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Monday, 27 February 2012
Page: 1888


Dr WASHER (Moore) (12:30): According to research by Professor Drew Dawson, head of the University of South Australia's Centre for Sleep Research, staying awake for 17 hours has the same effect on performance as having a blood alcohol level of 0.05 per cent and, after 21 hours awake, people demonstrate the same deterioration as having a blood alcohol content of 0.1 per cent. Many people begin to show signs of mental fatigue later in the working day and tasks seem much more complicated, concentration wavers and mistakes can be made. Late nights spent working can cause mental fatigue, making it harder to recollect information and affecting the ability to think clearly.

As representatives of the Australian people, our role is to make decisions on the passing of new laws and amendments or changes to existing laws, debate legislation and policy statements and make decisions on what we believe is right for our electorate and for our country. We make decisions on how we should be spending taxpayer's money whether we are in government or opposition. The quantity of information that can be processed by the human mind is limited. The mind tires and begins to ignore or forget information. How many of us have sat listening for hours at information being delivered, yet at the end cannot recall most of what has been said. In psychology, decision fatigue refers to the deteriorating quality of the decisions made by an individual, after a long session of decision making. It is now understood as one of the causes of irrational trade-offs in decision making. Decision fatigue can be caused by continual mental effort such as making decisions and brain overload where the brain cells have become exhausted. Although we do not feel physically tired, the more choices we have to make throughout the day, the more fatigued we become and the less likely we are to make hard decisions but go with the recommendations of others or no decision at all.

In a recent article in the New York Times, John Tierney talks about decision fatigue, the newest discovery involving a phenomenon called ego depletion, a term coined by the social psychologist Roy F Baumeister:

No matter how rational and high-minded you try to be, you can't make decision after decision without paying a biological price. It's different from ordinary physical fatigue—you're not consciously aware of being tired—but you're low on mental energy. The more choices you make throughout the day, the harder each one becomes for your brain, and eventually it looks for shortcuts, usually in either of two very different ways. One shortcut is to become reckless: to act impulsively instead of expending the energy to first think through the consequences. (Sure, tweet that photo! What could go wrong?) The other shortcut is the ultimate energy saver: do nothing. Instead of agonizing over decisions, avoid any choice. Ducking a decision often creates bigger problems in the long run, but for the moment, it eases the mental strain. You start to resist any change, any potentially risky move.

Work schedules that require people to work for extended periods of time disrupt circadian or body clock rhythms and increase the risk of fatigue. A person suffering from fatigue may in turn experience difficulty in concentration, impaired recollection of timing and events or judgment, reduced capacity for effective interpersonal communication, reduced hand-eye coordination, reduced visual perception, reduced vigilance and slower reaction times.

British researchers have found that, through a long-term study done on 10,000 civil servants, working more than 11 hours a day increases the risk of heart disease by 67 per cent compared to working a standard seven- to eight-hour day. It was thought that working hours alongside other factors like blood pressure, diabetes, exercise and depression, could help doctors work out the risk of heart disease. Another recent study has also shown that people who work more than 11 hours a day are 2.4 times more likely to suffer depression. The British study found that working long hours may affect your mental health because of difficulties in unwinding after work and prolonged increased levels of the stress hormone cortisol.

The less control one has over potentially stress inducing events and the more uncertainty they create, the more likely people are to feel stressed. Even the typical day-to-day demands of living can contribute to the body's stress response. The long-term activation of the stress-response system and the subsequent overexposure to cortisol and other stress hormones can disrupt almost all of the body's processes. This results in an increased risk of numerous health problems, including heart disease, sleep problems, digestive problems, depression, obesity, memory impairment, worsening of skin conditions such as eczema, and it depletes the human immune system, increasing the risk of cancer and infectious disease.

I appeal to my political colleagues from all parties to support this motion not only for their own health and wellbeing but for the health and wellbeing of the staff of this parliament, for whom we all have a shared responsibility. Thank you.