Radio interview with Assistant Minister McBride, ABC Coffs Coast – 30 March 2023

Read the transcript of Assistant Minister McBride interview on farmer mental health and Taking Stock suicide prevention for farmers.

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

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FIONA POOLE, HOST: Good morning, now to you know a farmer, picture them in your mind, how are they doing, you know, on the inside? Because a new report on the mental health of Aussie farmers, it has us worried almost half have had thoughts of self harm or suicide and 30% have attempted self harm or suicide. It's a National Farmer Wellbeing Report. It surveyed 1,300 farmers. It was released in Lismore this week and it's shining a light on a very, very difficult situation in the regions. Emma McBride is the Federal Assistant Minister for Mental Health and Suicide Prevention. Emma good morning.

EMMA MCBRIDE, ASSISTANT MINISTER: Fiona, it's good to be with you.

POOLE: Why did you launch this report in Lismore?

MCBRIDE: This report was launched by the National Farmers Federation, and to me why they probably chose to launch in Lismore was because of the impact that Lismore has seen. I've had the chance to visit Lismore twice since I've been in this job and the impact of drought, of floods, of financial pressure and of isolation, particularly of farmers. So I think in launching this national report that would be the right backdrop to be able to really shine a light on the issues that are impacting so many people in rural and remote communities, particularly farmers.

POOLE: Three-quarters of farmers think that their work isn't valued by the public. How much do you think that plays into their mental health decline?

MCBRIDE: That has a significant impact. Work and the value of your work and the role that you have in society is really important for your mental health and wellbeing. As soon as the industry or sector you work in is at risk, your mental health is at risk, and this is why our government is taking a broader approach to mental health and suicide prevention to reduce the drivers of distress and to increase protective measures. And one thing that all Australians can do, to value a farmer, to boost their financial wellbeing, and to boost their mental health and wellbeing, is to buy Australian and I think that was part of why Norco has been strongly associated with this report.

POOLE: If you're a farmer, let us know what is going on. Why are so many farmers mental health declining? 1300 222 923. Why do you not feel valued? What is it? Are you not being paid the amount of money you should be for the amount of work that you're doing? Is that affecting your mental health? Is that affecting your sense of self worth? Is it the dialogue that is in the media around farmers and the environment and the division between loggers and koala lovers and food growers and people concerned about river health and pesticides? Like what is it? Is there a division between you and the public that is causing you distress? 1300 222 923. We'd love to hear from you this morning. What do you think it is Emma, what do you think is going on?

MCBRIDE: I think, in sort of echoing some of the observations of Fiona Simson the President of the National Farmers Federation, it has been this cumulative impact of drought, of bushfires, of natural disasters, of COVID-19, financial pressure, and particularly within the farming context that compounded by isolation, professional and social isolation. I think these have all been identified in the report as the key issues that are on the rise and the key drivers of distress for farmers. And this is consistent with what I've seen when I visited rural and remote communities and heard from people about their own circumstances. So one of the things that we have done is help support 'Taking Stock', and 'Taking Stock' is an online wellbeing and suicide prevention tool. It's designed by Australian farmers, for Australian farmers, and it's available now. We know the stark figures that on average one farmer dies by suicide every 10 days. And 'Taking Stock' is a grassroots community-led resource. It has a podcast and interviews of farmer experience. And we know that the best initiatives for mental health and suicide prevention are grassroots local initiatives, which is why we're so proud to support 'Taking Stock' and the farmers that have contributed to it. And a key part of it is resources. If you're looking to start something in your own community, to help strengthen that community, to help make people more comfortable having these conversations because farmers are tough, they're resilient, and having these conversations can often be difficult. So we need to help break down that stigma so that they can feel more comfortable seeking support.

POOLE: Emma we've just had a farmer in Coffs Harbour phone in Paul, g'day Paul, what are you thinking? What's happening?

PAUL, FARMER: One thing that hasn't been discussed is the fact that we are seeing declining farm gate returns for farmers. So increasingly, what you see at the supermarket everyone's talking about higher grocery prices, but farmers are under increasing costs, cost pressures, and we aren't seeing those higher prices as a proportion of what they are as a retail price. So quite often for a lot of our produce we're receiving about 20% of what the retail price is and whilst the supermarkets have recorded record profits, farmers continue to struggle and that's one of the biggest issues that we're facing.

POOLE: Yeah, being undervalued and that feeling that the job that you're doing is not valued. See so often it does actually come down to pay because when your pay doesn't equal the work, it affects your mental health and it affects your sense of self worth. Do you think that that is true, Paul?

PAUL, FARMER: I think farmers ultimately are passionate about what they do. Most of them don't particularly take note of their finances. But what happens is every time something happens, we don't really want subsidies. We don't want handouts. All we want is ultimately a fair price for the effort that is put into growing produce whether its a litre of milk, what does it cost, what does the farmer get? And for too long, dairy farmers, for example, were receiving a retail price of $1 a litre but the cost was substantially higher than that. And what you have in industry is people who have pride, and what they did is they just kept battling on and on until they lost their farm, families were broken up. And that's the sort of impact that pricing has had in many industries.

POOLE: We really appreciate the insight. Emma McBride, Can you see that and is there something we can do about that?

MCBRIDE: We know that amongst the many drivers of distress that might lead someone to feeling that there's no way out is financial pressure. And particularly seeing that impact on farmers with increasing demands and feeling of little control that will have an impact on people's mental health and wellbeing. And I know that our Minister for Agriculture is working very hard, working with industry to make sure that people do have the right sort of financial support, fair prices for their produce.

POOLE: Councillor Deb Novak from the Clarence Valley Council has just phoned in. Deb we don't, we have literally a minute before the news, but you've got a good point to make, what's that?

DEBRAH NOVAK, COUNCILLOR: A lot of farmers, they always feel that there's people much worse off than them. So they're very stoic and then the least likely to complain and that I think is where part of the problem is. They need to feel like they are valued and that there are resources for them that they can reach out to. You know, there's a whole lot of resources out there, but it's so important that they understand that they are really valued and we share this and we celebrate them and what they do for us.

POOLE: Farmers markets are a great way to do that where they get a good price, you get to meet the farmer and thank them personally. Emma McBride, where to next? You mentioned the 'Taking Stock' app and that's something you'd like to see all farmers download.

MCBRIDE: It is, it's a practical resource designed by farmers for farmers that can help people needing help right now.

POOLE: Good on you. That's Emma McBride, the Assistant Minister for Mental Health and Suicide Prevention.

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