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Thursday, 3 December 2015
Page: 9849


Senator GALLAGHER (Australian Capital Territory) (15:32): I rise to take note of the answer given by Senator Nash, representing the Minister for Health, to the question I asked about the suicide reduction target. Firstly, I was quite surprised by the response from Senator Nash when she answered the question. The question was: can the minister confirm that the government has not accepted the recommendation of the Mental Health Commission to adopt a suicide reduction target of 50 per cent? Her answer to that was, 'I understand that that is correct—that they have rejected that recommendation.' But she was not able to explain, despite being asked twice, why the government had rejected that and why that was the case.

This is a very serious situation here in Australia. Tragically, we have 2,500 people who lose their lives to suicide every year and another 65,000 Australians who attempt to take their own life. It is now double the annual road toll in any specific year, and it equals seven people losing their life to suicide every day. I think there certainly is unanimous agreement that we have to do something to reduce this number. We have to better support people and provide them with access to crisis support and with education, information and early intervention to prevent these tragic numbers becoming a permanent reality.

The Mental Health Commission's response to the review of mental health programs and services made it very clear that something further needs to be done and that it needs to be tackled similarly to ways that other terrible outcomes, such as the road toll, are being tackled, where you have a specific focus, pull in your effort behind it, set yourself a target and then measure progress against that target. We do that in a whole range of areas across public administration, particularly in government, when we are evaluating our programs. Targets are often included in there. There is simply no reason that is obvious to me or to others interested in mental health as to why, of all of the recommendations in this report, that one would have been rejected by the government without any explanation.

There are other questions, of course, about the government's response to this report. It is very light on detail. It is a 900-page report to which the government's response, I think, is 28 pages, if that. There is no indication of how it is going to be done, the cost of rolling out the program or the changes that will be made—and there will need to be significant changes if you can believe the overarching principles of what is in this document. There is no information about that. It is very light on in relation to suicide prevention and it is completely silent on the issue of the target or rejecting the target, although today the Minister representing the Minister for Health has very clearly answered the question—that they have rejected that target. She also indicated very clearly that, no, the government would not be reconsidering that recommendation. This is really disappointing, particularly when you look at the crisis that is suicide across this country and when you look at the disproportionate impact that suicide has on particular communities—particularly Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and those Australians living in rural or remote Australia, without as much access to high-quality support services as would be available to people in the city.

It is the leading cause of death for people under the age of 44 in this country. It is staggering that we would have that result and the response from the government to perhaps the most comprehensive review of the mental health system in the last few years with a recommendation on which the government is simply silent. But they talk the talk, 'Yes, we need to do more and effort needs to be put in,' but then they do not indicate how that will be done, the timetable for doing it or why, indeed, they are refusing to measure progress against it. As anyone knows who has been in government before, when you put out a program and you attach targets to it, the reason you do it is not because you might fail—and you have to acknowledge that over time—but because you want to make progress and you want to measure where you are going and be able to work out whether you have been successful. The government should reconsider their position. (Time expired)