Suicide Prevention

My speech to the  Suicide Prevention motion put forward by Hon. J.S.L. Dawkins:

That this council—

1.Notes the significant and unfortunate increase in the rates of suicide across the nation;
2.Notes the motions of the member for Adelaide passed in the House of Assembly on 6 April 2011 and the Hon. J.S.L. Dawkins passed in this council on 24 November 2011 respectively;
3.Notes the subsequent development of the South Australian Suicide Prevention Strategy;
4.Encourages the efforts of all community organisations that are already working hard in this sector to continue their valuable contributions to suicide prevention throughout South Australia; and
5.Urges the government to build on the work of the Office of the Chief Psychiatrist by increasing support for the ongoing establishment of suicide prevention networks in local community.

(Continued from 7 May 2014.)


The Hon. T.A. FRANKS (17:21): I rise to speak in support of this motion put before us today by the Hon. John Dawkins and I commend him for his ongoing support for raising awareness about suicide prevention and his personal support. As members may be aware, I had a close family member who committed suicide in the past months, so I thank him for ‘walking the walk’ as well as ‘talking the talk’.

I want to draw members’ attention to one particular area, however. In the South Australian Suicide Prevention Strategy, certainly on my search, there was only one mention of refugees and that was with regard to unaccompanied minors and there was only one mention of asylum seekers. Yet I do believe this is a mental health time bomb ticking in our community and indeed a mental health time bomb of our own creation.
Members would be well aware that we have seen cuts to refugee services in this recent federal budget and indeed we have seen cruel and inhumane policies implemented federally and in this state in past decades, in particular with mandatory detention and now with offshore processing. With mandatory detention, we do know that we have created this mental health time bomb for ourselves and certainly there are a lot of implications there for mental health professionals, and mental health professionals are stepping up.
Indeed, medical professionals are stepping up and I was very pleased to meet last week with Tom, a young doctor in training, from the Australian Medical Students’ Association. He is certainly a part of those mental health professionals who are stepping up, not only once they become established in their profession but even before they enter the profession. I commend the work of the Australian Medical Students’ Association in putting together quite a comprehensive document in terms of alerting members of parliament to the mental health implications and the health implications of our nation’s treatment of asylum seekers.
Indeed, I note that mental health professionals in this state—and I will make particular mention of Dr Nicholas Proctor and a paper in Australasian Psychiatry written also by Louise Newman and Michael Dudley—have remarked on the remote facilities that we have had in this state that saw mandatory detention of asylum seekers in Woomera and Baxter in the early 2000s.
The behaviour there included riots, self-harm and suicidal behaviour. It reflected the detainees’ distress, frustration and despair at their powerlessness. These are people who have come to our shores seeking asylum, seeking help, people who are fleeing persecution. We know the overwhelming majority of them are founded in those well-founded fears of persecution. We know that by detaining them indefinitely we do not give them a sense of welcome and a sense of hope; we drive them further into despair, and in some cases that despair becomes suicide and self-harm.

We also know that having unaccompanied children, and children in general, in those detention centres puts them at greater risk of witnessing other detainees self-harming, committing suicide or attempting suicide. I worked with Amnesty International in the early 2000s. I heard horrific stories of what was going on in Woomera and Baxter, and I was ashamed to be Australian when I heard those stories. At first I could not actually believe that we were undertaking such cruel and, I believe, disgusting treatment of our fellow human beings who were simply asking for help. There is no greater plea for help than the plea from somebody who is looking at self-harm or suicide, and I think that the South Australian Suicide Prevention Strategy should be answering those calls for help. With those few words, I commend this motion to the council.

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