A letter to Angus Taylor, MP for Hume

July 17, 2015

From: Michael Barnett
Date: 17 July 2015 at 13:33
Subject: An urgent message about the mental health of youth in Hume
To: “Angus Taylor (MP for Hume)” <angus.taylor@nsw.liberal.org.au>

Dear Mr Taylor,

I wish to convey to you an important concern of mine regarding the mental health of young people in Hume.

First though, I would first like to reflect on your maiden speech to Parliament in December 2013.

In opening, you reminded us that you were representing your electorate:

Mr TAYLOR (Hume) (16:40): I rise with great pride on behalf of the people of the electorate of Hume.

You then described the diversity of Hume and that for the most part the people wanted the government not to dictate how they lived their lives:

My constituents range from ultra-progressives, particularly close to Canberra, right through to hardcore conservatives. But in the middle is a great swathe of people who are fairly moderate and mostly tolerant and who want government to get off their backs so that they can get on with their lives.

Of your grandfather, you spoke of him in the highest regard, how he judged people on their actions, not on who they were.

My grandfather treated every single person with whom he came into contact, from humble truck drivers to senior engineers, with equal dignity and respect. He abhorred snobbery and judged people on character and conduct, not rank.

You told us economics was your passion at university and how you saw the discipline was vital to a functioning society:

At the University of Sydney I found law interesting and rigorous, but it never pushed my buttons like economics. Economics is about making smarter use of limited resources to make people better off. It shapes history and society at every level. Good economics is the key to good government, job creation and funding for world-class schools, health services, roads, railways and broadband networks.

You also told us you learnt how to get to the nub of the issue:

I learnt to think strategically, to focus on the two or three things that really matter.

You spoke of taking on new ideas, putting a stop to harmful ideology and embracing authentic education:

Meanwhile, we must embrace innovation from all over the globe,… We need to get smart, stop the ideological warfare and focus on great teaching.

You told us there are those who need our help the most:

I want to know that we will look after our most vulnerable…

Again, you reminded us whose best interests you are here to represent, namely the people of Hume:

And in this place I will back the parliament over the executive and the judiciary, because it is through this parliament that each of us here is accountable to our constituents.

In closing, you told us purpose of you being in public office was to make society a better place:

Some people say politics is about power. I do not agree. It should be about leadership, service and making an enduring difference to the lives of others. I hope the work I do in this place makes a real difference and will one day make my children proud. Thank you.

In October 2014 you addressed Parliament on the important topic of suicide.  You spoke of how it greatly impacted young people in particular and how the community was working hard to reduce risk factors:

In the Goulburn area, in my electorate of Hume, suicide rates are disturbingly high, particularly amongst young people. Preventing further suicides is a goal motivating many local families, a number who have already lost loved ones to suicide. In 2003 a Goulburn suicide working group was formed to look at positive ways to address the issues and to target risk-taking behaviours.

You reiterated it’s our youth it affects the most and that we must embrace innovation (a value you spoke of in your first speech) to address it:

Three-quarters of all mental illness manifests itself in people under 25. The links between mental illness, depression and suicide are well known and well documented so, as a caring community, we have a duty to continue finding new and better ways to raise awareness about the risks of suicide.

Mr Taylor, I come to the purpose of my letter to you.  I am equally concerned about the welfare of young Australians and how we can do our best to mitigate risk factors contributing to poor mental health.  The inescapable reality is that a percentage of youth in Hume will be same-sex attracted and/or gender-diverse.  There is an understood link between poor mental health outcomes for these people and any discrimination they face:

Same-sex attracted Australians are more likely to experience below-average health outcomes including higher levels of depression, due to this prejudice and discrimination. The statistics are particularly alarming for younger and newly-identifying LGBTI people who have consistently higher rates of drug and alcohol abuse, homelessness, early school leaving, conflict with peers and parents and suicide ideation, all directly related to the discrimination and prejudice they experience.[v]

http://www.glhv.org.au/files/writing_themselves_in_again.pdf

In September 2012 you campaigned against reform to marriage:

When the Post contacted his preferred successor, Liberal candidate for Hume Angus Taylor, he said he would also strive to keep the status-quo.

He didn’t believe the Hume community was “ready” for it and wouldn’t be “any time soon”.

