HON ALISON XAMON (North Metropolitan) [5.23 pm]: I rise to make some comments about the code of practice titled “Mentally healthy workplaces for fly-in fly-out (FIFO) workers in the resources and construction sectors”, which was brought down last week. I feel inspired to make some comments in response to some of the very disappointing comments that I heard in this place about this code. I want to say from the outset that I completely support the work that has been done here. I am really, really happy that it has been done. One criticism is that I think a lot of the recommendations in the code need to be prescribed by regulation. That is probably my biggest concern. What has been produced in this body of work is so important that we need to ensure it can be enshrined in law and enforced effectively. The reality is that we need modern solutions for modern problems. It is nice to always hear stories about the olden days, but I am particularly interested in making sure that we are addressing what is happening for FIFO workers right now.

FIFO can be incredibly important for a lot of families and can be very, very good for a lot of individual workers. For many people, the capacity to work FIFO is an opportunity to lift themselves out of dire financial situations or give themselves a leg-up in the world. It is not without its problems, and we need to recognise that. Being away from family, particularly spouses and children, can really take its toll. Making sure that FIFO workers have liveable rosters is an important way to make sure that life is better. As well as ensuring that conditions on the site are genuinely amenable to good positive mental health, we need to make sure that people have access to alcohol and other drug services. We need to recognise that when people are away, it can be very difficult to access appropriate mental health services.

FIFO work is an important part of the employment landscape within this state. It is really important that we protect the mental health of our FIFO workers. I really want to reflect on the devastating impact of suicide on the families of those people who have taken their lives and on the workers who are left behind. For that reason, we need to be treating it with absolute seriousness. Members here may not be aware—of course, my colleague Hon Tim Clifford is aware—that outside my political work, I deliver training and I am recognised as, I dare say, a bit of an expert on children bereaved by suicide. I talk about the long-term impact and I deliver training to mental health professionals and others around what happens in the lifetime journey of children who are bereaved. It is a very, very serious matter and one that we should never, ever take lightly.

It is never, ever okay for anyone to presume that because they are okay in a situation, everyone around them should be as well. I am afraid that is the first step towards ensuring that people are not able to access the help that they need if they are experiencing suicidality. When we are talking about issues as important as suicide, I beg people always to recognise that even if they have been okay in a particular situation, it does not mean that it is okay to silence the voices and the experiences of people who are perhaps not okay. The one thing we always demand is that people are able to call out for help if they are experiencing mental health distress. I am extraordinarily disappointed if that is ever the response.

Before I came back into this place for the fortieth Parliament, I was, of course, the president of the Western Australian Association for Mental Health. In that capacity, I sat on the committee that was responsible for helping to formulate the government response to the recommendations of the parliamentary inquiry into FIFO. That was a very important opportunity and it was also heavily influenced by the fact that I had a background working in the unions and representing members who had been working FIFO as well. I am very familiar with the line that came from the Chamber of Minerals and Energy, which stated that it was not an issue of mental health and suicide on the sites because, by and large, the population group that was more than likely to undertake FIFO was also, coincidently, the demographic that was more likely to be at risk of taking their lives.

I want to say two things about that. Firstly, if we have identified that a particular population group is automatically at higher risk of feeling suicidal and taking their own lives, we need to keep an eye on what is happening with that population group and provide targeted services. It is never okay to say, “They’re going to be naturally at risk anyway, so we’ll wash our hands of this.” No. It means we must ensure that we put in place targeted approaches to assist that population group.

It is also important to note, secondly, that that particular line from the Chamber of Minerals and Energy is wrong. I note that Hon Kyle McGinn in his contribution made brief reference to a particular report. I will give members a bit more detail about that report. The report, which was commissioned by the Mental Health Commission and undertaken by the Centre for Transformative Work Design, is entitled “Impact of FIFO work arrangements on the mental health and wellbeing of FIFO workers”. That report found that even when we take into account associated risk factors such as age and education, there is still a greater risk of mental ill-health among workers who operate under FIFO work arrangements. Members need to remember this. The old myth that it is not a particular issue for FIFO workers, because they happen to belong to a demographic that is more likely to take their own lives, has been proved not to be the case. The reality is that the peculiarities of FIFO work lend themselves to a higher incidence of mental health issues and suicidality if appropriate mechanisms are not put in place to address those issues and ensure that people are able to access the right services. Therefore, it is important that we pay close attention to this issue and treat it with the utmost seriousness.

As I have said, if someone takes their own life, it is devastating. It can destroy the lives of the people who are left behind. It also has a terrible, terrible impact on the other workers on the work site. I am glad that we have made some inroads into acknowledging the unique needs of FIFO workers and the issue of mental health and suicide prevention and are, hopefully, making some progress on this issue. I hope that will translate directly into saving lives.

Finally, I want to acknowledge the MVD Memorial Ride crew, who are currently riding over 2 200 kilometres from Perth to Telfer in honour of Mick, their friend, brother and workmate, who took his life in October last year on a mine site. They aim to raise awareness of mental health issues and have already raised a bucketload of money for Beyond Blue. They left last Thursday, 4 April, and expect to take 11 days to complete the ride. I know one of the co-workers of this man, and it has been devastating for him and his colleagues. I wish them well. I hope they raise a lot of money. Importantly, everyone in this place needs to remember that any moves we can make to ensure that people are less likely to take their own lives should be welcomed and encouraged.


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