Mr RAMSEY (Grey–Government Whip) (11:54): I thank the member for Macquarie for those comments. I do concur with that view that it is difficult to provide all services in regional areas, and, certainly, I represent a large part of Australia. But we must do the best we can, because one in five people across Australia is affected by mental illness each year. That means one in five people in each town, each city, each workplace and each community. That really means that mental illness affects everyone in some way. Behind those staggering numbers, there are human beings who are suffering. It might be your mum or your dad who’s struggling, or your son or daughter, or even you yourself. What’s more, mental illness is costing the nation around $60 billion a year.
Like the member for Fisher, I applaud the excellent work that is being done by the government and communities in my electorate of Grey to help Australians with mental illness. We know that access to treatment for mental illness is essential, and approximately 75 per cent of people admitted to the public-health sector’s mental-health-inpatient services improve notably.
In Grey, I’m particularly pleased to have been able to deliver a second headspace unit in Whyalla, and now an outreach headspace unit delivered by the RFDS. These services work hand in glove with the already established Port Augusta headspace unit. I am hopeful of growing these services even further and have been having discussions with the Minister for Health.
However, I also want to recognise the great work that other organisations are providing across my electorate-organisations like Mentally Fit EP, the West Coast Youth and Community Support, Ripples in Whyalla, and the Local Drug Action Team recently formed in Port Pirie, who are meeting head-on the issues of drug damage and mental illness in communities-and government programs that are supporting mental health and related physical health and those on alcohol and other drug use and for social and vocational support.
Also, many areas in Australia are experiencing drought or drought-like conditions, and it’s taking a real toll on farmers and rural businesses. Farmers are also affected by mental illness. Each year the agricultural industry contributes around $60 billion to the Australian economy, but farming remains one of the most physically and psychologically hazardous occupations. For example, in farming we have a suicide rate of about 1.6 times that in the general population. The exceptional emotional effects on farmers battling drought are huge. They are seeing their stock suffer and the land they are on suffer. And it takes its toll on people. The mental stress suffered by watching your family’s livelihood-in some cases, generations of family work-fail is crushing.
Last Wednesday night I called a drought forum in Arno Bay, which is on eastern Eyre Peninsula and is perhaps the epicentre of the worst of what is happening across South Australia at the moment. At quite short notice I had about 70 or 75 people roll up. We had Centrelink services there and rural financial services counsellors. I think it was a very comforting thing for the farmers and associated businesses to actually understand the latest changes that the government have made to farm household support. In fact, it was pointed out to me by the Centrelink officer that, if a farm qualified for all of the support, that would round up to almost $46,000 a year for a partnership. That is quite considerable, but it is a long way from rescuing the farm when it’s blowing away. In these particular districts, we have had some widespread soil erosion across the Eyre Peninsula, and the eastern end has missed out on a lot of the quite substantial rain that we’ve had recently, and actually tying down those paddocks and alleviating that drift is the most pressing concern. But certainly, the mental health and the wellbeing of those people is first and foremost.
The stigma of farmers talking about mental health and social issues and the silences in our culture are hard to break. Traditionally, farmers have just soaked it up. It’s the stoic image. I think increasingly they are coming to recognise that it’s not just them. It’s their neighbours; it’s their friends; it’s their business associates. Many are in exactly the same boat. Coming together and talking about it is perhaps part of the answer. So I urge them to seek out those services that are provided. One of the underlying messages that was rammed through all evening was: do not self-assess. You’re under pressure. You may not know all the answers. The government, through the Rural Financial Counselling Service is there to help you. I applaud the work of the government. We’ll keep up the good work, with the support of the opposition.