Address in Reply

18th February 2020

Address in Reply 

The Hon. J.S.L. DAWKINS (15:31): I rise to support the passage of this motion and wish to place on record my thanks to His Excellency the Governor for his speech to open this session of state parliament. I would also like to express my gratitude to His Excellency and Mrs Le for their numerous years of outstanding service to the people of South Australia. Of course, that goes back before His Excellency became the Governor because obviously he was the Lieutenant-Governor and, previous to that, the Chair of the South Australian Multicultural and Ethnic Affairs Commission. 

His Excellency and Mrs Le visit communities across our state regularly and recently travelled to some of the major fire-affected areas, including Kangaroo Island and the Adelaide Hills, to meet residents and thank volunteers and service personnel. To quote His Excellency from the speech: 

I have spoken to South Australians whose properties were destroyed or damaged. 

To do so is to be in awe of their resilience. 

The bushfires this summer period have affected many parts of the state, including Yorke Peninsula, Eyre Peninsula, the Mid North, Adelaide Hills and Kangaroo Island, most of which have received considerable media coverage. Of course, there have been other fires that have not attracted as much media attention. I can think of one very close to where I used to live in the Angle Vale-Buchfelde area, not far from Gawler River, and also significantly another that I do not think has had much media attention, and that is the fire at Keilira in the South-East. 

His Excellency noted the government’s efforts to assist bushfire-affected communities through tax relief measures and the waiving of fees and charges as well as partnering with the commonwealth to allocate funding for recovery and rebuilding. Residents in fire-affected areas have been devastated by a loss of property, livestock and livelihood. The Marshall government is doing a great deal to support communities, farmers, businesses, wildlife and the environment to recover. I commend the government for its #BookThemOut campaign to encourage people to visit fire-affected areas, including, of course, Kangaroo Island and the Adelaide Hills. These regions deserve our patronage now more than ever. 

I was fortunate to recently visit Kangaroo Island where, as part of that trip, I had the opportunity to meet with Mayor Michael Pengilly to discuss many aspects of the fires but, particularly, the impact on the mental health of many people across the communities of the island. I note that Mayor Pengilly has worked tirelessly for his community over the period since the fires, and I thank him for his great efforts. I look forward to working with him in the future in regard to those issues. 

Natural disasters such as bushfires can have a significant impact on the mental health of the directly affected communities, as well as people who have loved ones in affected areas or who have witnessed traumatic events through the media. It is important that we provide appropriate counselling and support for those affected, and indeed for those whose properties were left standing while those around them were destroyed. 

Something I have become aware of over many years is almost a guilt factor when a house or property is left standing unaffected, untouched, when everything around them has been burnt. That is the nature of many of these major fires, particularly in the Adelaide Hills but not exclusive to that area. I welcome the announcement by the commonwealth government of the Supporting the Mental Health of Australians Affected by Bushfires package, which forms part of the state government’s work in responding to the bushfire crisis. 

The area of suicide prevention is very important to me, and I have cherished the opportunity to act as the Premier’s Advocate for Suicide Prevention over the past almost two years. Working with the Premier’s Council for Suicide Prevention and the whole-of-government issues group on suicide prevention, along with the support of the Minister for Health and Wellbeing, the Office of the Chief Psychiatrist and the South Australian Mental Health Commission, we have been able to make a number of improvements to suicide prevention efforts in South Australia. 

I have been particularly pleased to see the further development of suicide prevention networks in this state. We now have 39 established, the majority in rural and regional locations as well as outer metropolitan councils. Many local government bodies have played a major role in the establishment of these networks, but there remain some that have not realised the benefit these networks can bring. There is still more work to be done to develop these groups, and I have recently held several meetings, in both country and metropolitan settings, to discuss how we can work with them to establish suicide prevention networks in their own localities. 

In his address, His Excellency the Governor mentioned the pilot program by SA Health to embed mental health specialists in paramedic response vehicles. This six-week pilot program was conducted in 2019 by the South Australian Ambulance Service and the Central Adelaide Local Health Network, and involved a community mental health worker accompanying ambulance crews to attend to people in the community who may be experiencing a mental health crisis. 

As a result of the trial, more than half of patients attended by ambulance crews were diverted away from hospital emergency departments to more appropriate forms of care. These patients were able to be cared for in the community or were referred to community-based services, easing the pressure on our emergency departments, which are often not conducive environments for their assessment or treatment. 

