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Tuesday, 11 October 2016
Page: 1557

Senator O'NEILL (New South Wales) (21:08): I rise in the adjournment debate tonight—and it has been some time since I have been able to speak in the adjournment—to address a number of matters that are of great interest to the people of New South Wales, in particular to regional New South Wales and the area in which I live, the Central Coast.

I acknowledge Senator Lambie's contribution about mental health, a very important one in this week of mental health awareness. The delivery of the response to mental health issues in our community comes within a framework of access to health care, and something we are seeing in report after report is that access to mental health services is compromised. It is more and more compromised under the control of this government, and that has been exacerbated in New South Wales by the Liberal government's cuts to health.

Yesterday in the other place, the House of Representatives here in Canberra, Labor called on the government to stand up and vote to keep Medicare in public hands, but not a single Liberal MP was prepared to vote for Labor's motion. So let's get on the record exactly what it was that the Liberal-National Party coalition, who indicate they support mental health and access in health, voted against yesterday in the parliament. They voted against a guarantee to keep Medicare in public hands as a universal health insurance scheme for all Australians. They voted against a guarantee to protect bulk-billing so that every Australian can see their doctor when they need to and not only when they can afford to. The Liberal-National Party voted against reversing harmful cuts to Medicare by unfreezing the indexation of the Medicare Benefits Schedule. The Liberal-National Party voted against reversing cuts to breast screening, MRIs, X-rays and other diagnostic imaging, which means that Australians will pay more for vital scans. They voted against abandoning their plans to make all Australians, including pensioners, pay more for vital medicines. And the Liberal-National Party yesterday—despite their intense protestation that they were misrepresented in a 'Mediscare' campaign, as they call it—voted against developing a long-term agreement to properly fund our public hospitals so that Australians do not languish in emergency departments, on long waiting lists for important surgery. Let us put it on the record that in the opening weeks of this Liberal-National Party government under the leadership of Malcolm Turnbull, when they have come to the Australian capital to legislate for this country—claiming that they have learnt their lesson from the election, which reduced their majority to one—they have not reversed a single cut to health that they took to the election.

In that context, I want to compare and contrast the wonderful speech that I heard this afternoon from Emma McBride, Labor's new representative in the electorate of Dobell. Emma has already given 20 years of service in the health sector as a pharmacist. Indeed, she is the only pharmacist here in the parliament, a health professional dedicated to service in the health sector more broadly and in particular at Wyong Hospital. This is her description of Wyong Hospital—and it will become apparent shortly why this is so important. Wyong Hospital is, she says:

… a public hospital in a low-socioeconomic area that provides quality care to thousands of locals. Today, Wyong Hospital, which was built by our community for our community and belongs to our community, is slated for privatisation by the New South Wales Liberal government …

In the 1950s, the community got together, fundraised, created a community solution and established the Wyong Hospital committee, and they got on with the job of making sure that there was healthcare access in their community.

Ms McBride, the new member for Dobell, quoted the former Labor member for Peats, Keith O'Connell, who said the dedication of locals to that hospital demonstrated that 'when we work for the community, we should not be daunted by delays, frustrations or obstacles placed in our path, as tenacity and determination will overcome such problems'. And that is the spirit in which I urge the people of the Central Coast—the people of Wyong in particular but right along the coast, all the way down to the peninsula—to stand up and fight for our local hospital, to fight against Mike Baird's privatisation, because this will be a tragic loss for our community if what he proposes goes ahead. I encourage those who are listening, as well as those from other parts of the great state of New South Wales who might be interested in supporting the community to keep this vital service, to go to Morrie Breen Oval at Wallarah Road, Kanwal at 11 am on Sunday, 16 October to tell Mike Baird to keep his hands off Wyong Hospital.

Sadly, this Americanised privatisation model, which is a disease well and truly out of control at both federal and state level with Liberal-National Party governments, is not confined just to Wyong Hospital. When he lands on what he thinks is a good idea, Mr Baird is not too shy to roll it out far and wide. We have seen him peel back today on greyhounds after huge attack, and sadly it looks like that is what we are going to have to do to keep these hospitals, because it is not just Wyong Hospital in New South Wales that Mr Baird wants to get his hands on and privatise. He is also after Maitland, Goulburn, Shellharbour and Bowral hospitals in toto. These are five important community access points to health care, vital to those communities, which Mr Baird wants to privatise. Well, it is too much. And people in the great state of New South Wales, having seen what happens when a decent amount of pressure is applied on Mr Baird, might have him give away some of his hubris and arrogance and actually listen and give them what they need and deserve—access to their local hospital.

