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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2002 Week 6 Hansard (15 May) . . Page.. 1657 ..

MR PRATT (continuing):

Ms Tucker had to say yesterday in her rather silly speech with its head-in-the-sand approach to what that report might have been telling us.

We believe that the group of children we might identify to be susceptible to drugs or vulnerable to taking drugs is the same group we might look at to see if we can detect children at risk of mental illness. That group is not entirely the same, because children do not have to be abusing substances to have a mental health problem, but it is a place to start. I would like to see our schools undertaking risk management programs that identify that dynamic.

I also raise the issue my colleague Mrs Cross raised: the vexed issue of schoolboy suicide. We see in all the statistics available to us that schoolboy suicide rates are comparatively high. It is more than a whisker breadth gap; boys are significantly more susceptible to suicide than girls. Clearly there is a growing disconnect at the moment in society, and perhaps schools, in relation to detecting boys who have a mental illness that leads to desperate straits.

We have also to recognise the pressures of society. The pressures of society place greater stresses and needs on our schoolchildren, and something needs to be done about that. So I would like to see the education department and schools more formally look at how they might identify children at risk and bring programs to them. I would like to see the department and schools reaching out to those children at risk of acquiring mental disease, be it your garden variety stress or more serious mental health problems. The concept of schools as communities means that schools do have a leading role to play in this issue.

I will conclude by talking about preventative mental health care for kids. I think this is something we underrate. I would like to see society and schools take a leading role in introducing preventative mental health programs for kids-for want of a better term, a series of stress busting programs in schools to give children a little bit more recreation time and sporting time and more access to adventure, sport and recreation activities. I would like to see them take the initiative and help kids who may be susceptible to stress, particularly ones from broken families, head off those sorts of concerns.

I would like to see the community ramping up life skills education as well. That runs hand in hand with what we have been saying in this place about increased drugs education. These types of programs would be extremely important in helping to head off this particular difficulty. Prevention is much better than cure. I wonder whether we have sufficient programs in place, as a community and within schools, to take head on the concern about mental illness amongst our children. Mr Deputy Speaker, I thank my colleagues for their patience.

MR QUINLAN (Treasurer, Minister for Economic Development, Business and Tourism, Minister for Sport, Racing and Gaming and Minister for Police, Emergency Services and Corrections) (4.36): I do not intend to speak at length. This particular MPI exemplifies one of the difficulties we all work with in this place: essentially, we are lay people but from time to time of necessity discuss quite sophisticated matters that require considerable professional knowledge, training and experience. I do not have advice for overcoming that problem other than: what we do we might do rather carefully.

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