“Social change is slow, and although the proponents of gay marriage are many and their voices are strong, our community is crying out for many things ahead of this,” Mr Taylor said.

“I know some will say that I should show leadership on these sorts of issues, but I will focus my leadership on issues that are less symbolic, and more practical.

“I have sympathy for both sides of this debate, and I understand the indignation that some gay couples feel about this.

“I equally understand the indignation of people who are seriously opposed to gay marriage.

However, I will not be a crusader in driving this kind of change.”

You told us in your first speech in 2013 of your electorate: “in the middle is a great swathe of people who are fairly moderate and mostly tolerant and who want government to get off their backs …”  Are these not the majority of the people in Hume, the ones who want the government not to dictate who can marry whom, “… so that they can get on with their lives.”?

You may want to uphold the status quo on marriage, but you’ve told us to don’t want to uphold the status quo on youth suicide.  You told us you don’t want to be a crusader on marriage equality, but you told us in your 2014 speech you were a crusader for getting a Headspace centre in Goulburn.

If you want to reduce the rate of youth suicide in Hume, if you want to mitigate the risk factors, you need to employ your strategic thinking and focus on the issues that really matter.  You need to be innovative, look to those other places around the globe and see what other enlightened countries are doing and have done.  Maintaining the status quo on marriage is far from innovative, is driven by that ideological warfare you want to put a halt to, and is just not smart.

You say you have sympathy for those denied the right to get married, but in upholding the status quo, unlike your grandfather, you are not treating them with equal dignity and respect.  You say you also have sympathy for those who do have the right to get married, but they will not lose any civil rights if you support marriage equality.  As a politician representing the best interests of your electorate, giving people more rights is not something you should ever back away from.

You claimed the focus of getting into office would be on less symbolic, more practical leadership issues.  Supporting an initiative such as marriage equality, known to reduce risk factors leading to poor mental health, is one such practical issue you can show leadership on.  It doesn’t require funding and it will actually reduce burdens on society.

Marriage equality also has significant economic benefits.  You said economics is about making smarter use of limited resources to make people better off.  It’s a no-brainer, Mr Taylor.  You would have to be a hypocrite to go against marriage equality, simply knowing it brings economic advantage.  You said good economics is the key to good government.  I put it to you that bad economics is the key to bad government.  You cannot say with hand on heart you are undertaking good government while you are willingly limiting economic potential.

Are you looking after the most vulnerable, those innocent same-sex attracted and gender diverse youth, when you tell them the status quo is satisfactory?  These young people, maybe your children, cannot have maximum hope for their future, hope to celebrate life the same as their peers, if you do not support their right to be equal under the law in society.

You told us politics is about making an enduring difference to the lives of others.  You also told us you hope the work you do makes a real difference.  You also want to one day make your children proud.  If you support marriage equality you will make that enduring difference to the lives of others.  It will make a real difference.  It will also make your children especially proud, given research shows the vast number of young people support marriage equality.  Do not be an embarrassing father to them when they see their father shamefully vote against equality.

You have the power to make a difference.  Cross the floor if necessary.  Stand up for your values.  Honour your grandfather’s memory.  Make your children proud.  Tell the parents of those suicide victims that you will do whatever it takes to make sure all children of Hume have fewer reasons to want to take their lives, even if the decisions are unpopular with some.

Thank you.

Michael Barnett.
Ashwood, VIC.


Paul Winter vilifies homosexual people (again)

July 15, 2015

J-wirePaul Winter’s intolerance of homosexuality resurfaces in the comments under the J-Wire article Progressive rabbis reaffirm their support for marriage equality.  In a repeat of his 2011 performance on J-Wire he uses the same offensive and intellectually bankrupt arguments to vilify, degrade and demean homosexual people:

20150713 J-Wire Paul Winter comment

North Shore Temple EmanuelPaul Winter claims long-standing membership of the Progressive Jewish community North Shore Temple Emanuel.  NSTE is a member of the Union for Progressive Judaism, a body whose constituent organisations collectively support marriage equality and have done so for some years now.  I know NSTE have a firm stance on treating all people equally and with dignity.  They have demonstrated this with their solid support for LGBTIQ people for many years.  I look forward to hearing them reiterate their position on this and also hope they emphasise there is no room in their community for members who actively degrade fellow humans.


