Thursday, 2 September 2021
[by video link] As a servant to the people of Queensland and Australia, I'm asked questions from constituents. To what depths of insanity and wickedness have we sunk when government believes it has licence to dictate to parents that they are no longer able to look after their grandchildren? When it comes to care for children, government has no right to intrude into families and decide what a normal household activity looks like. While Victoria takes the prize for this particularly grotesque directive, all state, territory and federal governments have shown stupidity and inhumanity on incongruent, hypocritical and needlessly destructive COVID restrictions.
Quoting former US Vice-President Hubert Humphrey:
… the moral test of government is how that government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly …
State and federal governance during COVID fails this moral test. Our children are forgotten. Physical, emotional, psychological, educational and health needs have been, in the main, ignored. Yesterday, instead of using her Chief Health Officer as her usual shield to avoid an intelligent statement on our state's future, the Queensland Premier used our children. Feigning concern, her question was: what's going to happen to the children if we open borders too soon? We already know what's happening to our children: a terrifying unfolding tragedy.
In Victoria, the government received a health report on the state of its children, an ugly and mortifying reflection on Victoria's abuse of people. Yet the Premier ignores it, buries it, deems it largely unworthy of comment and continues to threaten and scold Victorians over noncompliance with his own insane world view. Any moral, just, competent and compassionate government would solemnly reflect on the more than 340 teenagers suffering mental health emergencies who are admitted every week to hospitals, a 162 per cent increase; the 156 teenagers rushed to hospital every week for attempting suicide or self-harm, 37 of them needing emergency treatment or surgery, an 88 per cent increase; or the 90 per cent increase in children with eating disorders. This is the ultimate transgression, neglect and abandonment.
This is our vulnerable children's cry for help. Our persistent ignorance and silence on children's mental health needs is unforgivable, particularly after 18 months of COVID mismanagement. In New South Wales, more than 40 children and teenagers are daily rushed to hospital for self-harm—up 31 per cent. The number of acute mental health admissions for children and young people is up 43 per cent. At the Gold Coast hospital, there was a 212 per cent spike in eating disorders from 2019 to 2020. Queensland's Butterfly Foundation says calls for help for eating disorders increased 34 per cent from January 2020 to January 2021. Eighty-five per cent were first-time callers to the helpline. In August, Lifeline's suicide-prevention line had its busiest days in its 57-year history. Children may wait six to nine months before seeing a psychiatrist. Children suffering with depression, eating disorders or suicidal thoughts may not be able to wait nine months. Will this be the final nail in their coffin?
Parents have to work from home and educate their children and are now frontline mental health workers. Our children's mental health needs have become more urgent, as never-ending draconian restrictions offer no light at the end of a lengthening tunnel, yet our health officials eagerly and excitedly round up our young for mass vaccinations.
We humans are gregarious and our primal need to socialise sustains our very breath. Persistent, externally and capriciously imposed social isolation tears at the fabric of what makes us human, keeps us physically well and holds us literally sane. An adult brain can work hard at rationalising the incursions, the loss of freedoms and isolation. Sometimes, though, it's even too much for adults.
Children's brains are vulnerable and underdeveloped, and it's inhuman to expect children to process and cope with restrictions that adults impose—adults who themselves appear on the edge of insanity. Our children suffer the greatest deprivations: deprivation of liberty; deprivation of education; deprivation of normal development; deprivation of swings, slippery slides, rides on the bike, swims at the beach and local sport; deprivation of crucial friendship supports and separated parents; and deprivation of loving grandparents' arms and hugs. Children must urgently return to the anchors that sustain us. Mental health professionals are campaigning for children's mental health needs, and it's overdue that we hear their voices.
People are, rightly, increasingly cynical about governments falsely claiming to be keeping us safe—a deeply sad mocking of reality. Governments are driving us to the wall of insanity, and our children are first in line as collateral damage. Without our mental health, we have no solid grasp on living a life. Our first duty is to save our children—humankind's hope and promise. We have one flag. We have one community. We have one nation. We have one future.
Order, Senator Roberts. I'll take this opportunity to thank all senators, Senate officials and parliamentary staff for their assistance in operations during this unique parliamentary session. The Senate stands adjourned and will meet again on Monday 18 October at 10 am.
Senate adjourned at 17 : 36