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Wednesday, 1 June 1994
Page: 1076

Senator KNOWLES —My question is to Senator Crowley representing the Minister for Human Services and Health.

Senator Cook —Make it sensible!

Senator KNOWLES —It is very sensible, Senator Cook, because it relates to a problem that you will not address. Why is it, in the government's opinion, that Australian rural youth have the highest rate of youth suicide in the developed world, according to the World Health Organisation? Will the minister concede that a lack of job security and entrenched unemployment is the major contributing factor? Why is the government unable or unwilling to do anything about this major problem?

Senator CROWLEY —Everybody in this country is deeply concerned about the emerging levels of suicide among people of whatever age. In fact, articles that I have read recently have pointed out that suicide is not only confined to young people or even to young men, but is also highly represented in older men too. Therefore, it is a matter of the greatest concern to this government that we have this number of people who, for whatever reason, are suiciding.

  I think we also have to appreciate that sometimes people suicide by mistake. Certainly they will attempt to suicide with the clear and express wish of making a call for help. Sometimes, particularly in the case of young women, they are saved from suicide. Senator Knowles asked whether I admit that these suicides are caused by lack of job security. I do not know what is causing the high incidence of suicide, and I submit that nobody in this place knows the cause.

  Why is it that one person, faced with those circumstances, will choose suicide and another will find something else to do? I urge a considerable caution about leaping to easy solutions to what causes suicide. But, to the extent that we are concerned about job security for young people—

Senator Vanstone —Are you concerned about it?

Senator CROWLEY —Absolutely we are concerned about it. I urge the opposition to read the white paper, a very significant document that was brought into this place a mere few weeks ago, tackling precisely the issue of job security in this country, and sending the message out there that we are concerned that no Australian is forgotten or should feel that he or she has to resort to suicide. It is a major concern. This government is very concerned about it.

  To the extent that lack of job security may be in some cases a contributing factor—and, as I say, it is a complex issue and I would not claim to know the cause of it; and I certainly think anyone who did was speaking very bravely—I draw the attention of those opposite to the white paper which particularly tackles job security, increased training, better educational opportunities and curriculum development precisely to deal with this problem for young people, or a person of any age.

Senator KNOWLES —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I find it amazing that this minister cannot answer what the government is doing about this major problem. Is the minister aware that 90 to 95 per cent of those young people who suicide are unemployed? How can she claim that the white paper is the cure-all to absolutely everything that is going to happen to this country for the next 20 years? What is she doing in a constructive fashion in the health portfolio to solve this problem? What research is being done to establish the real cause and what problems are going to be solved to alleviate it?

Senator CROWLEY —I have said it is a major concern; and I think it is recognised quite clearly as a major concern. I have highlighted one matter that I think goes to a long bow that the senator was drawing and that is that if job security is one of the contributing factors, we are doing something about that. In this year's budget, under the health portfolio, we have also very extensively increased the money under the mental health vote. That will also deal with and increase research into the causes of mental illness. I do not think it could even be claimed that all suicide is necessarily evidence of mental illness but I have to say that through our white paper and employment programs, our targeting of funding and increasing the money under the mental health vote, we are certainly going to be able to look at and continue to be concerned about this very grave issue.