Men & Fathers' Health Forum
Parliament House, Canberra, Wednesday, 19 March 2008
Report edited by Warwick Marsh and Greg Andresen
Wednesday 19th March 2008 will go down as a milestone event in the men & fathersí movement in Australia. This was the day when almost 30 key leaders, representing menís, fatherhood and family groups, academics and health professionals, met in Federal Parliament to discuss forward motion on the Labor Partyís proposed National Menís Health Policy.
On the 5th of November 2007 in the lead up to last yearís federal election, the Labor Party announced that it was going to formulate a National Menís Health Policy. This announcement was greeted with acclaim by Australiaís men and fathersí movement. Many within the movement were pleasantly surprised because the Labor Party has sometimes been rather anti-male. No doubt it was this pre-election announcement, along with Work Choices that caught the attention of many men across Australia. The announcement of a National Menís Health Policy certainly contributed to the 5% swing, allowing the Labor Party to win government. Men at 49.2% are the largest minority group in Australia today, and have been waiting a long time for a National Menís Health Policy.
Men are falling behind in the area of health. Indigenous menís health is even further behind. Take for instance the following facts:
Professor John Macdonald was quoted in several news stories along with Dr Elizabeth Celi. I did several national radio interviews in the lead up to the forum, as did Micheal Woods from the University of Western Sydney. One of the interviewers asked me, "How best can men improve their health on a personal basis?" I simply replied, "Exercise more, worry less and become a rabbit and eat lots of vegetables." I could have added to that, "get closer to your family," as said to me by David Hughes, Australiaís only clinical nurse specialist in menís health.
Sadly, the new health minister, Nicola Roxon could not find the time to meet with us, but we are thankful that she appointed Dr Luke Buckmaster to represent her.
We have listed the parliamentarians to thank later in this report. The word Ďthank youí goes a long way. These wonderful parliamentarians often get abused but they rarely get thanked. Send them an email! You will make their day.
PO Box 542
UNANDERRA NSW 2526
Ph: 02 4272 6677
Fax: 02 4272 6680
|Hon Roger Price MP||Labor||Mt Druit, NSW||rogerpricemp at aph.gov.au|
|Senator the Hon Eric Abetz||Liberal||Hobart, TAS||senator.abetz at aph.gov.au|
|Anthony Byrne MP||Labor||Melbourne, VIC||Anthony.Byrne.MP at aph.gov.au|
|Senator Steve Fielding||Family First||Melbourne, VIC||senator.fielding at aph.gov.au|
|Hon Kevin Andrews||Liberal||Doncaster, VIC||Kevin.Andrews.MP at aph.gov.au|
|Senator John Hogg||Labor||Brisbane, QLD||senator.hogg at aph.gov.au|
|Senator Guy Barnett||Liberal||Launceston, TAS||senator.barnett at aph.gov.au|
|Belinda Neal MP||Labor||Gosford, NSW||Belinda.Neal.MP at aph.gov.au|
|Hon Tony Abbott MP||Liberal||Warringah, NSW||Tony.Abbott.MP at aph.gov.au|
|Hon Robert McClelland||Labor||Hurstville, NSW||R.McClelland.MP at aph.gov.au|
|Senator Grant Chapman||Labor||Adelaide, SA||senator.chapman at aph.gov.au|
|Senator Gary Humphries||Liberal||Canberra, ACT||senator.humphries at aph.gov.au|
Parliamentary reporting session
By Greg Andresen
The Men and Fathersí Health Forum was attended by almost 30 key leaders, representing menís, fatherhood and family groups, academics and health professionals. The intent of the day was to add some pressure to the progress of the Labor Partyís proposed Menís Health Policy and to enquire about its current status. Those who were present (and Warwick Marsh in particular) stressed that the small number there on the day in no way claimed to speak for all individuals and organisations that are working for men. We merely represented those organisations with which we were based, or our individual interests in matters male, and who had been able to attend at fairly short notice. As a group, and with our combined experiences, we provided a useful cross-section of perspectives, albeit limited in scope and representation. Warwick was immensely professional - and skilled - in ensuring consensus from all present. He at no time attempted to impose any specific agenda upon the forum.
