A letter to Dr Peter Hendy, MP for Eden-Monaro

From: Michael Barnett
Date: 20 July 2015 at 12:45
Subject: An urgent message about the mental health of youth in Eden-Monaro
To: “Dr Peter Hendy (MP for Eden-Monaro)” <peter.hendy.mp@aph.gov.au>

Dear Dr Hendy,

I’m writing to you regarding the issue of mental health in young people in Eden-Monaro.

Please allow me to take you back to your first speech in Parliament in November 2013, to reflect on the values that are important to you and the issues that you care about.

In opening, you gave thanks to the people of Eden-Monaro for electing you to office and gave a committment to do your best for all of them:

As I said at the declaration of the poll, the first thing I need to say today is thank you to the people of Eden-Monaro. I am greatly honoured to represent this region. I pledge that I will work to the best of my ability for the people whether they voted for me or not.

You reiterated a core value of the Liberal Party:

I joined the Liberal Party because I believed it genuinely encourages people to be the best they can be, not telling them what to be.

I’d like you to pause for a moment and reflect on this sentence.

You spoke of economics, and doing the right thing for your electorate:

I am an economist by profession but let me emphasise I am not an ivory tower ideologue who simply cares between Right and Left. What is important is between right and wrong. We need to do the right thing by the people of Eden-Monaro and all people who live in regional areas. I hope to be a strong advocate in this parliament who can support both good economic policy and the regions.

Making the ultimate point on why I am writing to you, you told of the tragic realities of living in regional and rural Australia:

In health terms, life expectancy is lower by up to seven years, depending on remoteness. People are up to four times more likely to die from accidents. It is up to 2.6 times more likely for men to die from suicides in the bush.

You said that facts are important to you, along with developing an intellectual case for building the nation:

Part of my new job here in parliament is to use the facts about disadvantage to revive the country-city compact. Priorities can be set better; however, we cannot just cry poor. We have been doing that for the last 30 years as our services and infrastructure have been increasingly run down. The intellectual case needs to be built so that we can get that fair share. An intellectual case needs to be built around nation building. I believe that we can further build that intellectual case, and I can help do that.

As a husband and father you promised to do the best to make your family proud of the work you did in public office:

Lastly, I want to thank my wife, Bronwyn, and children, Caroline and Patrick. They are my rock, and what I do is also for them. I hope they can be proud of what I will do in public life.

In closing, you again thanked the people of Eden-Monaro and reiterated your promise to do the best possible for them:

But what I can say in conclusion is to repeat the sentiments of my remarks at the beginning of my speech: for as long as I am the member for Eden-Monaro I will cherish the honour bestowed on me and I will humbly seek to do the best for the people that I represent.

What you delivered on that day in 2013 was a noble commitment to your electorate, one both heart-felt and genuine.

Yet despite your fine words, you are not delivering on them.  Why do I say that?  Simply, you are forgetting what you have committed to the people of Eden-Monaro.

You told them you wanted them to be the best they can be, without telling them what they can be.  How do you tell a young child to go out and do great things in their life, find that special person to share their life and love with, and perhaps raise a family with, if you put limitations on whom they can marry?  Is your campaign promise on marriage more important than your campaign promise to do the best for your electorate?

Eden-Monaro MP Peter Hendy recently said he remained opposed to changing the Marriage Act as that was the stance he took to the last election.

Dr Hendy said it was not an issue people often raised with him.

Many parents raise their children with the expectation in life that they will one day meet that special someone and get married to them, in front of their community, with celebrations, food and drink, gifts and unending love.  Tell me how can a young person aspire to that if they know deep within them they can’t have any of this, under the law, and in their community, because they simply aren’t allowed to marry the type of person they’d genuinely want to?

How is your claim of being opposed to changing the Marriage Act in line with giving that child the best start in life and not telling they what they can be?  Because in being opposed to this reform you are denying them hope, you are denying them participation, you are denying them equality, and you are telling them they can only get married to the sort of person that they would not want to get married to.

When you spoke about the reduced life expectancy of people living in the bush, of their increased chance of dying from an accident or having a higher-than-average rate of suicide, how do you justify promoting attitudes that contribute to these serious problems?

I don’t think you understand the disconnect in your message, because on the one hand you are saying people in Eden-Monaro are victim to factors that reduce their life-span, and on the other hand your desire to deny equal rights to same-sex attracted and gender-diverse people feeds directly into their poorer mental health outcomes, rates of self-harm and suicidality.

Should it be a surprise to you that the underlying reason for the accident of the car wrapping itself around a tree-trunk on a lonely stretch of highway was not due to the state of alcoholic intoxication by the driver, but rather, that as a star player of the local football team he was too ashamed to tell his team-mates that he loved men, and that after years of struggling with this secret of his, the burden became so great that the only way he could deal with his reality was to get himself sufficiently plastered to numb the pain and then slam his car into that tree.  Think of this next time you see a roadside memorial Dr Hendy.

You cannot tell people they are valued and equal members of society when you promote one section of society above another.  When you tell some people their relationships are not equal in merit to those of other people, do not be surprised when you read about the tragic death of yet another young man or woman in a community, the person everyone loved and whose death was totally unexpected.  You should not be surprised when a community is fractured into a million pieces when these deaths occur, because Dr Hendy, you are able to help prevent this, if you really want to.

There is sufficient evidence on what the relevant risk factors are for same-sex attracted and gender-diverse youth:

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

Please read this research and understand the harms young people can face due to prejudice and discrimination.  All children, yours included, need to know they will be loved and cherished, unconditionally.  If parents create conditions or expectations around who their children can love, don’t be surprised when their quality of life suffers.

You spoke of using facts and intellectual cases for nation building.  These are the facts and this is the intellectual case.  A nation is built of people, and if you can’t empower people to be their best, the dreams of building a great nation will fall far short of expectations.

In terms of economic outcomes for the region, you claimed your professional experience as an economist would be of benefit.  There are significant economic benefits for supporting marriage equality.  The wedding industry is huge and the economic potential for the region cannot be understated.  As an economist, how can you hand-on-heart tell the people of Eden-Monaro your refusal to endorse a platform that has known economic benefits could be in their best interests, especially when you hand-on-heart told these same people you would do whatever reasonable measures it took to stimulate their regional economy?

You genuinely care about the people of Eden-Monaro Dr Hendy, but your talk and your walk are going in different directions.  Draw on your Liberal Party values of individual freedoms and of not telling people how to live their lives, get up to speed on mitigating risk factors for same-sex attracted and gender-diverse young people, understand the economic benefits of marriage equality, and do your family and electorate proud by being that strong advocate, not another disappointing yes-man.

If your priority is what is best for the people of Eden-Monaro, you will realise supporting marriage equality is the right thing to do.

Sincerely,

Michael Barnett.
Ashwood, VIC.

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