fixing the NDIS so that streamlined access for people with psychosocial disability is working and continuing to deliver support for those who are ineligible for the NDIS; and making sure that all relevant government departments—Health, Education, Justice, Social Services, and Housing—are responsible for the design and implementation of all future national suicide prevention strategies.

While suicide doesn't always occur with mental illness, experts tell us that vulnerable individuals who have an accumulation of adverse life events and are experiencing mental illness are particularly vulnerable to taking their own life. Each year, around 950,000 young Australians aged 12 to 25 will be affected by a mental health issue. Nationally, there are 110 headspace centres that support young people to strengthen their wellbeing and manage their mental health. We are very proud of the Frankston headspace, in my electorate of Dunkley, which is operated by YSAS. It delivers support for young people in the areas not just of mental health but of physical health, drug and alcohol, and work and study support, including through a youth health clinic staffed by local GPs, a GPs in schools program at McClelland College and Mornington Secondary College, and Peninsula Pride, which is a Queer Straight Alliance youth program funded through the Victorian state government's Healthy Equal Youth project that aims to raise awareness, promote diversity, eliminate stigma and discrimination and improve the overall mental health of young LGBTIQA+ people in our community.

While headspaces across the country, like ours in Frankston, encourage resilience in young people today and every day, it is important also to note the unmet demand for youth mental health services. Headspace has assisted 520,000 young people since it was established in 2006, but we know that close to a million Australians aged 12 to 25 will face a mental health challenge each year. The majority of young people with mental health difficulties do not access services, and that's something that we need to change.

We're working in my community to do that. On 2 October, the Mental Health Foundation of Australia held a Youth Suicide and Mental Health Forum in Frankston. I was fortunate to be on the speaking panel, with Professor Richard Newton, the clinical director of Peninsula Mental Health Service, whose keynote speech was informative and challenging, and I'm grateful to him for providing me with a lot of the data that he relied on, and which I am relying on today. We have high rates in our area of people presenting to ED with self-harm. We have high rates, unfortunately, of people committing suicide and we have a number of young people who have killed themselves who are connected, but we are working hard in my community to support programs to address this. One of those programs is THRIVE, which is a commitment to ensuring the health, safety and wellbeing of every member of the school communities of Elisabeth Murdoch College, Langwarrin Primary, Langwarrin Park Primary and Woodlands. It's the Langwarrin positive education and community network, and it is doing terrific work: students thrive, parents thrive, teachers thrive and the community thrives. I'll be pleased to keep supporting that initiative as I continue as the member for Dunkley.

1:01 pm

Photo of Julian LeeserJulian Leeser (Berowra, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I'm pleased to speak on this motion, as one of the co-chairs of the Parliamentary Friends of Suicide Prevention with my friend the member for Eden-Monaro. I want to take this opportunity to wish the member for Eden-Monaro well, as he's recovering from some medical matters. He makes a wonderful contribution to this topic, which has a very strong degree of bipartisan support.

Death is such a dark topic and suicide, in particular, is such a dark topic. We all know the statistics: eight people in Australia die by suicide every single day. Between 2013 and 2017, the average was 2,918 deaths by suicide per year. It's the leading cause of death for young people aged 15 to 44. Seventy-five per cent of people who die by suicide are men, 68 people of people who attempt to take their own lives are women and 65,000 Australians have attempted suicide over the past year. For every death that occurs by a suicide, there are families and loved ones who, like me and countless others across Australia, are bereaved and struggle to put their lives back together with the loss of their loved one.

Despite the darkness, what has given me hope in this space since I have been a member of parliament is the number of people who have made it their life's mission and focus to do something about suicide prevention. We have something of the order of 35,000 organisations in this country. It's worth just saying that number again: there are 35,000 organisations that deal with mental health and suicide prevention. That says something about the scale of the challenge and the wide effect that suicide has right across our community. As we know, not everybody who has a mental illness will die by suicide and not everybody who dies by suicide has a mental illness, but there is a strong connection between the two of them.

I'm pleased to be part of a government where the Prime Minister has made zero suicides a focus of his policy. It would have been easy to say, 'We'll promise to reduce the suicide rate by 10 per cent,' but he's taken the courageous decision of saying, 'Let us reduce it to zero.' The Prime Minister is right in doing so, because any death by suicide is a death that should have been avoided. We need to send the message to Australians more broadly that the world is better off with them. That's why I think the government's focus, particularly on the mental health and suicide prevention of young people and Indigenous people, is so important. There is the package of over $500 million targeted at Indigenous people, particularly in the Kimberley, and those two committees that are being chaired by the minister himself. We are looking at ensuring that you've got round-the-clock phone counselling and culturally appropriate material for Indigenous people, and also that you've got awareness across the community of the signs people might see when somebody they know might be contemplating suicide, and awareness of what to do about it—that's such an important process.

