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

Jul 20, 2015

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.


A letter to Angus Taylor, MP for Hume

Jul 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.


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