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.


A letter to Nola Marino, MP for Forrest

Jul 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

Jul 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.


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