Doorstop interview, Canberra
E & OE
As one of the Ministers responsible for mental health, I feel a duty to condemn the comments by Clive Palmer today, that the Prime Minister should go and commit suicide. It is never okay to make light or fun of mental health issues. It is never okay, even mockingly, to call on someone to commit suicide. It is important that we bear in mind that mental health is a serious issue in the nation. There are hundreds of thousands of Australians with mental health issues. They need to know that all political figures take their circumstances seriously, and that no political figure seeks to make light or to use their situation for political benefit.
There are many Australian families who have been touched by suicide. They do not need to, and should not, see political figures making light of their circumstance. It’s not okay to use mental health and mental illness in political debate. It is not okay to use issues of people’s disability in political debate. We need to have standards in political discourse. Yes, we have a robust political environment. But it is important that there are certain parameters, that there are certain standards, that all politicians operate within.
Mr Palmer did later apologise and say that he was referring to a political suicide. Is that good enough?
I’m glad that Mr Palmer has apologised, and so he should. We need to be extremely careful – as Members of Parliament, as leaders in the community – that we don’t slip into using easy stereotypes about people with mental illness, or people with disability for that matter. So it’s a good thing that Mr Palmer has apologised and I think all Members of Parliament need to take this opportunity just to pause for a moment and think of the language that they use in political discourse. Not how it affects other combatants in the political arena, but how it affects members of the community who are touched by illness, and in this case by mental illness.
It’s not the first time he’s made light of mental health issues. He told Campbell Newman recently – he made a reference to bipolar disorder. Do you think we’ll see more of this from Mr Palmer, and what would you urge him to do in that case?
I would urge all my colleagues, and Mr Palmer in particular today, to choose the language they use in political discourse very carefully. We do have a responsibility as a Parliament to always make sure that we have our eye on the people’s business. And an important part of the people’s business is making sure that we provide good support to Australians who have mental health issues. And we should never seek to make light of that, or to use issues of mental health in a mocking fashion.
Could you not argue that you’re giving more publicity to these comments by coming out and speaking to the media than speaking to Mr Palmer directly?
I think it’s important that when people use inappropriate language – when people say things that could cause offence and distress to families that are touched by issues like mental illness – it’s important that we call that out. Thanks very much.