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Shadow Minister criticises comments by Health Minister about NSW Opposition Leader's attempted suicide.

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Monday 5 September 2005

Shadow Minister criticises comments by Health Minister regarding NSW Opposition Leader’s attempted suicide


TONY EASTLEY: Health Minister Tony Abbot t has found himself caught up in the mess of Liberal Party politics in New South Wales. It follows his insensitive comments about former State Opposition leader John Brogden, and his resignation and subsequent hospitalisation last week. 


The Mental Health Council of Australia says Mister Abbott's insensitivity is appalling, especially when the country's Health Minister should be at the forefront of harm prevention strategies. 


The Federal Opposition says Mr Abbott should resign. 


This morning Mr Abbott has declined AM 's requests for an interview. 


From Canberra, Chief Political Correspondent Catherine McGrath reports. 


CATHERINE MCGRATH: The political pressure is mounting on Health Minister Tony Abbott this morning, after it was revealed yesterday that he's used John Brogden's suicide attempt to make a political point. 


He's part of Tony Abbott's interview yesterday with the ABC's Barrie Cassidy. 


TONY ABBOTT: Well, Barrie, look, I have never claimed to be the world's most sensitive person. 


BARRIE CASSIDY: Alright, well let's go back to lunchtime on the same day. Now, this is just 12 hours after John Brogden was rushed off to hospital, you're now a guest speaker at another function and I'm told you were asked about a particular health proposal, and you said this: "if we did that, we would be as dead as the former New South Wales Liberal leader's political prospects." Did you say that? 


TONY ABBOTT: Look, uh, Barrie, I was at a fundraising gathering, it was a very small gathering, and I was no doubt commenting on a particular political proposal. 


BARRIE CASSIDY: But inappropriately, surely, and particularly as Health Minister. 


TONY ABBOTT: Well, Barrie, look, as I said, if you want to accuse me of insensitivity, by all means. I have never claimed to be the world's most sensitive person. 


BARRIE CASSIDY: In retrospect, is that something you think you should now apologise for? 


TONY ABBOTT: Barrie, if it would make people feel better if I apologised, I'm always happy to apologise. I don't believe in standing on my dignity. 


BARRIE CASSIDY: But you do accept they were inappropriate? 


TONY ABBOTT: Barrie, um, lots of people say lots of things. 


CATHERINE MCGRATH: Later in the day, through a spokesman, Tony Abbott said his comments were inappropriate and he apologised. 


But the Opposition says that's not enough. Shadow Health spokeswoman Julia Gillard says he should resign, or the Prime Minister should sack him. 


JULIA GILLARD: Mr Howard was clearly of the view that John Brogden should resign. Indeed, Mr Howard's failure to offer John Brogden any support was pivotal in Mr Brogden's decision to resign. Mr Howard can't apply one standard to Mr Brogden and a completely different and lesser standard to Tony Abbott. 


CATHERINE MCGRATH: Let's look at what Tony Abbott said to this meeting last Wednesday. He said in reference to a question about a political prospect, if we did that we'd be as politically dead as the Opposition leader in New South Wales. What's the impact of those sort of comments? 


JULIA GILLARD: Well, Minister Abbott is the person in this country at a federal level who is responsible for health issues, including mental health issues, and of course we know too many times people with mental health problems end up attempting or actually succeeding in suiciding.  


So it's within Minister Abbott's portfolio to deal with supporting people who are contemplating suicide, have tried to commit suicide, or to offer support to their grieving families.  


And for a minister with that kind of responsibility on his shoulders to make a comment as insensitive as that, some 12 hours after a colleague he presumably knows well has tried to commit suicide shows that he is grossly unfit for that task. 




The Mental Health Council of Australia says the comments are appalling. 


Board member and clinical adviser Professor Ian Hickie. 


IAN HICKIE: The issue here is one of suicide prevention and the impact of suicide and attempted suicide on families which are profound. And we would hope that the leading health minister in the country would be at the forefront of the nation's suicide prevention strategies and in promoting appropriate attitudes. 


TONY EASTLEY: And that was Professor Ian Hickie from the Mental Health Council of Australia, ending that report from Catherine McGrath.