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Wednesday, 23 November 2011
Page: 9441

Senator POLLEY (TasmaniaDeputy Government Whip in the Senate) (19:33): I have spoken on the topic of mental health on a number of occasions; however, I feel that now—with all the pressure of end-of-year exams, the unknown of new beginnings and the competition to attain the best academic points—is an important time to be reminded of the importance of positive mental health for our young Australians.

There can be a huge amount of pressure on young people in this day and age. With the expectations to achieve in a variety of fields, study hard, work hard, have a balanced social life, play sport, and the list goes on, sometimes I have to wonder: how do our young people cope? My thoughts are with Australia's teenagers and young adults, particularly at this time of year when many are undertaking end-of-year exams and hoping for enough points to go on and achieve their dreams. As a society we expect so much of these young people, but do we offer them enough support to cope with stress and mental illness and to maintain general mental health? I believe we have excellent support services in this country. There is 24-hour phone assistance as well as youth drop-in centres, counsellors in schools, large organisations focused on improving the mental wellbeing of our young people and much more.

However, I have to wonder, with the high rates of youth suicide in Australia, do we talk about the availability of these services enough? Suicide, particularly youth suicide, is a major public health issue in my home state of Tasmania, where the rate is 18 per cent higher than the national rate. According to the ABS, in the 15- to 19-year-old age group suicide accounted for a total of 113 registered deaths in 2003. There can be many causes of youth suicide, including depresĀ­sion, mental illness, body image issues, alcohol and drug related problems. Suicide is a particularly devastating occurrence, with the effects on the family and the wider community being significant. Statistically speaking, almost everyone in Australia is going to be affected by attempted suicide, death from suicide or the death of a loved one from suicide.

There are approximately 2,000 deaths from suicide each year in Australia. It is estimated that more young people die from suicide than from car accidents. Males make up 80 per cent of deaths from suicide while females make up 80 per cent of all suicide attempts. These statistics make it quite clear that it can happen to anyone. In 2002, suicide accounted for 25 per cent of all male deaths and 15 per cent of all female deaths in the 12- to 24-year-old age bracket. That is shocking and disturbing. We must do more to prevent this tragic loss of life.

I am passionate about the importance of life and feel very strongly about taking any and all steps to ensure the protection of our young people, who are our greatest resource. For that reason, I would like to take this opportunity to speak about some of the fantastic services available to our young people. I hope that those people listening and those in the chamber will have a conversation with their children, their friends, their grandchildren, and their nieces and nephews about the importance of looking after themselves physically and mentally for their holistic wellbeing. Headspace is the National Youth Mental Health Foundation, whose primary aim is to help young people who are going through a tough time. Youth aged between 12 and 25 can seek health advice, support and information from headspace, which has centres all around our great country. Headspace's focus is on assisting young Australians with general health, mental health, counselling, education, employment and other services and with alcohol and other drug services. If you know of a young person who is feeling down or stressed, who cannot stop worrying or deal with school or who is being bullied, hurt or harassed, headspace is an organisation that can help.

Youthbeyondblue is another service available to young Australians who need assistance with mental health and wellbeing issues. Youthbeyondblue is an arm of beyondblue that has a specific focus on young people aged 12 to 25 years. Youthbeyondblue's programs and projects centre on early intervention and prevention of high-prevalence mental health problems for young people as well as on raising community awareness. Early intervention is a particularly important aspect of tackling the problem of youth depression and suicide. The earlier that help is provided, the better the chance of a positive outcome. Youthbeyondblue's key messages are: look for the signs of depression, listen to your friends' experiences, talk about what is going on and seek help together. Youthbeyondblue does a fantastic job conveying the message that it is okay to talk about depression.

Kids Helpline also is a service available to young people. Kids Helpline is a free 24-hour-a-day counselling service for young people between the ages of five and 25. I particularly admire the efforts Kids Helpline has made to be as accessible as possible to young people who need counselling, whether by telephone, email or over the web. The service aims to empower young people by assisting them to develop options and identify and understand the consequences of a particular course of action, by facilitating more productive relationships with family and friends and by providing information on local support services. Kids Helpline counsellors are fully qualified professionals who undergo additional accredited training at Kids Helpline.

I would like to acknowledge all the wonderful work that is currently being undertaken by government and non-government organisations in an effort to reach out to young people who are affected by suicidal thoughts, depression or any other mental illness. As can be seen, there are numerous groups and organisations working towards a brighter future for youth affected by mental illness. We can all help to spread their messages and make their services known. I hope my brief comments tonight will help to continue to raise awareness and encourage parents, grandparents, aunties and uncles to talk about depression.

I will turn to an issue that has been the subject of a number of speeches this week. It is fairly topical, at least within the Labor Party and, more recently, in this chamber. It is the issue of same-sex marriage. I will put on record my views about how important it is that we adhere to the Labor Party's platform, that we do not make any change to the marriage act and that the definition of marriage is not changed at national conference. The Prime Minister has put on the public record her belief in and commitment to the existing definition of marriage in this country. When I move around my home state and the country in my committee work—wherever I travel—people talk about this issue. They talk about it because it has been put into the political arena, not because they believe it to be one of the most pressing issues facing our community—it is a politically motivated agenda.

We all know that marriages fail, and that is considered to be one of the issues in the discussion about same-sex marriage. The definition of marriage has always been a union between a man and a woman. It has been that way since time began. I am accused quite often in this debate about holding these views simply because I am a Christian. Yes, I am a Christian and I am very proud of my faith, but that is not the only reason I speak out on this issue. I speak out on it because I think it is fundamental as a cornerstone of our society and it is one that has held us in good stead. A recent survey of people's views on same-sex marriage in the Australian, a newspaper that is referred to quite often here, showed that unfortunately too many people are very complacent about this issue. But there are also those who tell you that they feel intimidated about speaking out publicly on this issue because they are fearful about being accused of being homophobic.

People in this chamber have spoken about the importance of recognising people's relationships. I make no judgment at all about whom one falls in love with. I believe that we as a community can and should acknowledge people's relationships. We removed discrimination laws in order to help achieve this. The Tasmanian government has led the way in this field by introducing a register in which people can register their relationship, whether it is a same-sex relationship, a heterosexual relationship or any other form of relationship, to protect their interests.

The argument has been made in this chamber that people's views would be different if they had a brother or sister or some other relative who was gay. Indeed, I have had many a debate with colleagues who say that my views would change too. I do have family and friends who are gay and in same-sex relationships, but that does not change my relationship with them one bit. It also does not change the view that I hold, and that I believe the majority of Australians hold, that the definition of marriage as being between a man and a woman should be retained, even as other relationships, such as same-sex relationships, should be acknowledged. That is why we have the Tasmanian register, which, I have to say, has not been overwhelmingly received within the community if you look at the number of relationships that are registered there. But I thought it was important tonight to put on the public record, as others have done here, that I support the Prime Minister and I sincerely hope that people will support her view at the national conference.