UPDATED 5 pm: In a move described as disappointing, the ACT Government has refused to support a push from the Opposition to develop a men’s health plan and recognise International Men’s Day.
Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith warned some elements of Canberra Liberals’ spokesperson for health Leanne Castley’s calls for such a plan were bordering on the far-right and ultra-conservative.
Ms Castley had referenced men’s rights’ activists and The Red Pill documentary in her opening speech. That movement has been linked to incel groups and some misogynistic ideology.
The Health Minister questioned the purpose of the motion.
“We could be uncharitable and say this is some red meat for the conservative base of the Canberra Liberals,” she said.
Ms Stephen-Smith instead listed a range of initatives and work underway intended to support “the health and wellbeing of all Canberrans”, including men’s.
Furthermore, Ms Stephen-Smith said the Territory did not have a women’s health strategy either and therefore Ms Castley’s entire premise was flawed.
The Territory does, however, have a broader Women’s Plan which she said was intended to address ongoing equality issues.
An at-times emotional debate took place in the chamber this afternoon as the Assembly debated the motion.
Opposition spokesperson for mental health Ed Cocks outlined his experience with men’s mental health and the times he had watched close friends suffer.
He said his first experience of a man committing suicide occurred when he was in high school and a friend’s brother took his own life. He had seen others suffer as well.
Ms Castley, who introduced the motion by saying her life would not be the same without the “great men” she had in it, accused the government of voting against men.
“We need to come up with a targeted strategy to adress men and boy’s health, their access to [healthcare] and their outcomes,” she told the Assembly.
“I want the men in my life to be around for as long as possible … and I want to know the government has a plan in place for their health.”
Ms Castley said the last time this had been looked at was 1999 and this needed to be corrected.
If this story has raised concerns for you, contact Lifeline on 13 11 14. If someone is in immediate danger, call 000. Information and support for anxiety, depression and suicide prevention are available through Beyond Blue.
A list of child and youth mental health services in the Territory is available online.
8 am: The Government has a strategy in place for the health and wellbeing of women and LGBTQI+ people and should implement a similar one for men, the Canberra Liberals argue.
At the same time, it should recognise International Men’s Day (IMD) and develop a public health campaign to address health, wellbeing services and initiatives that focus on men and boys.
IMD takes place on 19 November every year. It is a decade-old initiative but has not garnered the same traction as International Women’s Day, which is more than a century old.
Some have criticised it for encouraging anti-feminism and anti-women voices, while others support its efforts to cast light on men’s health and mental health issues.
It is not recognised by the United Nations.
Opposition spokesperson for health Leanne Castley, who will this afternoon attempt to force the Government to do just that with a motion in the ACT Legislative Assembly, outlined a range of statistics affecting men’s health.
According to a 2019 report from the Australian Men’s Health Forum, four out of five premature cardiac deaths and two out of three premature bowel cancer deaths that happen locally are men, while 57 per cent of Canberrans who die from cancer are men.
Furthermore, 75.9 per cent of suicides in the ACT are men and the rate of male suicide in the ACT has doubled in the past five years despite the national rate staying the same.
That same report highlighted a lack of “significant strategic work focused on men and boys’ health in the ACT”, and the Territory came sixth of all states and territories in terms of specific work it was doing to address men’s health.
It did, however, find men in the Territory are the most present fathers in the country and boys in the ACT ranked first on the education table, while men scored highest in terms of economic security.
Ms Castley said while the Government had released important strategies to improve equity and access to health services for women and LGBTIQ+ groups, it was important for the Government to continue this work and develop a parallel strategy for men’s health.
She also noted there had been no work done to better understand health outcomes for men in the ACT.
Opposition spokesperson for mental health Ed Cocks was particularly concerned about the suicide statistics.
He said it was vital that there was a plan to deliver strong services and supports tailored to the needs of men and boys.
The motion was supported by Australian Men’s Health Forum CEO Glen Poole.
Mr Poole said it was important to focus on preventing male suicide, tackling higher rates of premature death for men and ensuring easy access to male-friendly services with a targeted approach.
“We’d welcome cross-party support for the proposal to develop a Men’s Health Plan and would like to see the ACT Government working in partnership with local men’s organisations to improve the lives and health of men and boys in the Canberra region,” he said.
In 2019, the Federal Coalition government published a National Men’s Health Strategy.
That identified specific groups of men who needed targeted health action, including those living in rural areas, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men, and males with a disability or from a disadvantaged socioeconomic background.
Ms Castley will move her motion in the ACT Legislative Assembly this afternoon.