Appropriation Bill 2015

The Hon. J.S.L. DAWKINS ( 16:31 :00 ): I rise in support of the passage of this bill, and in doing so I recognise its importance in providing $12.037 billion to the various programs incorporated in the 2015-16 budget of government. It is my intention to focus on the particular area of suicide prevention, a field in which I have long worked, as it relates to the priorities of the government and the manner in which public servants carry out those wishes.

From 26 to 29 July this year a member of my staff and I attended the National Suicide Prevention Conference conducted by Suicide Prevention Australia in Hobart. This event was attended by 400 people from across the country in both the private and public sectors, from NGOs and, of course, many volunteer members of local community suicide prevention organisations.

This gathering of incredibly passionate people allowed for experiences to be shared and also for me particularly to see the good work that other governments and groups in the sector are doing in the field of suicide prevention right across a range of jurisdictions. It was quite startling, albeit positively, to hear the level of funding and commitment that other state governments have made to the area of suicide prevention across Australia.

For example, in Victoria the Andrews Labor government is spending $5.9 million on programs promoting suicide prevention in the LGBTIQ community. This is a continuation of the hard work that has already been done in that area by the coalition government in Victoria. Prior to the last Victorian state election I had met with the then minister for mental health, now the Leader of the Opposition in the upper house, the Hon. Mary Wooldridge MLC, and we had discussed the efforts that the then government was making to reduce the rate of suicide in the Victorian community, particularly in the LGBTIQ sector.

I remember meeting with a young lady from an area (I will not say a peri-urban area) bounding with outer Melbourne, and she was doing great work across a range of communities with young gay people who were at great risk of self-harm and suicide. I was most impressed with the work that that young lady was doing. I gather from the ongoing commitment of the Andrews government that that work is continuing in Victoria.

It was interesting to learn at the conference of the comparison of work that other governments are doing in this area. Another example was that New South Wales has tackled the issue of suicide prevention through its Mental Health Commission, which is funded to the tune of $10 million by the current Baird coalition government.

At the conference, it was interesting that the Deputy Mental Health Commissioner presented attendees with a brief snapshot of the work that they are already engaged in and the worthwhile opportunities that they continue to pursue in the suicide prevention area. It was particularly pleasing to see the proactive approach to preventing the unnecessary deaths caused by suicide but also training people on the front line—government employees on the front line—to deal with the impacts, the pressures and the trauma caused by suicide and attempted suicide.

In particular, I was impressed by the efforts of the New South Wales government to train every front-line police officer in the state in suicide prevention and also to provide similar but more relevant training for front-line personnel on the Sydney Trains and New South Wales TrainLink networks. It is very important work and I have already asked questions about the possibility of that happening here through the minister here in this place representing the Minister for Transport.

I also understand from the input at the conference that the Palaszczuk Labor government in Queensland is also directing its efforts in suicide prevention through its own Mental Health Commission. This body is provided with $8.5 million in funding, slightly down from the previous year. The current Mental Health Commissioner, who we heard from at the conference, has compiled a suicide prevention strategy for Queensland which is currently being implemented.

In addition to these efforts, the Queensland government has also committed to spending $380,000 out of existing resources to train emergency department staff in suicide prevention, which as we would all agree is a very worthy and potentially life-saving act. I think it is something that we need to work on: those issues of putting those front-line people and giving them more experience about how to deal with suicide and with attempted suicide, particularly and self-harm.

The Queensland government also keeps an in-depth registry of deaths due to suicide which enables more accurate research into what have become known as 'suicide hot spots' and other issues related to suicide. This helps better target and develop more effective prevention programs across the state. Certainly, I think one thing that is consistent around Australia and in other parts of the world is that the need for more up-to-date information about the number of suicides in a particular part of a state or the country is very relevant, because a lot of the information, by the time we get it now, is quite out of date, so that is something I would urge the current government here to have a look at.

I was very lucky while in Hobart to meet with the Tasmanian Minister for Health, the Hon. Michael Ferguson, and his staff. The minister in fact spoke at the conference and presented one of Suicide Prevention Australia's awards at the conference dinner. The awards are very appropriately known as LiFE Awards. Leading up to the last state election in Tasmania, the Hodgman Liberal team committed to providing an additional $3 million in funding to suicide prevention in the state. The current minister has delivered on that commitment and is now working very hard to deliver initiatives such as:

develop a youth suicide strategy together with Youth Network of Tasmania;

analyse suicide hot spots to reduce risks if places are known for repeat suicides;

assist local communities to implement community suicide prevention plans;

establish early intervention referral pathways;

deliver suicide prevention awareness training to persons in key occupations; and

ensure Tasmanian researchers can access information needed to allow in-depth analysis of Tasmanian suicides to better target prevention strategies.