A letter to Ross Vasta, MP for Bonner

July 15, 2015

From: Michael Barnett
Date: 15 July 2015 at 03:37
Subject: An urgent message about the mental health of youth in Bonner
To: “Ross Vasta (MP for Bonner)” <ross.vasta.mp@aph.gov.au>

Dear Mr Vasta,

I’ve been reflecting on the first speech you gave in Parliament, some 11 years ago on November 18, 2004.  You made some excellent points.  Please allow me to journey through them with you.

Opening, you paid significant tribute to the namesake of your electorate, the late Liberal Senator, Neville Bonner:

It is with humility that I stand here before you today as the first member for the newly created seat of Bonner. This seat was named after a great Queenslander who also happened to be a great Liberal, Senator Neville Bonner. Senator Bonner was the first Aboriginal Australian elected to the federal parliament. During his 12 years in the Senate he was a conscientious parliamentarian, respected by both sides of politics. In his 16 years after leaving the Senate he was a much esteemed elder statesman of Australian public life. It is only fitting that his life and contribution to this country has now been so formally recognised and his name given to Queensland’s newest federal seat.

Interestingly, Neville Bonner was far from the conformist, as is noted:

“He crossed the floor 23 times,” says Libby Stewart, a senior historian at the Museum of Australian Democracy. “He always said that he was a bit of rebel,” she adds, “that he didn’t toe the party line, that he was a proud member of the party, but not a blind member.”

You recalled the efforts and achievements of your family:

Always in that time they have worked hard, they have prayed hard and they have dreamed hard.

and how they were instrumental in making Australia the great country it is, one that so many aspire to live in:

… they also helped to build this country and make it the prosperous, decent, open and tolerant society it is today… a beacon of hope and an example showing that people of all races, creeds and colours can live and work together and create a peaceful and successful future for their children.

You spoke of opportunities:

My grandfathers and their families believed passionately in Australia, in the opportunities that Australia offered and the rewards she bestowed on those prepared to work hard, play fair and live right.

and dreams:

They believed in the dream shared by all Australians—a better life and a better future for their children—and they lived that dream.

Understanding that society is about and for people, you said:

… people matter and that with goodwill and people’s support things can be achieved for the greater good.

With wisdom, you declared:

I do believe that governments must govern for all Australians …

Poignantly you said:

I will work to ensure that my constituents do not become forgotten people, and my actions as the member for Bonner will be guided by my beliefs as a Liberal. I believe that the role of government is to remove obstacles so that people can be free to pursue their dreams and realise their potential.

You spoke of supporting families, the foundation of community:

I believe that strong families make for strong communities and we must do everything possible to support them.

As you drew to the end of your speech you reflected on a person of significance, someone you deeply admired:

I would also like to pay special tribute to the late Arthur Scurr MBE, a much respected local community leader in Brisbane’s south side. He was a true gentleman, and his open-mindedness to new ideas, his commitment to the community and his tireless work will be missed by us all.

You gave thanks to your electorate and promised to not disappoint them:

Most importantly, I thank the people of Bonner for placing their trust in me and electing me as the first member for this new seat. My commitment to you is strong and simple: I will work with diligence, commitment and enthusiasm to justify your trust in me.

In closing, you spoke of putting in the effort to improve society:

As I embark on this new journey I hope that—just as my ancestors have, through their hard work, contributed to building this great nation—I too will be able to help to make the electorate of Bonner and Australia an even better place to live.

I admire these values you stand for Mr Vasta, but please allow me to take you further on this journey.

Just over three years ago, in March 2012, you addressed Parliament and spoke of how mental health is a significant issue facing the people, and in particular the youth, of Bonner and Australia:

Mr Deputy Speaker, I rise this evening to bring to houses attention a very important issue in the electorate of Bonner and indeed the wider Australian community – that is the issue of mental health.

The time to tackle mental illness is when it first occurs. The prevalence of mental health problems declines with age. It is our younger Australians – those between 16 and 24 – who bear the brunt of mental illness. Evidence shows that with early and targeted treatment many young people can overcome their problems and lead socially and economically productive lives with lower incidence of progression or relapse.

I can relate to this as I experienced significant mental health issues through my teens and early twenties.  I was still forming my identity in life and was struggling to accept my sexual orientation, for I was entirely without support in this regard for the best part of 16 years.

