Mr DULUK (Davenport) (15:42): I rise today on a sombre note to discuss data
released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics in March this year on the causes of
death in Australia in 2014. It is with alarm and sadness that I note the tragically high
rate of suicide in this country, in particular in South Australia, by the numbers. In
2014, there were 2,864 suicides nationally. That is almost eight per day—one every
three hours. In South Australia, there were 240 suicides in just 12 months. That
means that every 1.5 days someone in South Australia takes their own life.
These numbers are disturbing, but even more disturbing is that the number of deaths
by suicide in South Australia has remained relatively unchanged over the last
decade. In 2005, there were 231 South Australians who, unfortunately, took their
own life. Any death is devastating. That any person is suffering to such an extent that
they are motivated to take their own life is indeed a tragedy. Behind every suicide is
a sad story of trauma and heartache for mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, friends,
partners, colleagues and whole communities.
The personal and social impacts of suicide and attempted suicide on those affected
cannot be quantified but are clearly enormous. The financial cost of suicide in
Australia is also significant. Suicide imposes economic costs on a broad range of
areas, including health care, law enforcement and emergency services, just to name
a few. One death by suicide is one too many. The inability to achieve a reduction in
the annual number of suicides in South Australia is extremely concerning. It
shows that the current strategies are not working. Suicide rates have been
particularly stark in men aged 40 to 44 years. Nationally, 18.3 per cent of male
deaths in this age group are attributable to suicide.
It appears that the young men of the 1990s are taking suicidality with them. As these
young men enter middle age, they are suffering unaddressed depression and mental
health problems that are being exacerbated. Many of these men have been
employed in manufacturing, construction, farming and mining, all areas experiencing
high levels of uncertainty and job losses. Often with families to support and
mortgages to pay, they are increasingly overwhelmed and no longer able to
keep the black dog at bay.
We cannot continue to fail our most vulnerable by persisting with unsuccessful
policies and programs. Unfortunately, the effectiveness of the state government's
South Australian Suicide Prevention Strategy 2012-2016 has been underwhelming.
There were 108 road fatalities in South Australia in 2014 compared with 240 deaths
by suicide. That is less than half. We certainly do a lot in terms of reducing road
fatalities in our state. We must do more to help reduce the tragic loss of life through
As a priority, services to prevent suicide should be strengthened so that those at risk
of taking their own life are given the support they need. We need the government to
deliver on its promises. It promised to establish a mental health commission. This
means more than just a press release: it means the nuts and bolts of the
commission's structure, responsibilities and its powers under relevant
legislation. The government promised to adopt a new five-year mental health plan,
as the previous mental health plan and wellbeing policy of 2010-15 expired more
than six months ago.
It promised to address the acute shortage of mental health beds in our hospital
system. The SA Health dashboard continually shows mental health beds throughout
the hospital network in negative territory, with occupancy rates in these beds greater
than capacity. Mental health patients often wait extended periods in emergency
departments, sometimes more than 24 hours, despite the government's goal of
having no mental health patients waiting more than 24 hours in an emergency
department from 1 January this year.
After 14 years in office, the Labor government has failed to deliver better outcomes
for South Australians suffering with a mental health illness. Despite the evidence,
suicide is too often a low priority for this government. We must prioritise suicide
prevention on the public health and public policy agendas. It is a critical public health
issue and one that definitely needs the urgent attention of
all those in this house.