Of course, on that point, I suppose I have quite a long association with suicide prevention in Tasmania through the CORES program and through the work of the University of Tasmania. I commend the Hodgman government for its extensive efforts in this field and their strong and ongoing commitment to suicide prevention in that state. I was very grateful for the time to sit down with staff from the minister's office and the department to talk about the rollout of the government's initiatives, and I appreciate the minister providing us with that valuable time.

I think it is also important to note that a state which has stepped up to the plate in recent times in relation to suicide prevention is Western Australia. A number of years ago, I met with the then minister, Mr Jacobs, who at that stage was a very new minister in a very new coalition government in Western Australia. They were grappling with, I think, very large rates of suicide, greater than the rest of the country.

Last year, I attended the National Suicide Prevention Conference when it was held in Perth, and the strong commitment of the Barnett coalition government under the stewardship of the current Minister for Mental Health, the Hon. Helen Morton MLC, became apparent. The Hon. Helen Morton's Ministerial Council for Suicide Prevention is spending a massive $26 million on suicide prevention in Western Australia over four years. The new suicide prevention strategy, Suicide Prevention 2020: Together we can Save Lives, aims to reduce the current number of suicides in Western Australia by 50 per cent over the next decade.

It was launched in May this year and is based on evidence and recommendations from the latest research and reviews completed by Edith Cowan University, the Western Australian Ombudsman, and the Western Australian Auditor-General. The strategy has six key action areas which focus on:

greater public awareness and united action;

local support and community prevention across the lifespan;

coordinated and targeted services for high-risk groups;

shared responsibility across government, private and non-government sectors to build mentally healthy workplaces;

increased suicide prevention training; and

timely data and evidence to improve responses and services.

I particularly thank the Hon. Helen Morton MLC and the people I have had quite a bit to do with on her suicide prevention council. They have shown a terrific commitment, along with that state's Mental Health Commission, in the continuing rollout of their initiatives in that area.

Nationally, the Coalition government is taking action to support suicide prevention. In 2013‑14, the federal government spent $113.4 million in a single year on the National Suicide Prevention Program and the 'Mental health: taking action to tackle suicide' package. The ongoing support from the federal government to the suicide prevention sector both government and community-based is commendable.

I encourage the new Prime Minister and his continuing Minister for Health, Sussan Ley, to continue to provide leadership in this area, not only through the development of strategies and the provision of funding—and I think refocused funding in some areas, and I have indicated that to the minister—but also through COAG and other cooperative bodies.

At the conclusion of the National Suicide Prevention Conference, I attended the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association Human Rights Pacific seminar in Wellington, New Zealand. Whilst I was there, I was able to speak with officers from the New Zealand Ministry of Health who gave me a great insight into the range of effective programs the New Zealand government is operating to prevent suicide across different cultural communities. I noted the very strong leadership in this area indicated by the Prime Minister, the Rt Hon. John Key. It was very clear to see that the leadership comes right from the top in that government.

I also had the opportunity to speak to officers from the Ministry of Justice who advised me of their efforts to combat cyber bullying, which has been a contributing factor in a number of youth suicides in New Zealand. I commend the National Party government for its work in that area and, certainly, it has brought in legislation in relation to cyber bullying.

In South Australia, the situation is somewhat different. Despite my efforts and those of many others in this parliament, many on my side, and I must say a number of others on the crossbench and some on the Labor side, the current government has been somewhat lethargic in its efforts in suicide prevention. In comparison with interstate and overseas efforts, the Weatherill Labor government has committed only $1.1 million to this life-saving cause.

I commend the public servants working in this field who have already done so much with relatively little. I believe that the government and the current Minister for Mental Health (Hon. Jack Snelling) should actually have the political will to do more. The minister does not play a great role in the mental health space. I note that his parliamentary secretary, Leesa Vlahos, does work in that area, but the space left by the minister's lack of action in the area is quite large.

I do not wish to be political about this, but I think the minister does need to step up and show some leadership in the area. I do not recall the minister's actually addressing the matter of suicide directly at any stage in the public arena. I think that is a shame and that he ought to have a look at the leadership shown by a number of ministers and governments of various political persuasions around the country.