The inescapable reality is that a percentage of youth in Bonner will be same-sex attracted and/or gender-diverse.  There is an understood link between poor mental health outcomes for these people and any discrimination they face:

Same-sex attracted Australians are more likely to experience below-average health outcomes including higher levels of depression, due to this prejudice and discrimination. The statistics are particularly alarming for younger and newly-identifying LGBTI people who have consistently higher rates of drug and alcohol abuse, homelessness, early school leaving, conflict with peers and parents and suicide ideation, all directly related to the discrimination and prejudice they experience.[v]

http://www.glhv.org.au/files/writing_themselves_in_again.pdf

Only a few weeks ago you indicated you weren’t prepared to state how you would vote if you were offered a conscience vote on marriage equality:

LNP Federal Member for Bonner Ross Vasta said did not want to comment on how he would vote on marriage equality if a conscious vote was called.

“What I’m really focused on is getting on with telling the electorate the good news about the (Federal) budget,” he said.

I urge you to think deeply about your position on marriage equality, on what it actually means, how it aligns with your stated values and how it can make Bonner a better place for its citizens.

You told us of the dreams of your forebears.  Please think about the dreams of the young people of Bonner and also those of their families and friends.  I speak of the dreams that a young kid has to marry the person of their choice, irrespective of their gender, and if they choose, and in whatever way they can, raise a family with their spouse.

Would you want to deny that child that dream, to have their special day amongst their family and friends?  Would you want to deny a child the opportunity to see their same-sex parents get married, whilst their peers can attend the weddings of their opposite-sex parents, should such circumstances arise?

How sad the day when we deny someone the opportunity to celebrate their love in a time-honoured tradition such as marriage.  I trust that you understand marriage is not a prerequisite for child-birth, but that marriage does afford families stability.

You said Australia is a tolerant society, yet your actions disagree with your words, given your strong resistance to tolerating the right for two people to marry, irrespective of gender.  Unlike Neville Bonner, you have yet to cross the floor even once to stand up for your values, your party’s values.  Did you forget that the role of government is to remove obstacles so that people can be free to pursue their dreams and realise their potential?

You spoke of not letting your constituents become forgotten people, yet in not calling for reform in marriage you are forgetting those people who you have said do not deserve marriage.  You are leaving them without, like the one kid that misses out on getting a lolly at a party or the child who gets a broken toy for Christmas.  Would you want your children to be the one who is forgotten or who gets second best?

Reflect on your praise for Arthur Scurr’s open-mindedness to new ideas, a quality you valued in him.  Walk in his footsteps a little.  His shoes sounded big.  Yes, marriage equality is a fairly new idea.  But it brings happiness to families.  It reduces those risk factors that contribute to mental health issues.  It makes families stronger and in doing so, helps build community.  That is your dream.

The people of Bonner placed their trust in you.  They didn’t vote for you to allow their 16-24-year-olds to have poor mental health outcomes or fill the graves in the cemetery.  They voted for you because they knew you could achieve better for them, that you could improve Bonner and make it that better place.

You owe it to them to support whatever it takes to improve the community, and if that is an unpopular decision, if it means crossing the floor at least once, if it means supporting your party’s forgotten values, then that’s what you must do.  For if you don’t, you will have failed the people of Bonner, you will have failed your community, you will have failed Australia, and most sadly, you will have failed yourself and your family.

You have the power to make Bonner a better place.  You have the power to help people achieve dreams.  If you govern for all the people of Bonner, as is your desire, you can make this happen.

Sincerely,

Michael Barnett.
Ashwood, VIC.


A letter to Ann Sudmalis, MP for Gilmore

July 14, 2015

From: Michael Barnett
Date: 14 July 2015 at 03:45
Subject: An urgent message about the mental health of youth in Gilmore
To: “Ann Sudmalis (MP for Gilmore)” <ann.sudmalis@nsw.liberal.org.au>

Dear Mrs Sudmalis,

Not quite two years ago you gave your opening address to Parliament, December 10 2013.  I’d like to take you back to that day, to reflect on some of the important messages you delivered, if I may.

Starting big you invoked two modern giants.  You quoted JFK:

‘Ask not what your country can do for you but, rather, what you can do for your country’

and said of Nelson Mandela:

[he] not only did something for his country but is iconic for developing community self-belief.