The forum developed the following six-point road map for action to encourage those MPs who are sympathetic to menís health issues.
The six-point road map
GOAL: Formation and implementation of a strengths-based National Menís Health Policy, including recognition of the indigenous male health gap.
Step 1: Australian Labor Partyís election commitment to a National Menís Health Policy
Step 2: Establish and resource a high level unit within the Health Department to develop this policy
Step 3: Commitment to community engagement with indigenous and non-indigenous alike
Step 4: Meeting of Forum representatives with the Federal Health Minister
Step 5: Ensure community engagement by establishing a taskforce / committee of key stakeholders
Step 6: Commitment in May 2008 Federal Budget to fund the development of the National Menís Health Policy
COMMITMENT: To report our 6-step plan recommendations and your comments and responses as parliamentarians to more than one hundred menís / fathersí / family groups around Australia.
Notes and quotes from the Parliamentary Reporting Session
Between 5pm and 6pm on Wednesday 19th March 2008, a bipartisan parliamentary reporting session was held for the twelve parliamentarians from three parties listed earlier in this report. Also present was Dr Luke Buckmaster, Adviser, Office of the Hon Nicola Roxon, Minister for Health and Ageing. The six-point road map was delivered to the reporting session, and all present expressed support for the Policy. Dr Buckmaster informed us that development of the policy was already underway, and that our road map and subsequent input would be considered. It is of concern that while the process of developing a policy appears to be already underway, as far as we are aware there has been no consultation of any sort as yet. We can only hope that the Forum was of some assistance in convincing the Health Minister that a process of broad community consultation will be not just worthwhile but essential, in developing a Policy that brings real improvements to the health and wellbeing of Australian men and boys.
Professor John MacDonald (Menís Health Information & Resource Centre, University of Western Sydney)
"Iíve been asked, I think because Iím a Professor, to say something. I want to honour the men and women who are here this afternoon. What weíve worked on is basically on the board behind me. We salute the idea of a Menís Health Policy which the present government has promised. This is bipartisan so clearly weíre going to build on the work thatís been done and move forward. Some of the ideas are here [on this board]. We thank everybody for the idea of a Menís Health Policy. We presume itís going to continue to be a positive, non-deficit policy
| ||building on menís strengths across the whole range and beginning with indigenous men. "But Iím not going to read all these things. You can see them yourself. Itís basically saying, could we not just have a positive Menís Health Policy but could we hope that it would actually be structured? And weíre hoping to leave here with an idea that there will be something which is more than just a promise, but which is actually evidence of a commitment to building that policy. And the policy would be built on very wide consultation, not only with the people present in this room but with much wider representation from across the country. Really I donít have more to say than that except that I think weíre witnessing a definite move forward and weíre all very happy about that."|
Rick Welsh (Aboriginal Health & Medical Research Council NSW)
"One of the things thatís highlighted here today is when looking at health, the most disadvantaged men in the country are indigenous men. The commitment shown by the development of the Menís Health Policy as well as Closing The Gap which is going to be launched tomorrow, are important foundations as far as any progress in indigenous health goes, particularly for Aboriginal men.
| ||"As a part of my role where I work with the Aboriginal Health and Medical Research Council, I deal directly with the Aboriginal menís groups around NSW which are all voluntary at the moment. The commitment shown by Aboriginal men on the ground to further develop the health status of Aboriginal Men and their communities has been great. Itís just that thereís been problems in trying to source funding or any real commitment from Federal or State governments to set aside the funding to help Aboriginal men and broadly for other men across Australia as well."|
Dr Elizabeth Celi (Psychologist)
"I work as a psychologist in private practice so I come from a grassroots level with an academic background - very much a prevention-over-cure approach. The Hon Nicola Roxonís proposal for a National Menís Health Policy is very exciting for myself and for the many men and women that I see in distress weekly in a clinical sense, and how their families and children are affected by some of the issues that men are facing with regard to their health. And when I speak of their health I speak physically, mentally, socially and in terms of family health.