The very hardworking member for Wyong indicated in a media release he put out on 15 September that we have to watch these Liberal Party and National Party members and these governments who simply do not tell the electorate what they are going to do before they come into power. He points out that in 2015, at the state election, the Liberals certainly did not admit that Wyong Hospital would be privatised. That failure to communicate what they are actually doing with health, and their determination to spin another story about caring about health, is on display here every single day. We know that we need to stand up for these five hospitals in New South Wales, and I urge the people of New South Wales to show incredible determination to make sure that things are not taken away from our community. I honour and acknowledge the hard work of, in particular, David Harris, the member for Wyong; David Meehan, the member for The Entrance; and Yasmin Catley, the member for Swansea. As Yasmin Catley said, the Liberal government seems addicted to privatisation and I think they might need some treatment to get rid of their addiction.

I would like to turn now to some matters of mental health, particularly in this week where mental health is the focus of much attention. World Mental Health Day was recognised here in Australia on 10 October, and it falls in this period of Mental Health Week from 9 to 15 October. It is a very important time to reinvest in community awareness so that the momentum generated this week can be carried through every day of the year, bearing in mind that the most recent research suggests that one in four Australians will experience a mental health issue at some point in their lives.

This week provides a chance to redouble efforts to encourage people who are experiencing difficulties to actually seek help—to call a family member, friend or workmate or seek more professional care if they feel that they need to do that—or to recommend that somebody you know seek that care. It is a chance to reaffirm the goal of reducing the stigma associated with mental health issues and foster connections through communities such as those facing challenges in our rural sector, isolated regions and those with high youth suicides—and sadly the Central Coast is one of those areas that has very alarming figures, particularly with regard to young people. Of course, mental illness is way over-represented among our Indigenous communities.

The issue of mental health and, all too often, its end result, which can be an attempted suicide or a suicide completion, was never more poignantly driven home for me than in the last federal election campaign. I was there when more than 500 people crammed into the community centre on 19 May, a cold Friday night, to a town hall meeting in Woy Woy on the Central Coast at the Everglades Country Club. And I thank them for their wonderful hospitality. They provided great community service and a point of connection for many people in our community. The Leader of the Opposition, Mr Shorten, was visiting the seat of Robertson in support of Anne Charlton, our amazing candidate who ran a great campaign for the seat of Robertson. The room was abuzz, and the locals were firing question after question at the Labor leader. A question came from a young local woman by the name of Bronte. She posed the question to Mr Shorten that not enough attention was paid to mental health issues by politicians. Mr Shorten responded by explaining Labor's policy on mental health and its target for a national approach to halving the suicide rate in Australia over the next 10 years. Then Mr Shorten asked the audience a question. He simply said: 'If I were to ask people in this room to put up their hands, how many of you know someone who has attempted suicide? How many of you know of a family where suicide has occurred?' There was a pause and then the vast majority—and I am talking way over 90 per cent—of people in the room put up their hands. His response was, 'That's amazing.' The sense of being in a moment—in a community where something that is not often talked about suddenly became a very publicly acknowledged and deeply demonstrated physical and common reality—became extremely obvious to everyone.

To put the figures on the record: each day in Australia seven people die by suicide and 30 attempt suicide. Suicide is the leading cause of death for men and women aged between 15 and 44—in the period that we often think is the peak of peoples' lives, suicide is the leading cause of death. There are problems with the statistical collection: the numbers vary from 2,500 to 2,800, but often that is considered to be under-reporting. The estimate is that in Australia 65,000 people per year will attempt suicide. To compare it to another issue that we are a lot more aware of: the suicide toll is now twice the annual road toll.

This means that far too many families, friends and colleagues are left dealing with these incredibly traumatic losses. There are too many children in this country who have had to take days off school to attend the funeral of a classmate. But it is not just the day that they are absent for that matters; it is the memory, the questioning, the personal anxiety and the risk to mental health that flows on from that experience that we have to deal with—the exaggerated, expanded and exponential effect of losing someone whom you love, whom you work with, whom you go to school with or who is your neighbour and to feel that personal loss: 'Why didn't I notice? What didn't I see?'