Indeed, two visionaries who left an indelible mark on society.

You suggested that rather than look to change the whole country at once we focus on a more manageable challenge:

For some of us the idea of doing something for our country is too broad, a little too big, a concept meant for others, something grand perhaps only for heroes, perhaps something to do with pilots, sailors or soldiers. But humans live in groups each best described as a community, so for us as Australians our question is to ask not what we can do for our country but rather what can we do for our community.

Looking at possible generational change in attitude you suggested we could be more effective as a society if we worked together rather than for our own individual causes:

I am tired of this ‘I, me and mine’ dominating the media and seeping into the mindset of our children and our youth. It is overdone and overdue. We need a change back to the Aussie way. We are famous for a ‘we, ours and us’ way of looking at the world.

You called for collective contribution for the greater good and your desire to see this in action:

So if each one of us does something for our community we will make life just a little better and our whole country will benefit. It is this ideal of making things better, of giving back to the community, that has brought me here as a member of parliament.

Of your grandmother you spoke fondly about all people being equal and of reaping what you sow:

My much-loved gran … taught me generosity of spirit, that we are all equal in God’s eyes, that your actions will always come back to you like a boomerang…

In a not so dissimilar experience to mine, we attended a number of schools.  You made many friends and learnt something valuable from each:

My education, like many Australian children, was not completed in a single primary school nor followed by a single high school. I was in fact blessed, although I did not see it that way at the time, by moving frequently and having to make new friends along the way, and learning to accept all the different experiences.

You reminded us about the important of personal contribution to society:

Giving back to the community has always been important to me.

In the spirit of the Liberal Party ethos of individual freedoms you spoke:

Everyone in this chamber is here to represent their community to the best of their ability, … l am proud to be part of the team that works to reward individual endeavour, to help people to their feet and allow them the independence of their own choices.

You thanked the people of Gilmore, and told us that together with all of them you want to achieve success:

I deeply honour those in Gilmore who decided to put their faith in me to help change the government for Australia. I also respect those who did not, for we have a robust democracy in this nation. Now we must work together to achieve great things. I am determined to make sure the trust and honour granted to me is not misplaced.

Your spoke with praise of the collective ability of your electorate, your desire to not leave anyone stranded and to make Gilmore a better place:

Gilmore has extraordinary human capacity and amazing potential. It is time that we in our region believe this, to lift our community, and its self-respect, to begin the process of achievement and hope, rather than denial of individual merit. We who are leaders—whether community leaders, elected leaders or opinion makers—have a responsibility to increase the social value in our community’s own eyes, despite our own political bias. It is time to go beyond the facade of perception and look at the true worth of our community.

Again you called on JFK:

There are those who look at things the way they are, and ask why… I dream of things that never were, and ask why not?

and in summation aspired to making Gilmore a better place:

Yes, indeed, it seriously is time to ask: what can we do for our community? From the innocence of childhood to the cynicism of adulthood, it is time for a change for the better. It is time for ‘we will’. The responsibility is ours. It is absolutely up to us to make things better and make a difference. Thank you.

Last month you issued a statement, presenting facts on anxiety and how it can be so harmful to young people:

In Australia, one in six people aged between 16 – 24 years are currently experiencing an anxiety condition. This means that affected young people are constantly worrying, unable to relax, and have trouble sleeping and difficulty concentrating on things like work and study.

You went on to say:

Anything that helps our youth to defeat anxiety and stress is a great social improver.

Beyond Blue make the following statement about depression and anxiety:

While depression and anxiety are different conditions, it is not uncommon for them to occur at the same time. Over half of those who experience depression also experience symptoms of anxiety. In some cases, one can lead to the onset of the other.

The inescapable reality is that a percentage of youth in Gilmore will be same-sex attracted and/or gender-diverse.  There is an understood link between poor mental health outcomes for these people and any discrimination they face:

Same-sex attracted Australians are more likely to experience below-average health outcomes including higher levels of depression, due to this prejudice and discrimination. The statistics are particularly alarming for younger and newly-identifying LGBTI people who have consistently higher rates of drug and alcohol abuse, homelessness, early school leaving, conflict with peers and parents and suicide ideation, all directly related to the discrimination and prejudice they experience.[v]

http://www.glhv.org.au/files/writing_themselves_in_again.pdf

In September 2013 you made the following statement on marriage equality:

“For goodness sakes, this electorate does not want marriage equality. And where on earth did that become a priority issue in this seat where we’re looking at infrastructure and unemployment? Those are the issues that count in this seat,” she said.

and earlier in June you made the following statement:

“We have a very conservative seat and from the huge number of emails and letters I have received, people don’t want to see a change,” she said.