I am proud that the South Australian parliamentary Liberal Party is the first political party in Australia and, to my knowledge, elsewhere in the world that actually has suicide prevention as a stand-alone portfolio. I am supported in my role very much by the shadow minister, the Hon. Stephen Wade. However, the stance of having a separate portfolio was only backed up significantly at the Hobart conference with evidence that a very large number of people who suicide actually do not have a mental illness background. It is more a set of circumstances and the severe reaction to that set of circumstances that cause them to suicide.

It is something that I feel very strongly about, and we need to recognise that many of the people who attempt suicide or who take their life are not ones who have had a mental illness background, so we need to adjust the way in which we work in this area to take account of that.

Through my time working in the field of suicide prevention, I have felt that each time the current government has finally made a commitment it has been dragged every step of the way to do that. If I have had a role in dragging them along, I am proud of it, but I think it should not be that way. There is an easy manner for the government to adopt a far more effective proactive approach because there are so many people in the community who want to work with the government in this area.

I call on the Minister for Mental Health in another place to reflect on the government's approach to this important area and consider what it would mean for South Australians in need if we were to make great strides to be a leader in this field. Having said that, I would like to take this opportunity to commend the government and the public servants who are working on the rollout of the state's Suicide Prevention Strategy, particularly on their work in establishing a number of local suicide prevention networks across South Australia. These networks have been established by the local community or, in many cases, by local government bodies to develop strategies for suicide prevention which are relevant to the community.

Once one of these networks has been established and a local strategy created, endorsed, and in many cases linked to the strategic plan of the relevant local government body, the local network can receive $5,000 in funding from the government for their work. It has been encouraging to me to see a large number of these groups established around South Australia, largely in country areas, but we do have some in the metropolitan area. I will not go into those different ones because I have raised them many times in the past in particular, but I am pleased that there are more in the pipeline and I am very keen to see that happen, and I will go as widely as I can to support those people.

I have had the benefit of attending the two regional network of networks meetings held in Mount Gambier and, clearly, this year bring together groups from all over country South Australia and some metropolitan areas to share their experiences. It has been an absolute privilege to work with the people who have attended those events and, in many cases, travelled significant distances to be involved, and I look forward to the statewide network of networks event to be held here in Adelaide on 9 October.

I would also like to briefly mention the Indigenous Suicide Prevention Network that has been established in Mount Gambier for some time. It sits alongside the other Mount Gambier Suicide Prevention Network but is a very impressive group working together across the Aboriginal communities of the South-East. Suicide is one of the most challenging areas of Indigenous health, and I congratulate all those involved in that particular group helping to stem that alarming rate of suicide in Aboriginal communities.

I was heartened during the estimates process in July 2014 to hear the Minister for Health and Mental Health indicate that an additional one full-time equivalent would be committed to the rollout of the state government's Suicide Prevention Strategy. This additional person was to be a crucial addition to the single officer who had been allocated the mammoth task of rolling out the strategy across South Australia on their own.

Unfortunately, more than 12 months have passed, and I understand that the appointment has only just been made. In fact the recruitment process only began in July this year. Over one year had lapsed and after questions in this house from myself and subsequently writing to the minister, I was eventually advised by his parliamentary secretary that the recruitment would take place. It is just a pity that it has taken such a long time to get that person on board. I was, however, heartened to hear at the National Suicide Prevention Conference in Hobart that South Australia will soon be in consultation on the development of a new strategy that will replace the current document that will expire next year.

Another issue that I took away from the national conference in Hobart was how critical it is to support programs that promote suicide prevention in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and questioning community. I made some reference to that work earlier, particularly in relation to the work of the Victorian government.

This incredibly important area is not being funded currently by the government. For many reasons, ranging from social to emotional, the LGBTIQ community has a significantly higher than average rate of suicide. Prevention and post-prevention programs for members of the LGBTIQ community in crisis are far more effective when they specifically target issues affecting that community, and that was proven to me when I visited the young lady I mentioned earlier who was working in the inner country areas of Victoria.

I noted in last year's estimate process that the Minister for Health and Mental Health in another place made a commitment that if an application for grant funding through the pool made available as part of the Suicide Prevention Strategy was to be made to the government for a program specifically targeting the LGBTIQ community, it would be given favourable consideration. I was encouraged by this statement but I am yet to see such an application granted, and so I live in hope that that will come to fruition in the near future.

I have hoped in this speech to give some comparison with the work that has been done in the area of suicide prevention around this country and in New Zealand. I hope that the government will continue to build on the work and the framework that is being developed and that it will start to work harder and provide greater leadership in the field of suicide prevention for all South Australians. With that I support the passage of the Appropriation Bill.

Debate adjourned on motion of Hon. J.M. Gazzola.