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Monday, 20 October 2008
Page: 9649

Mr ADAMS (7:23 PM) —Drought—it is a word that conjures up all the negative thoughts about farming. It affects us all in some ways because, without water, our food cannot be grown. If we do not grow food, we will have to import it, and that becomes expensive and nonsensical. Those on the land have to deal with the heartbreak of seeing their stock founder and their land turn to dust. And that dust pervades everything. It seeps under doors, through houses and into everything that you are doing. It saps the spirit along with the skin, and hope goes out the window. It is as if nobody cares.

Many do not understand that we have drought in Tasmania, yet driving around the Midlands and the east coast anytime last year or this year you got the feeling that you were in another land. Even when a little winter rain starts greening up the surface, the ground is hard and unforgiving and water runs off the land rapidly into channels and out to sea. Practically, how can we help? The state government in Tasmania has started the process of recycling the water being used by our electricity generator and piping it to the worst spots. The use of water is now being audited and it is becoming a valued commodity. This is happening, and I congratulate the state government for developing a water strategy for the state. I urge everyone to support the emergency supplies and the development of the new schemes. We do have a lot of water in Tasmania, but it is in the wrong places.

But how do you help heal the spirits of those whose livelihoods have been drained away? This question has been taxing the thoughts of those in the Southern Midlands, who are having to cope in one of the most stressed areas in Tasmania. One man has taken up the cause with a vengeance. A successful farmer living just out of Kempton, John Jones, whose family have farmed there for generations, is a councillor on the Southern Midlands Council. He has experienced firsthand the depression that has settled on his community and he has fought to get recognition for practical help for many farmers who are suffering through these drought years. In the last couple of months, John has wrangled, begged, fought for and found funding from a multitude of sources for a locally developed suicide prevention initiative, Rural Alive And Well Tasmania. John says we all have to show that we care and understand the problems communities face.

Yesterday I had the pleasure of launching the program, based at Oatlands, on behalf of the Minister for Health and Ageing, Nicola Roxon. I announced the allocation of $216,000 for the employment of a project worker and administrative support for an initial 12 months. This is part of the federal government’s initiative to assist local communities to develop their own local solutions to the serious issues that suicide presents for individuals, their families and the community. Yesterday was a great day.

The Australian government has joined with the Tasmanian government, farmers and community groups to put together this package. The program will draw upon the experience of the other national suicide prevention strategies providing services aimed at helping to prevent suicide, with their main focus being on males, by strengthening community capacity in areas of need. Although this program has only been running since July this year, it has already made a significant impact, and my belief is that it will be a model for other such services around Australia to deal with the soul-destroying feeling of uselessness that people experience when the country is in drought—uselessness that leads to depression and then to the risk of self-harm.

I know the government is committed to consulting widely, including with consumers and carer representatives. I also know we must ensure that an adequate workforce is on hand to help. There are other good programs too that will help address the real illness of depression. But, to get help to people, it must somehow be recognised that men in particular do not find it easy to ask for help. The program in the Southern Midlands is actively going out to seek those who need help—without scaring them further. It will have a mature male worker who will be able to spend time talking over the farm fence and taking help into homes. I believe this program will require ongoing funding to continue the task started and also to spread areas of practical help, including helping those on the land to find alternative land uses when their traditional land use has become unviable. This is where health issues overlap with training and research issues. This is merely helping people to once again become valued members of the community, with positive directions for the future. I am very pleased that both the state and federal governments have now recognised the very deep problems of drought and what it can do to communities. (Time expired)