“So I will be saying no.

In recent days you spoke of the poll you are conducting on marriage equality in Gilmore and how you want to hear from the people and not be influenced by your personal beliefs:

Mrs Sudmalis said it was irrelevant how she felt about the issue because it was her job to collect comments from the community.

Sometimes listening to your community and not having a conversation with them is taking the easy way out.  You’re sending out 65,000 surveys.  I expect you plan inform your views on marriage equality from the results of this survey.  I hope you do not do this in a vacuum.

I say this because of what you believe in and what you stand for.  What are you doing for your country, or your community?  What are you doing to develop community self-belief?  If you simply accept those wishes to uphold the status quo are you giving anything back to the community, for it’s greater good, or are you just taking the easy way out?

You spoke of the amazing potential of the people of Gilmore.  Do you believe a survey will draw on this potential?  I’d be surprised if you genuinely felt it did.

What about the self-respect of the community, and the possibility of achievement and hope?  Can a community whose same-sex attracted and gender diverse youth who experience anxiety, and who cannot aspire to enjoy the same celebrations of life as their heterosexual gender binary counterparts, share in that self-respect and hope for a wonderful future?

How is denying individuals the right to marry the person they love not “denial of individual merit”?  Surely we are all equal and worth the same, going by the understanding your grandmother instilled in you.  By removing the hope and aspiration of young people you are contributing to their poorer mental health outcomes, which lead to anxiety and depression.

Yet you support any initiative to “defeat anxiety and stress”, of which marriage equality is demonstrated to be one.  But if the majority of your electorate tells you they don’t want to support marriage equal how are you standing by this claim of yours?

Please remember the words of JFK, that you quoted in your opening speech:

There are those who look at things the way they are, and ask why… I dream of things that never were, and ask why not?

Mrs Sudmalis, are you that person who looks at marriage as the crumbling and exclusive institution that it is in an “I, me and mine” way or are you that person who dreams of an improved marriage that brings together the people of Gilmore in a “we, ours and us” way; in a way that paves a change for the better; in a way that helps people to their feet and allows them the independence of their own choices; in a way that allows you to respect the different experiences of your friends in same-sex relationships or who are children with gay mums or dads?

If you are true to your word, and I believe you are, you must stand up for equality, you must treat the people of Gilmore with respect and you must improve its social value despite your political bias.  When do you, you’ll throw that boomerang and it will deliver you a healthier, happier and more productive community.  You can then look up and thank your gran for her wisdom and reflect on the what you did for your community, for the people of Gilmore.

Sincerely,

Michael Barnett.
Ashwood, VIC.


A letter to Nola Marino, MP for Forrest

July 13, 2015

From: Michael Barnett
Date: 13 July 2015 at 03:20
Subject: An urgent message about the mental health of youth in Forrest
To: “Nola Marino (MP for Forrest)” <nola.marino.mp@aph.gov.au>

Dear Ms Marino,

In February 2008 you addressed the Parliament of Australia and spoke proudly of how you would represent the people of Forrest to the best of your ability:

I rise to make my first speech with a mixture of pride and honour, because I have been chosen by the people of Forrest to be their voice in federal parliament. I acknowledge and thank them for their vote of confidence in my ability to represent them…

You said that members of the community must look out for each other’s best interests and in doing so this will strengthen the community:

As in most small towns, it is necessary for local people and families to work together to make sure that the community functions effectively. It does not happen on its own.

In speaking of your parents you fondly reminisced how they instilled in you a commitment to your community and the importance of family:

But they both instilled in me a hard work ethic, strong family values and an absolute commitment to the broader community.

With wisdom you told of what and who politics is really about for you:

Politics is about people. I entered politics to be of further service to the people of Forrest.

and you reminded Australians that you will do your utmost for the people of Forrest:

I will provide them with emphatic and strong representation here in Canberra.

