Don't politicise tragedy: Krieg

04 Nov, 2015 06:36 AM
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WA Regional Men’s Heath Initiative founder and Community Educator Julian Krieg.
There is always hope, even if the immediate outcome is not what we wanted or expected
WA Regional Men’s Heath Initiative founder and Community Educator Julian Krieg.

AN award-winning mental health expert has denounced the recent politicisation of Queensland farmer George Bender’s suicide to try and “bully or blackmail” policy changes over coal seam gas (CSG) mining.

WA Regional Men’s Heath Initiative founder and Community Educator Julian Krieg has worked successfully on preventing and reducing suicide in rural communities over the past 15 years, especially around drought related pressures.

In 2011, he was awarded the 2011 LIFE Award for Healthy Communities by Suicide Prevention Australia in recognition of his grassroots action supporting and counselling farmers to help resolve social and financial pressures.

This week, Mr Krieg told Fairfax Agricultural Media the politicisation of Mr Bender’s suicide - by blaming it on CSG mining companies seeking access to his farm-land over an extended period of time - was wrong.

He said politicising any suicide to strengthen an argument was “wrong” and that Mr Bender’s “life and death should be respected”.

“When someone takes their own life everyone asks the question, why?” he said.

“But the answer is always complex and in my opinion never because of a single issue.

“While this CSG issue was a contributing factor in this man’s decision, the community should pursue policy change without trying to bully or blackmail change based on this tragedy and remain respectful of the life lost.”

Following Mr Bender’s suicide, Sydney radio broadcaster Alan Jones and Independent Queensland Senator Glenn Lazarus used the tragedy to call for law changes to give farmers powers to stop mining occurring on their land.

Senator Lazarus also demanded the Queensland government pay for the Chinchilla farmers’ funeral and for the matter to be referred to the police.

“I think criminal charges should be laid - we’re talking about manslaughter here - he was bullied to death, this well-respected man,” he said in a statement.

“The government has blood on their hands and it was a senseless death.”

But Mr Krieg said he had serious concerns about media or politicians using any suicide as a way to create emotional responses over a particular issue.

He said it showed a lack of understanding about what’s likely to actually be occurring in the minds of other people, also struggling with the same issues.

“We must remember that when confronted with very difficult and confronting problems most people will have thoughts of suicide,” he said.

“People tend to take action on these thoughts when they feel it has reached a point of hopelessness.

“We need to always remain focused on resolving the situation and providing hope.

“If the mining companies are operating within the current law, what are they guilty of doing?

“If this matter is to be properly resolved the laws must change but that’s a role for the politicians.”

Mr Krieg said some politicians, media commentators and others involved in the debate may need expert guidance or tuition on issues relating to suicide - especially for farmers.

He said suicide was more often the result of a build-up of difficult, unresolved situations or what he called “situational distress” rather than “so called mental health issues”.

“When these situations go on too long they affect our minds and then a suicide can be a consequence,” he said.

“While this issue had been worrying this man for years, I think there would also be other factors involved.”

Mr Krieg said unresolved issues were often the beginning of serious mental health disorders but someone could still be at risk of suicide, despite being undiagnosed professionally.

He said the fact the land access issue had been Mr Bender’s “focus” for so many years meant it was possible he had undiagnosed mental health problems.

Mr Krieg said it was also wrong to push the issue and subsequent claims of blame against CSG companies, ahead of a coroner's report being finalised and potentially made public.

But he said it was also likely the coroner won’t find clear evidence one way or the other.

Mr Krieg said the level of distress faced by Mr Bender and his family, and many others, over land access arrangements, must be resolved.

He said responsibility for these changes rested with State and federal governments because CSG mining companies currently operated the way they do, because of loopholes in the law.

Mr Krieg said the lasting legacy and lesson of Mr Bender’s passing should be an insistence on clarity around the policies and laws governing land access while highlighting the importance of sustainable agricultural production.

He said people should continue to pressure politicians to rectify laws they’re dissatisfied with and always remain hopeful of achieving their desired outcomes, even if feeling suicidal.

“There is always hope, even if the immediate outcome is not what we wanted or expected,” he said.

Mr Krieg is also a member of Suicide Prevention Australia Board and chairman of the WA Rural Financial Counselling Service.

He was a State finalist in 2011 for the Senior Australian of the Year for his work advancing rural men’s health and increasing suicide prevention by changing the traditional culture in rural communities around accepting professional help.