This initiative forms part of the 2020 to 2025 Mental Health Services Plan, and the government’s Towards Zero Suicides approach. The innovative program has evolved from the work of the Premier’s council and the issues group on suicide prevention; I look forward to seeing it expanded to other health networks and, in some areas, potentially incorporated into South Australian police callouts. 

I should note that one of my visits in the United Kingdom, to Birmingham, was to see examples of the way in which programs of this nature have been very successful, and successful across some of the lower socio-economic areas of Birmingham, working across the very diverse communities in that city with sectors such as the disability sector, the gay community and many others that have been proactive in making that program a success. We look forward to the further development of that work here in South Australia. 

I should also say that the Issues Group on Suicide Prevention, which incorporates senior people from all the government departments in South Australia and, in some cases, some multiple agencies within those departments, has played a significant role in the development of workplace suicide prevention and mental wellbeing policies and procedures across government, with a flow-on effect into the broader community. I pay tribute to the work of that group because I think that is a very important area that we need to focus on. 

Yes, we need to make sure that we are doing the right thing by the clientele of all our departments and agencies in regard to mental health and suicide prevention, but we also need to make sure that we are doing the right thing by the employees of those departments, particularly those who are first responders. I think that brings us back to those employees and volunteers who have been the first responders in the bushfire settings, and that goes right across the board. 

Before leaving that particular reference to the Governor’s speech in my comments about suicide prevention and mental health, I would also like to again commend His Excellency’s role as the initiator of the Youth Suicide Prevention Summit that was held last year. I am aware that His Excellency previously raised the potential for such a summit, I think in the final days of the previous government, and I have been pleased, along with the Chief Psychiatrist, Dr John Brayley, to work with His Excellency in that area and will continue to do so in the future. 

His Excellency also discussed in his speech the planned Aboriginal art and cultures centre at Lot Fourteen, for which $150 million has been provided by the state and federal governments. The centre will be a terrific opportunity to showcase the South Australian Museum’s extensive collection of Aboriginal cultural artefacts, which is currently contained in storage sheds. The collection is described as the largest of its kind in the world and will be displayed in interactive ways to tell the stories of the world’s oldest civilisation. 

Listening to that part of the Governor’s speech reminded me that on a recent trip to the United Kingdom with my wife, Sheila, we were able to visit the Avebury Stone Circle visitor centre in Wiltshire, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. There are some fabulous displays in the visitor centre of some of the evidence of existence around the planet from many, many hundreds of years ago. 

Members in this chamber will not be surprised to know that I was flabbergasted to see, as part of that exhibit, an Aboriginal stone spear, or Pirri point, on showcase from Roonka Flat near Morgan, north-east of Adelaide, dating to around 5000 to 3000 BC. Being in the Avebury Stone Circle visitor centre in Wiltshire and coming across an Aboriginal artefact from South Australia—indeed, from the Riverland—was rather surprising. 

Many Indigenous artefacts and ceremonial objects, collected generations ago from communities like that across Australia, are currently contained in overseas museums, although some concerted efforts have been made in recent years to return these items to their traditional owners. 

The Governor noted that the South Australian Museum’s collection of Aboriginal ancestral remains represents half of the total remains held in all of Australia, and the museum is empowering Aboriginal communities to make decisions about their ancestral remains. Repatriation of Kaurna ancestral remains is being supported by the state government through funding of a two-year pilot project, which is very pleasing to see. 

In briefly reflecting on other matters addressed in the Governor’s speech, I look forward to the reintroduction of a number of important reforms, including extending shop trading hours in the greater Adelaide shopping district and proclaimed shopping districts and the capping of local government council rates. I think they are important things that need to come back to this parliament, and they are generally very widely supported across the South Australian community. As I say, I look forward to those pieces of legislation returning to the parliament. 

The government is also committed to the permanent lifting of the prohibition on growing genetically modified crops in all areas of the state except Kangaroo Island. I was disappointed when this measure was rejected by the Legislative Council in the last parliamentary sitting session. The lifting of the ban on GM crops is a change that has strong support amongst mainland farmers. I think the general community is of the view that we should get on and let farmers make those decisions and not leave it to people in this chamber. 

Once again, I thank His Excellency for his speech. I have the greatest admiration for the Governor and for Mrs Le. I think their attitude to the way that they have been appointed to that position and the way in which they deal with any manner of the communities right across South Australia is of great credit to them. They have excelled in that role and, as I said earlier, I have been very pleased to have the Governor’s support in the work that I do. I look forward to working with the Governor and Mrs Le in the future. With those remarks, I commend the Address in Reply motion to the council.