Assistant Minister McBride – speech at the National Suicide Prevention Conference – 2 May 2023

Read the transcript of Assistant Minister McBride's speech at the National Suicide Prevention Conference.

The Hon Emma McBride MP
Assistant Minister for Mental Health and Suicide Prevention
Assistant Minister Rural and Regional Health

Media event date:
Date published:
Media type:
General public

Good morning and welcome to this important conference.

I’d like to begin by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land on which we meet – the Ngunnawal people.

I extend that respect to all First Nations people here with us today, and pay my respects to Elders past, present, and emerging.

In doing so, I recognise the disparity in health outcomes faced by First Nations people.

And, I’m proud to be part of a government committed to implementing the Uluru Statement from the Heart in full. Treaty, Truth – and Voice.

In my view, until First Nations people have a say in the policies and the programs that affect them, we won’t close the gap.

So I encourage everyone to think very deeply about their contribution to the upcoming referendum.

I would also like to acknowledge the individual and collective contributions of people with a lived and living experience of suicide.

And the family, carers and supporters of people living with suicidal ideation, for your invaluable contribution.

We are determined to put the voices of people with lived and living experience of suicide at the centre of decision-making, and I look forward to continuing to work with you on this next chapter of reform.

I don’t have to tell you how devastating suicide is for individuals, families and communities. The Government understands that. We must continue investing in organisations like yours.

But we also must recognise that despite increasing expenditure on mental health services, Australia has not seen a significant decrease in the number of lives lost to suicide in over 2 decades.

We need to expand our thinking, to make sure our suicide prevention efforts address the underlying drivers of distress. This is because suicide is complex.

It may result from serious mental illness but more often it can be a response to distress. Such as family breakdown, sexual abuse, unemployment, financial insecurity or losses, homelessness, domestic and family violence, social isolation, and drug or alcohol dependency.

Recognising this, the Government is adopting a broad and compassionate approach to suicide prevention.

This will require sustained, collaborative effort from across portfolios, and from all governments and sectors. 

It is a whole-of-government approach. A community-led broad approach.

This distinction is subtle, but it is important. It is also long overdue.

It means that many of our policies, are designed to better support individuals and communities.

Just to give 2 examples. Our Secure Jobs, Better Pay Bill that strengthens our workplaces and restores rights to workers. And, our $10 billion Housing Australia Future Fund which has passed the House and will deliver 30,000 new social and affordable homes in the first 5 years.

Our delivery of cheaper child care, cheaper medicines, 180,000 fee-free TAFE places, wage raises for aged care workers, improvements to Paid Parental Leave, paid Domestic Violence Leave and of course advancing the Voice to Parliament.

What we are doing is strengthening communities. It is sensible policy that addresses the drivers of distress. But it is an ambitious task, and we cannot do it alone.

So, I’m very pleased to say we’re seeing a growing, genuine desire for collaboration and cooperation.

The National Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Agreement was endorsed by Governments in March last year.

It binds all governments to collaborate on, 'systemic, whole-of-government reform to deliver a comprehensive, coordinated, consumer focused and compassionate mental health and suicide prevention system to benefit all Australians'.

Our Government is leading the implementation of that agreement.

We are partnering with states and territories to establish the foundations for a comprehensive suicide prevention service system.

I believe the suicide prevention initiatives we are implementing with states and territories will make a substantial difference.

That includes, universal aftercare, postvention, and Distress Brief Support trials.

And it prioritises work across education, workplaces, homelessness, financial counselling, family, domestic and sexual violence, and justice.

These initiatives are also being informed by people with lived and living experience of suicide.

Because we are going beyond consumer informed policy by placing the voices of people with lived and living experience at the centre of decision-making.

The co-design will also engage with priority populations, encouraging community efforts that promote social inclusion, connection and a sense of belonging.

And equipping people, especially young people, with life and psychosocial skills that will help them to cope with times of adversity.

While suicide is individual and complex, rates of suicide reflect communities.

First Nations people, especially youth, are a top priority. I am pleased the Social and Emotional Wellbeing Policy Partnership under the Closing the Gap Agreement met for the first time in March to guide Governments in priority areas for action.

We also know climate change is causing a rising number of natural disasters which have terrible, traumatic impact. Whether it’s drought, flood or fire.

It’s only been in recent years that recovery has become an important part of the response to those events.

Farmers are often on the frontline, and in Australia suicide rates of farmers are alarmingly high.

In March, I was pleased to see the launch a new free online wellbeing and suicide prevention tool for farmers, called Taking Stock.

This is another example of co-design – designed with 3 farming communities in South Australia, Victoria and New South Wales.

It’s also the final stage of a 3-year research project led by the University of South Australia – another demonstration of the great value of research in this area.

Another group of focus for us is the LGBTIQA+ community. In March, our Government announced the start of consultations to inform Australia’s first 10 Year National Action Plan for the Health and Wellbeing of LGBTIQA+ people.

This will provide a framework for action to address both physical and mental health needs and lead to better health outcomes.

And in February, I announced $7.8 million for new interpreting services,  through Primary Health Networks, to make sure people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds – including survivors of trauma and torture – can get the care they need.

Of course we are supporting many other programs. The National Suicide Prevention Leadership and Support Program is providing $114 million over 3 years for 40 projects delivered by 31 organisations. These organisations are all doing outstanding work, in a variety of ways.

The majority of the funding supports projects, including direct service delivery, for at-risk groups and communities including First Nations, youth, men in various settings including construction, LGBTIQA+, rural and remote residents, and veterans.

While I mentioned lived experience before, it is something that I would like to reinforce.

Many of the organisations and programs that we support are based on and informed by the voices of people with living and lived experience.

The Australian Government is now following this lead.

We’re integrating lived experience in mental health and suicide prevention policy and programs, at all levels.

As part of that, as announced earlier this year, we’re providing $7.5 million to develop 2 new national lived experience peak bodies – one for consumers, one for carers.

We will let stakeholders know as soon as we’ve established formal consultation and engagement processes.

You will be central to that process.

We understand people with lived and living experience of suicide have different experiences from those with mental ill-health.

We are also supporting organisations which are specifically working to embed lived experience in all suicide prevention activity.

I am pleased that this Government is also supporting the growth and sustainability of the critical lived experience workforce.

Of course any progress needs to be monitored with accurate and timely data.

This is another area where we are making strides.

Suicide Prevention Australia deserves a special mention for its Community Tracker, which monitors community distress and its causes.

This is helping me, the Government and the sector understand current pressures and where support may be most needed.

The National Suicide and Self-Harm Monitoring System is also up and running.

It was established by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, with the  National Suicide Prevention Office, and wide-ranging input.

It brings together existing and new data collections on suicide and self-harm, increasing transparency and providing a better base for timely, evidence-based policy and program responses to work towards zero suicides.

I am also very pleased that work is well under way on the National Suicide Prevention Strategy, led by the National Suicide Prevention Office.

It will clarify the broader responsibility for suicide prevention, to tackle the key drivers of distress and social determinants, to build a more accessible, appropriate and sustainable suicide prevention system. It will be a seminal piece of work.

Before I leave you, I want to make clear. No Australian should feel helpless and hopeless.

Responding compassionately and appropriately to distress, and preventing suicide requires big changes in our attitudes and approaches.

Our approach will promote greater wellbeing, and, most importantly, will continue to make sure the focus remains on reducing suicidal distress and the number of precious lives lost each year.

Thank you.

Help us improve

If you would like a response please use the enquiries form instead.