• VETERINARIANS MENTAL HEALTH

    2nd May 2018

    Adjournment Speech.

    Veterinarians mental health.

    A series of studies conducted in recent years have identified elevated rates of depression, anxiety and suicide among Australian veterinarians, with a suicide rate four times higher than the general population. These figures are consistent with studies conducted in Great Britain and America. There is clearly a common thread concerning the mental health challenges of the profession. Murdoch University is currently conducting research on the mental health of Australian veterinarians, which will hopefully assist the profession in improving the mental well-being of its members.

    Multiple studies cite risk factors such as long hours and highly stressful decision-making, the difficulty of recruiting locums to take much needed breaks, and in rural areas these difficulties are compounded by professional isolation. These are common stressors across many professions, but there are additional emotional stressors, such as the regular killing of animals, combined with easy access to lethal drugs, that are unique to the veterinary profession. The 2016 Australian National Coronial Information System report noted a history of self-poisoning suicides linked to drugs available in veterinary clinics.

    While there are no equivalent Australian figures, British studies showed that 81 per cent of veterinarians entered the profession due to their desire to work with the human-animal bond. Women veterinarians in particular were identified as having high levels of empathy towards animals. This empathy towards animals may, in a large part, be the cause of the mental distress experienced by veterinarians. Across a range of international studies, young and female veterinarians are at greatest risk of job dissatisfaction, leading to mental health difficulties and suicidal ideation. “Compassion fatigue” or “vicarious trauma” was identified as a risk factor leading to suicide.

    The realities of veterinary practice can be emotionally gruelling. Many vets speak of the distress of being responsible for ending animals’ lives, either directly in the case of euthanising sick or injured animals, or worse, being required to kill perfectly healthy unwanted animals, or indirectly in the case of the slaughter of farmed animals. Vets also found themselves in professionally challenging situations where they encountered animal abuse and neglect. Some studies have questioned whether the routine euthanising or killing of animals impacted on attitudes towards death more generally.

    In surveys, vets showed higher support for human voluntary euthanasia than the general population. This attitude to death may even facilitate self-justification and lower their inhibitions towards suicide as a rational solution to their personal problems.

    As a society we could do a much better job of providing funding and resources to ensure that no vet is required to kill perfectly healthy animals that have been abandoned or surrendered to council pounds or RSPCA shelters. The growth of no-kill shelters not only is a more humane approach to companion animals but also removes the risk of psychological harm to vets who are forced to administer the “green dream” to healthy animals. Even the upside of being a veterinarian—having clients with strong emotional ties to their companion animals—could create distress. The emotional intensity of that bond adds stress when the time arrives for euthanising sick or aged animals that are considered part of the family.

    I commend the work of our veterinarians in alleviating animal suffering. My personal heroes are those vets who find the time to work pro bono or provide discounted fees to companion animal rescue groups, wildlife carers and farmed animal sanctuaries. Perhaps the Australian Veterinary Association may consider supporting veterinarians as they deliver these services as a way of providing a channel for their compassion and empathy towards animals.

  • MARK PEARSON’S SPEECH OPPOSING THE BILL TO REMOVE HOMELESS PEOPLE FROM MARTIN PLACE

    9th August 2017

    Second reading speech.

    Sydney Public Reserves (Public Safety) Bill 2017.

    The Hon. MARK PEARSON (17:24): The Animal Justice Party is absolutely dumbfounded by the Sydney Public Reserves (Public Safety) Bill 2017. I find it embarrassing that, in 2017, I am speaking to such a draconian, disgraceful, unconscionable piece of legislation. When the police arrest these people and pack up their very meagre belongings—as Mr Shoebridge pointed out, even the tiniest things; they could be photographs, locks of hair, a gift given to them by very important people—they are not valued in the way these homeless people value them, but they are going to be wrapped up and taken from them. It is questionable whether they will be returned. When the police arrest them and move them on, where will these people go? Where is their chance? Where is their space?

    It is important to note that one of the safest places—believe it or not—for homeless people to gather is in the city where it is busy and people and police are about, and Parliament and a hospital are nearby. Whether it be Martin Place or wherever they have chosen to gather in the city, they do so because living in a dark corner in Kings Cross or Newtown or any other backstreet is far more dangerous and jeopardises their wellbeing and safety. They come into the city for this sense of safety. But because a particular member of Parliament might find it uncomfortable to look upon these people we now have to remove this distasteful vista and push them away so we can have the space back . We do not know what has happened to them.

