A letter to Ann Sudmalis, MP for Gilmore

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.

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