In summation, you reiterated these values, because they are so very important to you:

Finally, I need once again to acknowledge and thank the people of Forrest for their support. To them, I say this: you can be assured that I will be ‘focused on Forrest’ and that I will continue to work tirelessly on your behalf as your voice in this parliament.

In October 2012, some four and a half years later, you issued a statement on mental health.  In it you revealed some alarming facts linking mental health to suicide:

This is because of the awful truth that mental illness is a major contributor to suicide. Research shows us that people with mental illness like depression, bipolar or schizophrenia are seven times more likely to end their life than people who do not suffer from mental illness.

You spoke of how so many young people experience depression and that you welcome initiatives to help them:

Depression is the most common disorder which affects four per cent of the general population. More tragic, however, is that about 160,000 young people aged between 16 and 24 live with depression each year, which is why I welcome headspace in my electorate.

Clearly this is an important issue to you:

It is something I campaigned strongly for in the run to the election and have ever since.

I note that you acknowledge that family problems exist alongside these young people who experience depression:

Young people who suffer depression are also usually suffering from other problems in their lives such as drugs, alcohol and family problems.

You relate the profound effect of suicide in small communities:

Everyone is impacted when suicide occurs—family, friends and the wider community, particularly in small regional communities.

The inescapable reality is that a percentage of youth in Forrest will be same-sex attracted and/or gender-diverse.  There is an understood link between poor mental health outcomes for these people and any discrimination they face:

Same-sex attracted Australians are more likely to experience below-average health outcomes including higher levels of depression, due to this prejudice and discrimination. The statistics are particularly alarming for younger and newly-identifying LGBTI people who have consistently higher rates of drug and alcohol abuse, homelessness, early school leaving, conflict with peers and parents and suicide ideation, all directly related to the discrimination and prejudice they experience.[v]

http://www.glhv.org.au/files/writing_themselves_in_again.pdf

Only a week ago you reiterated your strong opposition to changing the law in favour of marriage equality.  Hearing this leaves me confused by the disconnect in your messages.

On the one hand you speak of how important representing the best interests of the people in Forrest is to you, how family and community mean so much to you, how committed you are to your job and your people, how serious the issue of youth mental health is and how mental health and depression is so strongly linked to suicide.

Yet on the other hand you say that young same-sex attracted and gender diverse people can’t aspire to get married like their heterosexual gender binary siblings and friends can, you say the families of these people can’t share in the joy of seeing their children get married and can’t invite their friends, family and colleagues to their weddings, and how you wish to deny the children of same-sex couples living in Forrest the right to have married parents, just like the parents of their school mates and friends.

With the clear link between discrimination against same-sex attracted & gender diverse people and mental health issues, and with your understanding of how mental health issues can rip apart families and communities, especially in places like Forrest, it makes no sense to me why you are opposed to a reform that has the potential to benefit the best interests of the people of Forrest, the very people you promised your utmost to.

If you care about the people of Forrest as much as you claim, and I believe you genuinely do, then I urge you to reevaluate your stance on marriage equality, understand that it will not force people of faith to do anything they oppose, that it will help reduce risk factors leading to depression and suicide, and that ultimately it will contribute to a healthier, happier and more productive community.

Those people in Forrest who urge you to oppose marriage equality also urge you to look after the well-being of their children.  The reality is that by upholding the status quo in the law you are not looking after the best interests of the young people in Forrest, and that is sad.  Your job is to educate the people of Forrest why their support for marriage equality is so crucial to them and their community.  Not doing so will only see you fail your community and ultimately all Australians.

Sincerely,

Michael Barnett
Ashwood, Victoria.


A letter to Ken O’Dowd, MP for Flynn

July 10, 2015

From: Michael Barnett
Date: 10 July 2015 at 14:04
Subject: An urgent message about the mental health of youth in Flynn
To: Ken O’Dowd <ken.o’dowd.mp@aph.gov.au>

Dear Mr O’Dowd,

In your opening address to Parliament in October 2010 you thanked the people of Flynn for putting their faith in your ability to represent their best interests and assured them you would do your best to look after their well-being:

Mr O’DOWD (6:23 PM) —Mr Speaker, I am extremely proud to rise for the first time in this chamber. In doing so, I would like to acknowledge the people of Flynn, who have chosen to put their faith in me to represent their interests. So far it has been a sharp learning curve. I am excited by the prospect of being able to contribute to the wellbeing of my electorate and by the thought that my work in this place will be meaningful and will enable the residents of Flynn to enjoy the quality of life that they richly deserve.