I think there are three particular areas where we can make an impact on suicide prevention. First, we know people who are released from acute mental health units who have made an attempt on their own lives are the most likely people to die by suicide. If you go to hospital for a broken leg or a broken arm you'll often go to rehab. Sadly, in our country, not everybody who is discharged from an acute mental health unit goes into a community mental health facility. It's the reason why the government chose, in the previous budget, to fund Beyond Blue for some of the work they're doing with the way back program, providing rehabilitation and getting people back into their communities. We need to continue to do this because they are the obvious group of people who we know are most at risk.

Second, we know that the crisis lines—all privately run, like Lifeline, good people doing good works—try and answer as many calls as they can but they don't answer every call. The government has provided, in the previous budget, $34 million to increase the number of calls that are being taken by Lifeline, but we can always do more to increase those calls.

Third, we need to create greater community awareness so people know the signs and know what to do if a person might be contemplating suicide.

I want to end my contribution today with a quote from Arthur Miller's Death Of A Salesman. At the end of that play, Willy Loman's wife, Linda, has this to say:

Willy Loman never made a lot of money. His name was never in the paper. He's not the finest character that ever lived. But he's a human being, and a terrible thing is happening to him. So attention must be paid. He's not to be allowed to fall into his grave like an old dog. Attention, attention must be finally paid to such a person.

We need to pay attention to all those in need.

1:06 pm

Photo of Pat ConaghanPat Conaghan (Cowper, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I'm very pleased to be able to speak on this bill. In a previous life, prior to coming to this place, I served as a police officer in a country town. I attended many suicides as a police officer—many dozens over a period of four years. In fact, on one particular day I attended on three suicides. I'm very pleased to hear today that both sides of the floor are bipartisan and intent on reducing deaths by suicide to zero. I'm also very pleased to be part of a government that has that policy and is working towards that.

The effect that suicide not only has on the families of those who die, but has on the community around them is astounding and tragic. It's tragic for the first responders—the police, the ambulance, those who have to attend, the medical officers and the people around them—particularly attending on those who are young. They were the hardest deaths to attend as a police officer, the teenagers. The teenagers who felt that they had nothing or had no-one and had no future, and yet the signs were all around that that's how they felt. But that was back in the late eighties, early nineties, and so much has changed since then. We have changed to recognise that firstly we need to have that conversation. We need to have that conversation about mental health. Over the past two or three decades, we have come so far to talk about that, to have that conversation, to ask, 'Are you okay?'

The development of headspace centres—and I'm particularly proud of the headspace centres in Port Macquarie and Coffs Harbour and the work that they do. I can say that they are overloaded. They are stretched so thin. I can guarantee them that I will continue to fight for further funding for those centres. I am also very proud to say that there will be a further headspace centre set up in Kempsey where the overrepresentation of youth suicide exceeds far and beyond not only the state but Australia.

I am happy to be able to speak on World Suicide Prevention Day, as I am on headspace day and R U OK? Day, because this government has now invested a record amount—never seen before—towards suicide prevention, towards talking to the community and towards talking to those who feel that they have nothing to offer. In my 18 years as a criminal defence lawyer I dealt with many who had mental health issues. I dealt with many who, unfortunately, took their lives by their own hand because of the situations they found themselves in.

I feel that if the progress which has been made over the last 10 years had not been reached we would still be in that position. But because of this government's investment, and because of the bipartisan approach—and I thank the other side for that—we are working towards that zero number. But it will take more than the government's contribution; it will take the contribution of those in the community to step outside of their comfort zones and speak to somebody, asking: 'Are you okay? Do you need help?' They need to refer them to somebody, a professional, even sometimes against their own will. That's because in time they will turn around and say, 'Thank you.' That's what we need to do for the benefit of our nation and for the benefit of our people. One life matters, and we can make that difference.

I thank the Morrison government and I thank the other side for their bipartisan support. I will continue to do everything I can to support people with mental health issues.

Debate adjourned.

Sitting suspended from 13 : 12 to 16 : 00