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The hidden toll: suicide in Australia

Speeches in Parliament
Rachel Siewert 24 Jun 2010

COMMITTEES Community Affairs References Committee Report Senator SIEWERT (Western Australia)(4.36 pm)—I present the report of the Community Affairs References Committee, The hidden toll: suicide in Australia, together with the Hansard record of proceedings and documents presented to the committee.

Senator SIEWERT—by leave—I move:
That the Senate take note of the report. Firstly, I would like to thank everybody who made submissions and gave evidence to the inquiry of the Senate Community Affairs References Committee into suicide in Australia. This was a deeply emotional and moving inquiry, and we very much appreciate the time and work people put into submissions and oral presentations. We heard many personal stories that were deeply moving. I would like to express thanks on behalf of the committee to all those people. I would also like to express thanks to the secretariat, who worked very hard on this committee and who also found it very moving and emotional.

This committee inquiry arose because, as the title of the report—The hidden toll: suicide in Australia—suggests, there is a hidden toll of suicide in this country. It was initiated because organisations such as Suicide Prevention Australia and Lifeline Australia were deeply concerned that statistics on suicide were not being accurately reported and that the statistics were much higher than was being reported. The Australian Bureau of Statistics, the ABS, was undertaking a review of statistics which came out during our inquiry. That review showed that the statistics are indeed substantially higher than is currently reported—in fact, the number is over 2,000. The figures, unfortunately, are nearly as high as our road toll. We know there is a lot of awareness around our road toll; there is not as much awareness around the issue of suicide. So, for a start, the committee recommends that we improve the accuracy of our reporting.

We think there is a need for standardisation of coronial investigation and findings of intent—it is different throughout the country. We need a single national suicide prevention strategy to clearly link all the efforts of government and community organisations. We listened very carefully to evidence from Patrick McGorry—among others—who told us that we need to have aspirational targets for suicide reduction. So we strongly recommend that the government adopts those aspirational targets. We make recommendations about the need for stigma reduction programs, because there is still a stigma around the issue of suicide which prevents people talking about it.

We talked about the issues around mental health and suicide. We received a lot of evidence around mental health. We heard about many positive programs. We recommend in the report that more money be allocated to mental health around Australia. We believe it is very important that successful programs currently operating around Australia continue to be funded and we recommend that funding for suicide prevention and for support of the bereaved is at least doubled. We have said ‘at least doubled’ because that was what was recommended by some witnesses—some recommended much higher. We think it should be at least doubled, and then current programs and strategies can be reviewed. We believe more resources are needed to address the issue of suicide.

It is also very important that more training is available for those working on the front-lines in our communities—ambulance officers, police officers, nurses, doctors—to help them address the issue of suicide. Two of the recommendations that I am particularly strong on is the need to put people who have expertise in mental health and suicide in every emergency department in this country, because—would you believe?—that does not happen. Everybody that comes out of emergency or a stay in hospital needs to have a case management plan and a support person. I also strongly support the recommendation for ‘graded accommodation’, or step-up and step-down facilities, for people who are recovering from a suicide attempt or those who have suicidal ideation. It is important that those facilities are provided.

I will stop there because I know others want to speak and we are tight for time. But I very strongly recommend this report to the government and ask them to very seriously consider the recommendations from this inquiry. There is a hidden toll in this country, and we need to do something about it.


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