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Monday, 23 February 2009
Page: 1516

Ms CAMPBELL (9:55 PM) —Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for the opportunity to inform the House about an event in my electorate of Bass which I believe marks a turning point in the health of our nation. Last Wednesday night Launceston hosted the second of 15 men’s health forums which will be held across the country in the coming months. They are designed to engage with the community—in particular, men—and shape the development of the National Men’s Health Policy. What I heard throughout the discussions which ensued was quite honestly frightening. That men have a lower life expectancy than women is not new. Fifty-one per cent of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men will not live past the age of 50. Nine out of 10 non-Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men will. As a government and as a country we must act to address this, and we must act now. The fact that as we embarked on the 21st century there was no specific national health policy to address this is a disgrace.

I would like to congratulate the Minister for Health and Ageing, Nicola Roxon, not only for seeking to rectify this but also for the manner in which she has gone about it. The level of consultation is extraordinary. I believe that has two effects. Firstly, it ensures we end up with the most effective and relevant national policy, a policy over which men across Northern Tasmania and the rest of the country have every right to claim ownership. Secondly, but perhaps most importantly, it gets men actually talking about these issues. It was interesting to both listen and observe on Wednesday night. Over the course of the evening those men in the room relaxed and actually began discussing real health issues. We need to put this out there. Men need to feel that it is okay for them to talk to each other, to talk to their doctor and even to talk to their elected representatives about these issues.

What are these issues? Madam Deputy Speaker, I am sure it will come as no surprise to you to learn that men are built differently to women, and our health issues are not the same. From the physical—such as testicular cancer, prostate cancer and the like to the higher incidence of things like heart disease, kidney disease and diet related ailments—all the way through to the emotional, men are built and wired differently, and it is imperative that we develop national health policy which reflects this. I mention the emotional issues. Men do have emotions; we simply do not hear about them enough. One of the clear areas of need highlighted in Launceston was surrounding suicide rates. Some 80 per cent of suicides are men. In the age bracket of 25 to 35, suicide is the leading cause of death. These are statistics which should shock us all into action.

The forum was attended by three of the minister’s appointed men’s health ambassadors. Mr Bill Noonan, Mr Tim Mathieson and Dr Rob Walters made the trip to Launceston, and for that I thank them. The diverse views those present heard from a trade union official, a former hairdresser and a well-respected GP were incredibly valuable. Each has ideas about what can be done to improve men’s health outcomes; there were a few consistent themes. It also became apparent that the key to the success of a National Men’s Health Policy is encouraging men to talk about these issues. Men’s health ambassador Bill Noonan spoke with passion about encouraging a greater role for union officials in the workplace. He made the point that these are people elected by the workforce, that they are trusted and that they are there to represent the best interests of the workforce. This is something that I would like to encourage.

I lobbied the health minister to hold one of the first of these forums in Bass. I did this because I am passionate about the health of Northern Tasmanians. I am proud that as a government we are shaping policy which will change the way health care is delivered to men so that men will feel more comfortable about seeking preventative care. The policy will address issues men face in accessing the health system, engage men about their own health and raise awareness about preventable health issues and target men with poor health outcomes. To achieve this, the government will hear from different groups, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men, who have the worst life expectancy of any group in Australia. As I mentioned earlier, it is on average just 59 years. We will listen to men from lower income groups, single fathers and those struggling with fatherhood, men from culturally diverse backgrounds and from other groups who may be feeling marginalised. This is an enormous undertaking but one to which the government is committed. I look forward to following with interest the implementation of a policy which, it could be said, began its infancy in the electorate of Bass.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Ms AE Burke)—Order! It being 10 pm, the debate is interrupted.