Not once but twice you stressed you would not let anything get in your way when there was an urgent matter than needed addressing in your electorate:

Some people refer to me as ‘the bulldog at the gate’. Some people have unkindly said that I look like a bulldog! I can assure you, Mr. Speaker, that when I have an issue that needs to be followed though on for my electorate, I will be an absolute ‘bulldog at the gate’ with sharp teeth and a loud bark, making sure that the Prime Minister honours the promises made to Flynn in the days immediately prior to the election.

I promise the people of Flynn that I will be the ‘bulldog at the gate’ and I will work in this place for the restoration of our regional towns and cities.

Lastly, you reminded your electorate you were there for them:

I thank the people of Flynn for their vote of confidence and, Mr Speaker, I thank you.

Four years later you issued a media release advising a new Headspace centre would be opened in Gladstone.  You wrote:

Mr O’Dowd said “It is our youth that have greatest prevalence of mental illness – more than any other age group – with three quarters of all mental illness presenting in people aged under 25 years,” Mr O’Dowd said.

There is an understood link between poor mental health outcomes for same-sex attracted and gender diverse youth and the discrimination they face:

Same-sex attracted Australians are more likely to experience below-average health outcomes including higher levels of depression, due to this prejudice and discrimination. The statistics are particularly alarming for younger and newly-identifying LGBTI people who have consistently higher rates of drug and alcohol abuse, homelessness, early school leaving, conflict with peers and parents and suicide ideation, all directly related to the discrimination and prejudice they experience.[v]

http://www.glhv.org.au/files/writing_themselves_in_again.pdf

In particular, the inability to get married to the person of their choice is a contributing factor to this problem.  By denying these people the dignity and inclusion in society, they are marginalised, treated as second-class citizens and are not able to participate in the richness of the community like everyone else.

I urge you to reflect on your promise to the people of Flynn to look after their best interests and think about what standing up for equality will do to increase the hope and aspiration of the young people who are an over-represented demographic in mental health issues.  Be that angry growly “bulldog at the gate”.  Take a stance on this issue.  You may be unpopular with some, but remind those people it’s the welfare of their children you’re acting in the best interests of, and then ask them if they’d rather you didn’t take that interest.

By supporting marriage equality you’ll be saving lives.

Thank you Mr O’Dowd.

Michael Barnett.
Ashwood, VIC.


Put a Marriage Equality statement in your wedding ceremony

December 28, 2014

My husband Gregory and I went to Canberra for the wedding of our friends Melanie and Ari on December 7 2014.  That day was also the first anniversary of same-sex marriages being temporarily legalised in the Australian Capital Territory.

Ari invited me to deliver a message of Marriage Equality at the wedding, as a friend of his who is an activist for marriage equality and as a man who was recently married to a man in New Zealand.  I was honoured to have been asked and without hesitation I accepted.

Order of Ceremony - Mel & Ari - Dec 7 2014

Ari and Mel object to the Federal government’s refusal to legislate in favour of Marriage Equality in Australia and they, along with an increasing number of opposite-sex couples, are incorporating statements of protest in their wedding ceremonies.

I read the following statement:

Speech for Mel & Ari’s wedding – December 7 2014

Today… the celebrant will declare as a requirement that marriage is the coming together of a woman and a man.  Just remember that as these mandatory words are said today my husband Gregory and I stand in defiance of them.

I know Mel and Ari would rather this formality was not part of the proceedings.  So rather than let it diminish the occasion, I’m going to treat the clause as a gift from the government, to mark a point in time where we all aspired for greater freedom, equality, dignity and humanity.  When the discrimination in the law is erased and marriage is available to all, this will be a memento of the sweet success of that win.

I’m grateful for the friendship Gregory and I have with these two fine people, about to be married here today.  We value the respect they have for our relationship and without hesitation we deeply respect theirs.  As different as we may be individually, we share a love for our respective partners and in that, our relationships are truly equal.

If you’re attending a wedding between a woman and a man in Australia, ask the bride or groom if they’ve planned a Marriage Equality statement for their ceremony.  If they haven’t, send them this article and suggest they do it, in the name of equality.  It’s important, and it’s too easy.


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