"We all believe with the National Womenís Health Policy that was started close to 20 years ago, to now bridge that gap with a National Menís Health Policy will really give our men a national identity when it comes to their health and when it comes to their role in our society. They have so much to contribute, and I think they need to be reminded of that on a national level to be acknowledged and recognised. Together with the efforts all of us are putting in our resource, practitioner and academic modalities, I think can be quite powerful for those synergies to come together where the sum will definitely be greater than itís parts. I look forward to us being able to take some more practical steps to translate that proposal into more of a tangible action-based policy that we can all contribute to and work with together."
Belinda Neal MP
"Iíve already had some informal discussions with Nicola Roxon about the issue of developing the Menís Health Policy and sheís certainly very concerned that it will have a real impact on peopleís lives. Thereís two things Iíd like to talk about. The fact that menís health tends to be ignored to some extent. Probably a lot to do with the fact that men themselves tend to delegate their health to the women who live and work with them, and are often isolated in a sort of social sense. So Iím very keen to see a Menís Health Policy that sort of deals with those issues and is really very much community based. A Menís Health Policy thatís not just focused on Canberra that would very much have roots in the community so that men can be focused on their own health. And also to provide some sort of funding for these referrals because men tend to ignore things until its too late. Of course as we all know preventative health is the most effective form of health care and given that you do have a problem the longer you leave it the worse it gets and the less likely you are to get better. Now Iím very keen to see all that happen. But I guess weíll watch this space. Iím sure there will be opportunities for discussion and input from groups like yourselves and others like you."
Dr Luke Buckmaster
(representing the Hon Nicola Roxon, Minister for Health & Ageing)
"Congratulations on bringing this diverse group of people together who look at this problem from the diversity of perspectives that there are. And its really important that that happens. Itís forums like these that are really important. The policy is under development at the moment. Weíre interested in your ideas and weíre interested in your involvement. So I think this is a great start and we welcome your involvement throughout the development of the policy."
Hon Kevin Andrews
"Warwick can I just say congratulations on all the work that youíve done today obviously, but not only today - over a period of time, to try and ensure that men and fathers in particular, their issues are actually addressed. Iím sure the elected representatives here today from both sides of the political divide have a long involvement of constituents, male constituents and female constituents, raising issues that are menís issues, if I can put it that way. And sometimes Iíve felt over the years that they havenít really gotten proper attention. I for one support anything that looks at the betterment of the health of men and women and Australians generally. I think this is a very important issue that you are involved in here. I wonít speak on behalf of the opposition as such because Tony [Abbott] is here, but Iím sure itís something which all of my colleagues in the Coalition are very supportive of. I certainly am, and wish you all the best."
Hon Tony Abbott MP
"I think that modern society can be quite a difficult place for men to operate in because we are traditionally hunter-warriors and hunter-warriors are not as much appreciated in the modern world as they were in times past. And after being hunter-warriors we became breadwinners, but our role as breadwinners is not an exclusive role now as it might have been in an earlier phase of industrial capitalism. And again, for all sorts of reasons, many of us donít have that role - look at old and retired men to see how useless they feel, to see the difficulty that men have in modern society. Women will always have that nurturing role but we are not as sure of our place in the modern world as might have been the case in previous generations. Thatís the general point I make. So thank you Warwick for trying to ensure that menís place is appreciated.
"The specific point I make though is that a Menís Health Policy is the sort of thing that all of us have to be in favour of because itís one of those things that is almost inevitably, and by definition, a good thing. So Iím in favour of what the government is doing. Iím sure the opposition will be in favour of what the government is doing. But the important thing is to make sure that itís not just, if you like, an aspiration, but it is something that delivers practical benefits, and thatís really the thing to look for. What practical benefits, what dollars and how are they going to be deployed, are going to come as a consequence of this Menís Health Policy? Otherwise it can easily be a PR exercise and I know you wouldnít want it to be just a PR exercise."
