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Monday, 4 June 2001
Page: 27185

Mr BARRESI (6:12 PM) —I rise to address an important issue relevant to all members of parliament, and indeed all Australians: the welfare of our youth—the sense of hope or, conversely, the sense of hopelessness evident in a growing number of young people. As we know, young people are the future of our nation. They quite literally hold the keys to the future across all areas of human endeavour.

In this the year of the Centenary of Federation, many of us have attended schools and helped in the presentation of medallions and certificates. One of the things that strike me as I go around the schools is the sense of exuberance in some of the kids at primary school level. I trust that level of exuberance and positive feeling remains throughout their lives. I say to them that where we have come as a nation in the last 100 years is very much due to the hard work and perseverance of people such as their parents, grandparents and all who have gone before them. But where we go in the next 50 years—how we sound, how we feel, how we look as a nation and how we relate to each other as a nation—really does depend upon them, on what they get out of school and how they interact with the community.

There is a sense of optimism at that stage in their lives, and one wonders whether that sense of optimism will continue. If we look at some of the recent figures and statistics that I will go into shortly, we can sense that there are a growing number of young kids out there who have a high sense of hopelessness and pessimism about their future. In 30 years time, when the names of the majority of the current members of this House will be merely entries in history, my children—indeed, the thousands of young people in Deakin under the age of 20—will be the leaders of our community, employers, employees and parents. But to look at the future I also want to look at the past in terms of how we are and how we should be responding as a government.

It is rare for me to quote from the past—I try to avoid it—but I want to mention a very important quote in the context of this speech. In 1944, former Liberal Party Prime Minister Sir Robert Menzies said:

What we must look for ... is a true revival of liberal thought which will work for social justice and security ...

True liberals have great and imperative obligations to the weak, the sick and unfortunate ...

To every good citizen the State owes not only a chance in life, but a self respecting life ...

That was supported in 1967 by Sir John Carrick, a former Liberal Party founder, senator for New South Wales and Minister for Education, who said:

We should regard free enterprise ... as one of our major instruments but not as an absolute weapon or as an absolute end itself. Liberalism and laissez-faire can never co-exist. The true Liberal is always concerned for the welfare of the individual, for the creation of opportunities, for the preservation of human dignity and the development of human personality.

The coalition has a proud record of achievement in social policy areas over many years; yet you would be hard pressed to have any form of acknowledgement or acceptance of that by the critics. There are those who peddle the myth that this government has no social conscience, a myth perpetuated by those whose own agenda is not met or who find that they no longer have that privileged and disproportionate voice in the corridors of parliament that once they may have had. This government does have a heart and is concerned about the social wellbeing of Australians. In recent years, during the time of the Howard government, Australia has undergone a great deal of change, and some of it is now being reflected in policy initiatives addressing the plight of our young people.

While there has been a lot of focus on economics and budgets, there is much more, of course, that we can do. In terms of citizens and governments, rights and responsibilities, the coalition in government has sought to restore the balance, to restore it towards responsibilities. Many would say that the pendulum has perhaps swung too far; some Australians, even in the recent past, have been too firmly focused on their rights rather than their responsibilities. The recent response by some in the community to the budget demonstrates this shift from responsibility to rights—a far cry, Madam Deputy Speaker Kelly, from what perhaps your grandparents and others who helped to form and forge this nation in the past 100 years would have known as being indicative of the Australia that they lived in. As many have said before, we all live in a society, not an economy. Governments must be concerned with both aspects and must develop and implement policy ideas across all areas of human endeavour and activity.

More than 2,500 Australians of all ages, from all walks of life, die by suicide each year. In a landmark report, Aspects of youth suicide, brought down four or five years ago, we were presented with some disturbing facts. Seven per cent of young people between 14 and 24 years of age have at some stage attempted suicide. Three per cent of young people up to the age of 18 will have suffered from some form of serious, depression related illness; and, by the time they are 18 years of age, 23 per cent will have suffered from severe depression. But the most startling fact is the 300 per cent increase in the suicide rates for young Australian men. Every day at least one person takes his or her own life and another 50 attempt to take their life. With suicide being a very common cause of death for young people—even more common than death due to motor accidents—governments, and indeed the whole community, must act responsibly.

Living is for Life, or the LIFE program, is a framework for prevention of suicide and self-harm. Launched last year, it is funded to the tune of $48 million under the National Suicide Prevention Strategy. It is one program which helps to reduce the rates of suicide and suicidal behaviour across our nation. The framework has been developed for use by the Australian community to help plan and conduct suicide prevention programs. Active in its formation were the very people who deal with these problems on a day-to-day basis.

In the Deakin electorate in Melbourne's eastern suburbs, we have some good examples of programs which the government have put into place to help youth, to give them that sense of hope and optimism in their lives, rather than their going down the bleak and ugly path of depression and futility that may characterise their lives. I have spoken in the past about a number of these programs, but I have great pleasure in being able to speak about them again. The programs are successful; they make a difference in people's lives. Whilst as a government we will never be able to completely stop the incidents of suicide and self-harm, mental illness, child abuse, criminal behaviour, family dislocation and youth homelessness, we can at least as a government direct our attention to minimising them as much as possible. Not only can we but we have an obligation as a government to the nation—and an obligation, more importantly, as legislators and decision makers to the young people of this country.

One program is Checkpoint, which was three years in the planning and to which we contributed $379,000. I was pleased to be at the second graduation last week, where 24 students who were considered to be kids at risk had gone through an eight-week pre-apprenticeship training program. The great thing about that graduation—I was not able to go to the first one—was the parents who came up to me and said, `You have given my son'—or my daughter—`a real sense of hope. The anger that was within them has subsided. They have gone through three or four different employers and have not been able to hold down a job. There is a real sense of hope now present. Thank you very much, Mr Barresi.' I actually say thank you very much to the Checkpoint organisers, for they are the ones who fought for this program to be introduced into Melbourne's eastern suburbs, and they are the ones who are creating positive outcomes for these young kids. So I congratulate Pastor Mark Bateman and his team at Maroondah Community Care.

The other program is one under Regional Extended Family Services. A lot of people may not know, but REFS actually pioneered the Reconnect model, which is now used around Australia. I am pleased to see that this year we have also allocated somewhere around $600,000 for wilderness expeditions and training programs, taking kids away for 10 days to help them rebuild their lives and look at behavioural change, self-assessment, accepting self-responsibility for decision making and reorienting their life's direction. Well done to Bruce Argyle and his team for once again providing another worthwhile program in Melbourne's east. Finally, we have a great program called Australians Against Child Abuse, in Mitcham, with $150,000 of Commonwealth funding to help in early intervention parenting projects. These are all programs that the government has introduced for the benefit of my community. (Time expired)