    I support the suggestions made by the Hon. Mick Veitch and Mr David Shoebridge. For God’s sake, we are a civilised society. The measure of a civilisation is how we take the vulnerable, the sick, the weak, the needy under our wings whatever the situation is that has caused these people to live in such a way that they are homeless. The notion that they are being belligerent and obstructive and may be choosing to live this way is utter rubbish. Even if some comment that this is the way they want to live, that person has a story to tell about why they have come to that decision. We cannot turn our backs on these people and treat them in this way.

    The aspect of section 7 that astounds me is that the provisions of the bill apply if the police officer believes on reasonable grounds that the person’s occupation of the reserve materially interferes with the reasonable enjoyment of the rights of the public. Using a broader definition of enjoyment, these people are enjoying the relatively safe space here in the city. How could they be considered to be materially interfering with other members of the public? I have seen no complaint, I have heard no claim that another person’s liberty has been materially interfered with by a person who puts a very small, very uncomfortable, cold tent in a street next to another tent where people can walk freely on either side.

    We need to face this problem head-on, not dodge it and not punish people for finding themselves in a terrible situation through no fault of their own. It is time that we turned our minds to understanding compassion and how it relates to civilisation. One of the best measures of human beings is whether they honestly address problems, take responsibility for them, and work proactively together to solve them. We must work with people in this dreadful situation and address homelessness. Not only have they experienced bad luck and terrible situations but this Government has also put in place many mechanisms that obstruct their free access to the liberty of a home. The Animal Justice Party absolutely opposes this legislation, which is draconian and an embarrassment to this and the other House. I condemn the bill.

  • THE PSYCHOLOGICAL CONSEQUENCES OF KILLING

    1st June 2017

    Adjournment speech.

    Perpetration induced traumatic stress.

    PERPETRATION-INDUCED TRAUMATIC STRESS

    The Hon. MARK PEARSON (16:04): Today I extend the discussion on the deleterious effects certain occupations have on our personal wellbeing. Our first thoughts, naturally, turn to our emergency services such as our police, ambulance personnel, firefighters and the like. But what about the less visual jobs—the less traditional jobs that, when we pause to think about it, have very serious trauma attached to them. One such occupation that has, to my knowledge, never been considered seriously in this country, is that of the slaughterhouse worker. In the study “Perpetration-Induced Traumatic Stress: The Psychological Consequences of Killing”, Rachel MacNair creates the new term perpetration-induced traumatic stress [PITS]. PITS, MacNair states, is a form of post traumatic stress disorder [PTSD]. The distinction between the two is that PITS is caused not by being a victim or rescuer in trauma but by being an active participant in causing trauma.

    Take the Martin Place siege for example. According to MacNair the survivors and witnesses would be sufferers of PTSD. The police, who stormed the Lindt cafe and killed Man Monis, on the other hand, would be sufferers of PITS. Sufferers of PITS, argues MacNair, include slaughterhouse workers, where it is socially acceptable, and in fact expected, for them to cause trauma, including death. MacNair describes the symptoms of PITS as including drug and alcohol abuse, anxiety, depression, increased paranoia, a sense of disintegration, as well as dissociation or amnesia. This less publicly discussed or understood psychological trauma suffered by slaughterhouses workers is not accidental. In fact, one would say it is intentional as society becomes increasingly distanced from the realities of modern-day food production and the business of killing animals for food.

    A study conducted recently in the US found that 85 per cent of the meat-eating participants stated that if they personally had to kill an animal to obtain meat they would not be able to do it. However, they were happy to pay another person to perform the task of killing, thereby acknowledging the trauma associated with such an occupation, placing the burden on the shoulders of the slaughterhouse worker. As Paul McCartney once said, “If slaughterhouses had glass walls, everyone would be a vegetarian.” The business of killing living, sentient beings on a mass scale is a violent, bloody task. Not only do these slaughterhouse workers face serious physical health hazards daily, but they also experience large-scale violence and death that most of us will never have to, nor want to, encounter.

    In our society, we have a common understanding that taking pleasure in the cruel death of a helpless animal is an antisocial and potentially psychotic characteristic. In fact, it is widely known that offenders that commit acts of animal cruelty often use it as a stepping stone to cruelty inflicted upon humans. The police recognise this as a serious matter. A most notorious example of this is the case of Anita Cobby’s killers, who enjoyed committing atrocious acts of bestiality, torture and killing of sheep, goats and other animals. A research paper published in 2008 by Jennifer Dillard titled, “A Slaughterhouse Nightmare: Psychological Harm Suffered by Slaughterhouse Employees” set a precedent by calling for legal redress for slaughterhouse workers due to psychological trauma.

    This trauma is directly caused by their daily experience of “large-scale violence and death” within an institutional culture that does little to reduce animal or human suffering. This is an interesting notion, if we think about the successful class action against James Hardie in relation to asbestos-related suffering and deaths. The social effects of slaughterhouses are harmful and far-reaching, and the legal regime and the general public must act to reduce those deleterious effects on society and the slaughterhouse workers who have this enormous burden placed upon their shoulders.