Hon Robert McClelland
"Iím accepting this [award and didgeridoo] on behalf of Kevin Rudd of course. Heís addressing cabinet now so I was asked to come out on his behalf. He regards what youíre doing as very very important. The issue of menís health is very important. We all have young families, and in the context of fatherhood, I mean youíre not going to do a very good job if youíre not in a reasonable sort of health. Itís vital all round: how we contribute to our work, how we contribute to our communities, how we contribute to our families is all very very important. We can all in our own way play a role as role models but equally there are a number of initiatives that can be taken and weíre determined to progress the issue. Itís very important for all those perspectives, but congratulations for raising it and advocating it and this [award and didgeridoo] will be kept and displayed by the Prime Minister with honour."
Anthony Byrne MP
"Thereís a critical dialogue thatís been absent nationally and thatís been the dialogue about men, menís health, and probably our next generation of men coming through, and indigenous menís health as well. For a very long period of time there was a vacuum. This wasnít discussed, and we had a generation of males that grew up and matured without a... the world had changed around them and they werenít quite sure how to respond to that change.
"One of the sort of early leaders was Stephen Biddulph. I remember when he first emerged and started talking about boysí health, that he was almost regarded as an extremist, which is quite weird now. But when he first emerged, it was Ďoh well why should we start focusing on menís health?í There was a general assumption that we should be focusing more and more on womenís mental health and womenís health which wasnít a bad thing but there was another 50% of the population that needed to be considered.
"I think where you need to be congratulated and why you need to be encouraged to continue is that youíre giving men a voice. Itís really important and they really havenít had that voice. They havenít been given permission to really speak about the fact that they are dying, they are committing suicide, they are not as healthy, they are struggling with the modern world and the demands of the modern world. Youíre giving them an outlet.
"With respect to the Menís Health Policy, I think thatís an important starting point - an umbrella - but the fact is the most important thing that youíre doing is youíre starting a dialogue, and its a dialogue that can literally save menís lives. I think if you look at the younger generation that are coming through, younger males in outer suburban areas in particular and rural and regional areas, they are looking for direction. If you look at the result nowfamilies and the impact that it has on young males, what I notice is they are looking in a very powerful way, theyíve got a thirst for significant male mentor figures.
"We had a local trade school down our way and the kids that were going through, young males in particular, were just very directionless until this gentleman that had come in from big business decided to revamp the program. He connected with business, but brought in, very significantly, a very successful tradesman who looked, you know, sixfoot- two, coach of the local football team. He could communicate with the boys at their level, and the profound change in the career pathways of those young boys when they had a very powerful male mentor figure was just incredible.
"My son Nicholas is 14, but I do want him to grow up in a society where males, they just donít die because theyíre too afraid to go to the doctor and talk about it, or they go through marital breakdown because they canít talk to their spouse because itís not incorporated as something that should be taught in schools because Ďwhy would males need that?í I want Nicholas to have permission to talk about himself as a male, his needs and his aspirations, and what youíre doing in a very significant sense is representing that.
"We need you to continue to push, to motivate, to generate ideas. Iím not quite sure what our timeframe is in terms of the implementation of this [policy] but this has really been driven out of you. The best policies come from the ground up - they donít come from the top down - and youíve been driving this process now for a number of years.
"Letís hope that will culminate in a National Menís Health Policy which will meet the needs of a population which I donít think has had its needs met for some period of time. We can stop this senseless waste of life that I keep on seeing and the lost years as a consequence of marital breakdown. And just the concept of not knowing how to be a male in this very complex society. So congratulations and Godspeed with all of your work."
Senator Gary Humphries
"I just want to make a comment on where to from here. You've got a tremendous opportunity created by the decision of the government and it's really important that the potential that the decision gives rise to is fully realised. As we all know with a process like this, the critical phase is the consultation exercise where we work out just what it is in this concept that actually can be taken forward and realised. What can actually make a change on the ground for those men, obviously not the sort of men who are in this room, who perhaps aren't thinking about their health and don't know whre to turn and have real problems in working out where to go and what to do to access good information and a sense of purpose and direction that gives them access to good health."
Senator the Hon Eric Abetz
"There is no doubt that there are some very real problems that the male community suffers from and, as Warwick said to me, I think that males are the biggest minority group within Australia.