Just in the last month, there was a report put out about the underestimation of the ongoing and expanded impact on the broader community from loss through suicide. There are far too many parents—parents of young and vibrant people—who are sitting at their tables across this country every year shattered, exhausted and grieving, trying to write a eulogy for their son or daughter, something they should never have to do. We really need to address this burgeoning and continuing problem of mental health. Labor wants this reality to change, and we are determined to make this an issue that stays in the public imagination. There are an amazing number of great organisations that are doing work in this area.

The theme set by the World Federation for Mental Health for this year's World Mental Health Day is 'Dignity in Mental Health—Psychological and Mental Health First Aid for All'. In its manifesto for World Mental Health Day, the federation seeks to contribute to the goal of taking mental health out of the shadows so that people in general feel more confident in tackling the stigma, isolation and discrimination that continue to plague people with mental health conditions, their families and their carers. At its core is the objective to educate the general public about the developing concept of 'psychological and mental health first aid'. After all, when we go to a hospital emergency department with a broken arm, we are given physical first aid, and that is quite an acceptable thing to do. But, as the President of the World Federation for Mental Health, Professor Gabriel Ivbijaro, states, many people suffering from a mental health difficulty 'will receive little or no help when they present in an emergency'. Indeed, in the evidence given to the select committee in the 44th Parliament, we heard nurses talking about concern with regard to the quality, frequency and updating of their training with regard to mental health, when people present with mental illness. Again, there are issues of professional identity and comfort in dealing with huge physical trauma, because of frequent and excellent training, contrasted with inadequate training around mental health and their own professional and personal anxieties about dealing with that.

So this is a very significant structural problem we have to deal with in our hospitals. The British Professor Ivbijaro points out:

Since the introduction of Basic Life Support (BLS) and Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR) without equipment in the 1960's many people have benefitted from the intervention of a passer-by, and lives have been saved—

as we developed a community capacity to deal with that reality. We have the reality of mental health and ill health in our community. Just as on some days you are fit, training and well—you might have had a great summer holiday and you know that you are in physically great shape—throughout the year our mental health waxes and wanes. Sometimes we are in great shape; sometimes we are not so. The problem with pathologising so much of this—and I think there is a bit of resistance to the pathologising of mental health—is that, as R U OK? indicates to us, we can have very simple human conversations with one another that help us register our mental health and wellbeing, and that could then encourage us to seek more specialised care to help us with the genuine issues of mental illness that we need to attend to. Mental health crises and distress are viewed very differently for a range of reasons, but we cannot allow this crisis to continue.

In the time that remains to me, I would like to acknowledge a number of very important people on the Central Coast. I would like to acknowledge the great success of an amazing woman by the name of Liesl Tesch. Many of you might have heard of her recently. She was part of the Paralympic team in Rio, and she was the athlete who was training when she was knocked off her bike and attacked at gunpoint. She came back from that, did some more training and went back, and she has gone on to win once again. She is just the most remarkable Central Coastie. We are so proud of her. I think she has now competed at her seventh Paralympic Games. She is retiring with a number of amazing accolades, including gold and silver medals—two golds in sailing as well as two silvers and a bronze in wheelchair basketball. The reason that Liesl now represents us in the Paralympics is that when she was 19 she was knocked off her bike, and she was so full of resilience that she was able to come back and rebuild a remarkable life. She is an inspirational woman. She is a remarkable person of great personal resilience, and I am very proud to call her a friend. I put on the record here in the Parliament of Australia the Central Coast's deep pride in her being part of our community.

I also want to acknowledge in the closing moments that we have lost a wonderful local member of our Labor Party, a wonderful gentleman by the name of Frank Druery, a proud member of the ALP since 1950, dedicated to the Kincumber Branch in the Robertson seat, and a committed activist. He has made an extensive contribution to the New South Wales Labor Party and was recognised with a McKell award for his service to the party and the local community. He received the Unsung Hero Award of 1999 to 2002, the Environment Award in 2002 and the Australia Day Award in 2003 and 2004. He was much loved and will be sorely missed by all Labor members on the coast. I offer my sincere condolences to his family.

Senate adjourned at 21:28