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Wednesday, 18 October 2017
Page: 7865


Senator O'NEILL (New South Wales) (13:51): I am very pleased, during my time here in the parliament, to have a role assisting the member for Franklin, Julie Collins, in her work as shadow minister for mental health. In this capacity, last week, as you know, Deputy President Sterle, I was fortunate enough to spend some time in your state of Western Australia inspecting the suicide prevention trial sites.

Labor is committed to continue working with the Turnbull government in bipartisanship to reduce the rate of suicide in Australia. During the 2016 election it was only the Labor Party that announced a target of a 50 per cent reduction in suicides over the next 10 years. We also committed to rolling out 10 suicide prevention trial sites, as advised by the chair of the National Mental Health Commission. I am extremely pleased to say that the government did adopt that set of recommendations, followed our lead, and those trials have proceeded.

There are, in fact, 12 suicide prevention trial sites to be rolled out across Australia, and that includes three sites in Western Australia. As a New South Wales senator, of course, I wish this was not the case in any state of Australia, but my remarks today are particularly about the need that is in Western Australia. I am extremely sad the need is there. We are seeing three suicide prevention trial sites in Western Australia in response to a level of suicide that is untenable: 371 deaths in 2016. The impact of a suicide on the loved ones who are left behind is a major concern. We must give careful thought to how we support the parents, siblings and friends who are left behind to deal with the trauma, profound grief and loss. Our best strategic action to ensure that must be suicide prevention.

Sadly, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are approximately twice as likely to die by suicide as non-Indigenous Australians. In the Kimberley, the State Coroner is, in fact, examining 13 deaths of, mostly, young Aboriginal people in recent years, five of whom were under the age of 13. We need to make the change that is necessary to prevent these sorts of tragedies. We need to do more to reduce the stigma around mental health and suicide, particularly among young people and our first peoples. We must act on an evidence base that is sound, and we need action, not continuing conversation, about awareness raising. Surely the purpose of these 12 trials is to do more than raise awareness. The statistics are a call to action, carefully considered, culturally appropriate and geographically relevant action. We need to intervene early, we need to continue to enact preventive measures, and we need to build resilience in individuals and in communities.

I wanted to make a comment about hope and how powerful it is. It is a good thing. Good people on the ground are doing their best with the resources that they have at hand. I visited the suicide prevention trial sites of South Perth and the Kimberley. I met with mental health service providers and community leaders in both of these regions who are participating in the suicide prevention trial sites. I would really like to take this opportunity to acknowledge the very important work they do in both of those regions of Australia. I am continually inspired by the efforts of hardworking Australians. I was moved, and I especially thank them for their generosity in sharing with me their stories of hardship, strength and resilience. I would like to thank Madeleine King, the member for Brand, and you, Mr Acting Deputy President Sterle, for showing me around the local area, your backyard, the great state of Western Australia.

Now I want to talk about the purpose of my visit. Western Australia is to see firsthand how the Turnbull government is spending the $3 million allocated to each of the suicide prevention sites. Having recently returned, I have to say that I am not filled with confidence that the money is being spent properly. It really does appear that the Turnbull government is well behind on much of the preparatory work that is required. The 12 suicide prevention trial sites are now one year into the proposed three-year trial, and money is being spent, but no-one was able to show or explain exactly what the overarching evidence based strategy was. And we know that doing more of the same is not the change that is needed for these communities or, indeed, for any of the communities across this great country. Doing more of the same is not a trial. It doesn't meet the expectations of what has been offered with the declaration of 12 suicide prevention trial sites.

For some of these 12 sites, locations have only now been confirmed and groups of interest only now decided. Delay and inaction, sadly, are the hallmarks of this dysfunctional government. Let's take the South Perth site as an example. Despite the great work of local people there, on the ground the information I was able to access indicates that the rollout is at the very least six months behind. There is no project officer at the moment. It was only recently advertised on Seek. That is where we found out that the trial was actually underway, because information is so hard to come by about what is actually going on. Again, I reiterate that we are now more than one year into the three-year trial, but the Turnbull government doesn't seem to be getting on with the job in an orderly or transparent way or even strategic way. This most important work must be done properly. We can never forget that the cost of inaction in suicide prevention is the loss of life. One death by suicide is too many.

I would like to share a sad and very confronting story that was shared with me in the course of my visit. A couple of people spoke about the experience they had of responding to a suicide attempt. Clearly, the trauma that they experienced was manifest in the way that they spoke to me about their response. It was a young girl, similar to the age that I described before, in her early teens, being considered by the coroner. The tragedy of the story is that the intervention that saved her life was followed by a trip to a hospital and then a very rapid discharge the next day with no support around that young person. This is not the only story that is being told across this country. Families are in despair at a lack of access to proper services.

The Turnbull government has indicated and given the community a sense of care about this issue. They have even instituted 12 sites where $3 million is being spent. That is an act of hope and it is one that the community wants, but it has to be delivered properly. I can certainly report to the Senate that, on the basis of my recent visit, that is not the case at this point of time. My sincere hope is that there will be some significant change to the way in which this project is being managed. The Turnbull government needs to get on with this job properly, and to give suicide the proper attention that it deserves.

For those who might be listening or those who are here today who are in any way concerned or feel unwell in terms of their mental health, I encourage you to access one of the 24/7 crisis support lines: Google Lifeline, Suicide Call Back Service, beyondblue, Kids Helpline or MensLine Australia. I will just offer one number in the time that's provided, 131114, if you feel you need to talk to somebody right now.

The PRESIDENT: It being 2 pm, we will proceed to questions without notice.