"I did do a bit of family law, and one thing I really picked up on was that men in particular have great difficulty in grappling with some of the issues that arise.
"Way back when I was Parliamentary Secretary for Defence, one of the things I really wanted to do was to ramp up the funding for defence cadets, not only for getting people into the defence forces but because of the social good it would do for a lot of the young kids, especially boys. When we got the extra funding for it I was gobsmacked at the letters I got saying ĎDear Senator Abetz, thanks a lot. The only male role model that my son actually can look up to is his defence force cadet leader. And that weekly or fortnightly contact is just what I need to help him stay on the straight and narrow.í
"Those sort of stories, be it matrimonial issues, young blokes growing up in a single-parent home with a female head, you name it, there are problems everywhere.
"There is no doubt that cadet leaders, people such as yourselves, who are helping people in the various organisations, in helping counselling people, you are actually nation-builders.
"The statistics on the Indigenous community arenít flash, no matter which way you look at it. Weíve tried, Anthonyís team will try, have tried in the past, will continue to try, and you know itís difficult, but we are genuinely trying to do our best.
"Those of you who believe, your prayers and support are genuinely appreciated by Anthony and myself. For those of you who donít believe, thatís fine, your best wishes and hopes are also very much appreciated.
"More importantly, we are all on the web. Feel free to email Anthony and myself with any ideas and views as to what you think we can do because... the feedback that we get, it is just so important.
"We delude ourselves that weíve got all the good ideas. If we do have the good ideas, itís because we plagiarise the ideas that others have given us. But look we really do need your support, your input, so that we can do the things that made us go into politics. And that was, albeit from different perspectives, that we wanted to serve the Australian people to the best of our ability and make Australia even a better place than she is now. And with your help, support and input, both Anthony and I will be able to achieve that.
"So thanks for what you do. I will display [this award] in my office with great appreciation and wish the Fatherhood Foundation Menís Forum etc all the very best for the future."
|Adrian Adair||Australian Institute of Family Counsellors||aifc.info at aifc.com.au|
|Greg Andresen||Dads on the Air, Menís Health Australia||greg at misc.com.au|
|David Blakeway||Suicide Safety Network||dblakeway at iinet.net.au|
|Wayne Butler||Shared Parenting Council||secretariat at spca.org.au|
|Dr Elizabeth Celi||Psychologist||eceli at netlink.com.au|
|Glenn Cullen||Menslink||glenn at menslink.org.au|
|Mal Feebrey||Menís/Drug Counsellor||malfeebrey at hotmail.com|
|John Flanagan||Non Custodial Parents Party||jef00002 at yahoo.com.au|
|Uli Flanagan||Non Custodial Parents Party||jef00002 at yahoo.com.au|
|Mary Louise Fowler||Australian Family Association||marylofo at bordernet.com.au|
|David Hughes||Clinical Nurse Specialist Menís Health||david.hughes at ncahs.health.nsw.gov.au|
|Graham Jones||Fatherhood Foundation||gwjones10 at gmail.com|
|Warwick Marsh||Fatherhood Foundation||info at fatherhood.org.au|
|Prof John MacDonald||University of Western Sydney||j.macdonald at uws.edu.au|
|Mary Mertin-Ryan||Mensline Australia - Crisis Support Services Inc||mertinry at bigpond.net.au|
|Dr Tim OíNeill||Medical Practitioner||timon at majuramedical.com.au|
|Wanda Taylor||Fatherhood Foundation||iwejtn at webshield.net.au|
|Eric Trezise||Suicide Safety Network||amsmith at nsccahs.health.nsw.gov.au|
|Dr Jim Turner||Medical Practitioner||James.turner at sesiahs.health.nsw.gov.au|
|Gus Villablanca||Focus on the Family||gusv at families.org.au|
|Gabriel Walsh||Australian Family Association||gwalsh at family.org.au|
|Rick Welsh||Aboriginal Health & Medical Research Council||rwelsh at ahmrc.org.au|
|Barry Williams||Lone Fathers Association||president at lonefathers.com.au|
|Micheal Woods||University of Western Sydney||m.woods at uws.edu.au|