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Monday, 2 December 2002
Page: 9290

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Mrs MOYLAN (4:16 PM) —As we have heard, suicide, particularly youth suicide, is a very serious problem that has perplexed many affluent societies—Western countries in particular—in the last several decades, as the number of young people dying from episodes of self harm soars. How we wish this was as simple as the member for Port Adelaide made it out to be. Unfortunately, depression and the results of depression—suicide—do not discriminate. People who suicide come from all walks of life. Many of them are very successful young people in our community, and parents and communities are completely puzzled and perplexed as to why they should want to take their own lives. Of course, there are many reasons for that.

In 1996-97 the number of people, particularly young males, taking their own lives in Australia was alarmingly high. The Prime Minister, the Hon. John Howard, took a leading role in establishing the National Youth Suicide Prevention Strategy. As the then Minister for Family Services, I was tasked by the Prime Minister to establish that national program. Arm in arm with the National Youth Suicide Prevention Program was the national Youth Homeless Taskforce, also initiated by the Prime Minister and also part of my portfolio responsibilities. We know from established data that homeless people are at risk and that young people who are not living with their family and who have a communication problem with their parents carry a twofold risk of suicide. But there are many causes of suicide within our community.

The programs initiated by the Prime Minister were also financially supported by the government, and the government has recently committed further funding of $40 million over the next four years to continue youth suicide prevention programs. In 1997 I announced funding of about $48 million not only to go indirectly to support youth suicide prevention programs but also to support other family based programs to try to deal with this growing problem.

The Youth Homeless Taskforce had the primary objective of reuniting young people with their families. If that was not possible, assistance was given to ensure that young homeless people received coordinated assistance with health, housing, education and job opportunities. The National Youth Suicide Prevention program took a whole of community focus and sought the cooperation of everyone in the community. Some of the approaches aimed at improving awareness and training among health professionals in particular, as they are the first point of contact for help for many young people contemplating self harm. A reduction in suicides did appear to result, as the figures for males aged 15 to 24 went from 25 and 31 respectively in 1996-97 to 23 and 19 respectively in 1999-2000. However, I speak to this motion because I believe that, without continued focus on this community problem, the number of young people dying due to self harm will continue to be unacceptably high.

I was impressed by the attention this issue received from the Prime Minister's Youth Roundtable participants. In her executive summary on youth suicide, Rebecca Ebert advocated a youth help page: one page at the beginning of every phone book listing help service phone numbers for issues from youth suicide and mental health to life options and transport. An executive summary by Adrian Pattra, another participant, suggested a practical life skills program to complement the current MindMatters program, which my colleague spoke about earlier today. Adrian Pattra suggested that the program would fulfil the criteria of interaction, relevance and information and would be based on the trial of his company, Little Leaps of Logic.

Young people are very capable of analysing the problems of youth and making recommendations that can work, as has been demonstrated by the work of the young people participating in the Prime Minister's Youth Roundtable. What we now need is the political will to ensure that youth suicide programs are given priority and continue to work, to reduce the appallingly high deaths from self harm and to alert the community to the fact that this issue and the senseless loss of young lives is a problem that belongs to all of us. As a community we need to be reminded of the real values and priorities in life and to pause occasionally to inquire what is going on in the lives and minds of young people within our sphere of influence. The prevention of the needless deaths of our young people must continue to be a national priority. (Time expired)