SPA CEO on keeping a multi-party focus on suicide prevention

4 September 2014

Flying into Canberra on Monday afternoon this week it struck me just how much this city has grown. The airport is surrounded by a business park, there are plans for an airport upgrade and the locals complain about peak hour traffic. I was in Canberra to spend time with our political representatives and discuss how we can keep a multi-party focus on suicide prevention.

My visits started with Senator Bill Heffernan who as always was most welcoming. More importantly he was extremely helpful in opening doors to have conversations with Ministers whose portfolios have relevance to suicide prevention.

Meaningful employment is an important protective factor for prevention suicide and Minister Abetz office, as with many people who have not had wide exposure to suicide, was surprised to hear that the highest numbers of suicides occur in men aged 35-50 years, many of these people are in the most productive years of their lives.

Talking with Minister Sculliion’s office I learned that applications will open on 8th September for funding for programs directly engaging with and supporting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island communities. There are five theme areas: Jobs, Land and Economy; Children and Schooling;Safety and Wellbeing; Culture and Capability; Remote Australia Strategies

Senator Jackie Lambie has been an outspoken MP on the need for supporting defence force personnel on their return from active duty and spoke very authoritatively on the need for programs to assist with the job transition for those who choose to leave the forces. She recognises that without the skills to engage with their communities we risk seeing an increase in suicides.

Joining me on Tuesday for a round of visits to other party politicians was SPA director, Matthew Tukaki. First up was Minister Dutton’s office to share the progress of the National Coalition for Suicide Prevention (NCSP). The increase in the number of organisations that are part of the NCSP was noted and the plan to trial a systems change approach to suicide prevention was well received.

In a visit to Senator Fiona Nash’s office there was considerable interest inCommunities Matter, the toolkit for community driven suicide prevention in small towns. The Senator hails from regional Australia and is very concerned about the elevated rates of suicide in rural areas.

Senator Penny Wright spoke about the motion she moved in Parliament last week calling on the Government to implement the key recommendations of The Hidden Toll: Suicide in Australia report. She too has great affinity for rural and regional Australia and commended the NCSP for its efforts to bring a more planned and coordinated approach to suicide prevention.

The Hon Bill Shorten’s social policy adviser is very well versed in the social determinants of health and could see the need for cross jurisdictional participation if we are to reduce suicides by 50% in 10 years. The concept of conducting a pilot to test a systems change approach resonated well and in his view would be well supported by many of the shadow ministers.

The one message we ran with whomsoever we spoke was the importance of maintaining the current quantum funding for suicide prevention. With that secured the sector will then work with Government to develop a national strategy that will deliver a high quality, focussed and collaborative approach to suicide prevention.

Sue Murray, CEO Suicide Prevention Australia