According to data on suicide released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics in March this year, 1885 males (16.4 per 100,000) and 637 females (5.5 per 100,000) died by suicide in 2013, equating to an average of 6.9 deaths by suicide in Australia each day.

About three-quarters (74.7 per cent) of people who died by suicide were male, making suicide the 10th leading cause of death for males, the ABS said.

For 24/7 crisis support and suicide prevention services call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or visit www.lifeline.org.au

Other services include Suicide Call Back Service: 1300 659 467 and Beyondblue: 1300 22 4636

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Colin Bettles

Colin Bettles

is the national political writer for Fairfax Agricultural Media
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READER COMMENTS

Heather
4/11/2015 9:00:44 AM

As a retired farmer formerly affected by mine dewatering & failure of administrative processes to protect landholders' rights, I interpret that Mr Krieg has NOT walked in the shoes of persons affected by adverse impacts from resources industries. I used to believe Govt acted to properly safeguard the environment & the welfare of landholders, but have learned that this is certainly NOT the case. From my experience, the very sad matter of the suicide is inextricably linked to political decisions & illustrates disempowerment of landholders. Hope can only sustain you for so long.
Sir Les P
4/11/2015 9:48:12 AM

Mr Krieg does not understand how these CSG Co's break people down,i'm speaking from experience.They change staff so that you have to start over again the negoiation this goes on over so far over more than three & a half years.In Qld we have John Cotter & the Gasfield Commision who are supposed to be independant i see on their webpage the chairman & commissioners have been accepting from CSG Co's tickets to corporate boxes for State of O, rugby internatonals,AFL , Ballet & presents. No wonder landowners don't do any good talking to these people at the commision.
Lizzie
4/11/2015 10:05:59 AM

I agree Heather. It's very easy to be highhanded about this issue looking from the outside in. As someone next door to an approaching gas field and experienced the impacts of high voltage powerlines all in the name of the resource industry, it is the lack of say and control over what can and cannot go on our land that creates enormous stress. If landowners had the right to say No, as the resource sector has and walk away from the negotiating table then both would immediately be on the same level. We have felt and I have watched people experience enormous anguish because of current Acts.
Sue Head
5/11/2015 5:42:48 AM

It is no secret that Senator Lazarus and Alan Jones have long campaigned against the CSG industry and to suggest that George Bender's death is being used to bully or blackmail policy change is ironic, given the claims that the CSG industry bullied George Bender to his death. Mr. Krieg says himself that the CSG issue was probably a contributing factor in his death, so I don't really get the motive behind the article, except maybe Mr. Krieg is doing some of his own grandstanding. The Bender family really don't need to read this trash & I find it completely disrespectful and tacky.
LTF
5/11/2015 6:26:11 AM

The problem where CSG is most affecting landholders is the lack of rights and power which farmers have when confronted by CSG explorers/miners coming onto their property. The fault is squarely on the shoulders of State Governments, who will prostitute themselves to whatever depth necessary to gouge a dollar out of the raw material royalties and ancilliary benefits and the landholder will always be traumatised both financially and therefore mentally until that situation is addressed.
Sue Head
5/11/2015 6:36:08 AM

As to claims that the Qld government should pay for George Bender's funeral. Why shouldn't they? In NSW we spent over a million dollars giving Bart Cummings a State funeral, which was politically motivated, so why can't George get his funeral paid for? I personally think George was more deserving of funding than Bart Cummings was. Why is it that in our society we value famous people more than the everyday people? Some people really need to check their moral compasses and the Qld govt do have blood on their hands as they have failed to protect landowners.
Ted O'Brien.
5/11/2015 6:48:07 AM

Don't politicise? Why not? You mean, just shut up and ignore it? Get real!
Ben
5/11/2015 6:55:41 AM

This is an emotive issue but I think Krieg has some valid points, especially his statement: “There is always hope, even if the immediate outcome is not what we wanted or expected".
morty 0007
5/11/2015 7:14:56 AM

its very sad when these gas companies can come onto someone elses property and if the owners of this property don't let them then the owners wind up in jail this poor man must have gone through hell before he took this step and when this happens you can bet neither side of politics will do anything to stop this and how dare any Australian government we have to let these filthy corrupt energy people destroy our lively hood our land our water all for their 30 pieces of silver
HenryMc
6/11/2015 2:22:05 AM

When will the farmers realise that the Nationals are a Mining party not a farmer's party? CSG and mine development are at the forefront ofLNP policies under the guise of regional development. Find someone from within who really represents the will of the people rather than ALL current pollies who have their snouts so far in the troughs we can only see their piggy tails.

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