  • WORKPLACE FLEXIBILITY

    15th October 2015

    Workplace flexibility.

    The Hon. MARK PEARSON [3.50 p.m.]: I will speak to the motion from a different aspect. I support the principle of flexibility in the workplace. It is important to address the mental and physical health of employees in a workplace where the work is difficult, the stress level is high and there are many deadlines. Often people do not merge their work lives and home lives, for different reasons. At home people may have to deal with illness of a partner, a child or a family member. That and other factors make life complex and it is impossible to live a regimented life. At the same time their workplace may be rigid and regimented, and does not provide flexibility, which results in more stress. That can have deleterious impacts on their wellbeing and their capacity to manage their lives, both at work and at home.

    Flexibility in the workplace is a robust way of sustaining the mental and physical health and wellbeing of employees. I have experienced this. I worked in the mental health area for 23 years and was a team leader for a community mental health service. We developed more flexibility for employees to adjust their shifts, work relationships and timetables to be home once or twice a week when their children came home at three o’clock or half past three. They were able to assist with meals or look after a parent who may be dementing. All these factors affect our lives. Flexibility in the workplace enables employees to be home and enjoy their family life but at the same time provide support and strength to family and friends who may be suffering from a broad spectrum of health problems. That brings more wellbeing and strength to work performance. So it is a win-win situation.

    Where there is flexibility employees can go home and attend to these things, and enjoy their children, friends and partners; they then come to work and contribute to a different culture and mindset, which results in better performance and productivity in the workplace. The measure of any workplace is the impact that we bring to the outcome of our employment. If employment can be balanced with a personal life, flexibility in the workplace is an important principle that results in a better workplace, better performance and productivity, as well as a happier and more fulfilled home life at home with children, friends and family. I support the motion.


    The full debate can be read here.

  • HOMELESSNESS

    4th June 2015

    Adjournment speech.

    HOMELESSNESS

    The Hon. MARK PEARSON [3.46 p.m.]: Today I raise the issue of homelessness in New South Wales. Even though this issue has been addressed by both governments over time, it is becoming quite clear that the measure of any intervention or policy change would be a reduction in the number of homeless people across New South Wales. But, unfortunately, that is not the case. Even 2½ blocks from this Parliament several people are living in a terrible situation one block behind the courthouses where their walls are blankets and their protection is old doonas and filthy clothes. They are living in impoverished conditions right under our watch.

    The two major causes of homelessness are mental illness and domestic violence. Crisis teams and mental health intervention teams were established in the early 1980s under the Richmond Implementation program so that where mentally ill people were living in the community, very assertive and robust services were available to them and their families 24 hours a day. A fundamental principle of the program was to use a case management system and to form a therapeutic relationship with mentally ill people. What has been occurring, and is still occurring, is that a person will have a psychotic episode or another type of severe mental illness episode, he or she will be treated and then returned home or found housing somewhere. But the nature of a chronic mental illness is that episodes recur. If there is not proper intervention and support for these people, they will end up becoming homeless. Because of their mental illness and psychosis, they are unable to care for themselves and they wander the streets, frightened and paranoid and become lost within our community.

    In a robust and assertive mental health service these people form a relationship with a particular caseworker and they stay in contact with them. The key to proper mental health intervention is to watch out for early symptoms. That is very much the case in the work that has been done by Professor Patrick McGorry, OBE. He says we need to intervene early and form a relationship with mentally ill people to prevent further psychotic episodes or mental health issues which render them incapable of caring for themselves and becoming homeless.

    Another issue is the complex circumstance in Australia where one woman dies from domestic violence every week and one is hospitalised every three hours, which can lead to some becoming homeless. More than 25,000 domestic violence assaults occur in New South Wales each year, the vast majority of which are on women. Approximately 31 per cent of homelessness is caused by domestic violence. The Government must prioritise funding for accommodation services proven to help vulnerable women at risk of serious injury and death as a consequence of domestic violence. It is crucial that women and children have access to supported accommodation immediately upon presentation to the police or to other services where there is no safe alternative other than to leave their home. Being forced to leave home due to violence should not result in homelessness.

    Some reforms undertaken in 2014 under the Going Home Staying Home program have manifestly failed to protect women who have become homeless due to domestic violence. Instead, the New South Wales Government reduced 336 existing services to just 149 services. The tendering process awarded contracts to big non-government organisations, almost all of which were Christian organisations. These reductions in services have had a deleterious effect on women and children who are seeking help and it is the second main contributor to homelessness.

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