Transcript of the Prime Minister, the Hon. John Howard MP
Address on White Wreath Day, Parliament House,

Well thank you very much Mr Chairman, to Mrs Clark, to Kim Beazley, my other Parliamentary colleagues, ladies and gentleman. I would like first of all to express I’m sure the admiration and respect of all of us for the great courage that Fanita displayed today. Her initiative to inaugurate white wreath day not only in memory of her son Jason, but also to represent to the broader community the suffering and loss of parents and other loved ones for those who for whatever combination of reasons take their own lives.

I guess all of us as Members of Parliament, and there are a lot of us here today from all sides of politics, have difficult experiences in our constituency work. I have to say the most traumatic moments I’ve had as a local member is to sit down and talk to the parents of a child who’s taken his or her life, to listen to their story of the frustration, the sense of loss, the disappointment, the sheer agony and the tragedy that is involved, and the waste of human life particularly but not only young life that is involved in suicides. And can I say Fanita, this is not the first occasion that I’ve had parents complain to me about the perversity of confidentiality laws, the way they operate within our public health system. And this is not meant to be a knee-jerk reflection on those laws but your testimony today prompts all of us, the Government, Opposition, State and Federal to perhaps look at whether those laws designed to protect the privacy of the individual are not in fact working to deprive those closest to people at risk of necessary information. I’ve had a number of parents in my own electorate who’ve gone through the trauma that you’ve experienced express the same concern to me.

There’s nothing that any political leader can say today that can in any way adequately respond to the anguish and the sense of loss that we’ve heard represented to us today. But what we can do is to express concern, to express understanding, to congratulate all of those who’ve been associated with bringing this day together and I particularly want to compliment the ACT Trades and Labour Council for the work that they did, and the other unions associated with the ACT Council for the work they did in bringing this day together.

The Government itself in the last budget set aside $48 million in a program entitled “It’s All About Living” which was designed to cover some of the areas where governments can be of assistance. But no amount of money, no one single program can effectively respond to this growing challenge within our community. We have an appallingly high suicide rate amongst young males in rural and regional areas of our country. But as Mrs Clark pointed out, it’s not just restricted to young people. Suicide can claim the lives of people in old age and in middle age and some extremely young children. And it challenges all of us. There’s no one single explanation as to why it happens. There are many reasons. The loss of motivation, the sense of alienation, inability to get a job, a sense that there are no longer any moral constraints on any kind of behaviour in our community. All of these things together contribute, and there’s no one single explanation that fits each and every individual case.

But I would like if you take nothing else away from today’s gathering Fanita, I would like you to take away from this gathering a bipartisan expression of compassion, a statement that we are endeavouring to understand the magnitude of the grief that you feel. As a parent the loss of one of my children would be unimaginable whatever the circumstances. And I can only begin to try and understand how you feel. To say to you that we do care about people in your situation. We will try and learn more about it. We will try and help more. And it’s one of those issues that unites all of us as Australians irrespective of our political belief, and irrespective of our background and our attitudes on other issues.

I think you’ve been an incredibly courageous lady in organising today. I congratulate you. I admire your courage and fortitude. I congratulate all of those who have helped you. I know your local member Craig Emerson has worked very hard, and I know that the ACT Trades and Labour Council and others have worked extremely hard and you can see from the cross party gathering today that this is something above and beyond party politics as it ought to be, and I hope today will make a difference because this is an enormous social challenge for our nation, and it’s something that all of us have a role in responding to. Thank you