Farmer suicide tragic, but should not be misused: expert

November 6th, 2015

The suicide of Queensland farmer George Bender was tragic for many reasons, not least of which is that it was unnecessary.

Mr Bender’s family is entitled to feel terribly hurt and resentful if an argument over proposed coal-seam gas development on the family property was a contributor to his horrible decision to take his own life.

But is it appropriate for politicians and activists to use the sad loss as the focal point of an aggressive political campaign?  Is it even more questionable when the change they seek would mean fundamental change to legislation which has operated successfully for more than a century?

Definitely not, in the opinion of award-winning rural suicide prevention authority Julian Krieg, as reported in rural newspaper The Land this week.

 The community should pursue policy change without trying to bully or blackmail change based on this tragedy and remain respectful of the life lost.

In 2011, Mr Krieg 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.

Mr Krieg had a similar message to the editor of the Chinchilla News, when 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 in The Land.

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

In this case, the bullying is being done by Queensland Senator Glen Lazarus and anti-fossil fuel activist group Lock The Gate, who have been attacking the Queensland Government and charging the natural gas industry, and one company in particular, with Mr Bender’s “manslaughter”.

They claim Queensland’s land access regime is the thing which needs to be rewritten – a regulatory framework which is common to all States and Territories because under our Constitution, they own the onshore resources, on behalf of all citizens.

To take away the State/Territory  oversight and leave the power of veto with individual landholders in this issue, or any other resources issue, would immediately disenfranchise all other citizens – and upend a century of successful resource development which has underpinned Australia’s growth.

Senator Lazarus wants to see a national approach to legislation. “I have made it clear that if the Government wants to negotiate on Bills in the Senate, I want clear outcomes,” he said.

He has presented the Prime Minister with a seven-point plan including the establishment of a royal commission into the human impact of CSG mining, a CSG mining commissioner to overhaul and unify legislation, a resources ombudsman to deal with complaints and a support service to help affected landholders with legal, health, financial and other issues.

In Queensland, the leading farmer-representative organisation does not agree.  AgForce president Charles Burke says a review may be useful, but the ­GasFields Commission Queensland was a good model.

That model has seen more than $200 million paid to landholders in the past five years.

“I will probably get shot, but I think the majority of agreements have a good outcome,” Mr Burke told the Daily Telegraph.

Mr Burke acknowledged there were always exceptional situations which could cause “significant pressure” for some people.  But he said it was also true that many people had “done very well financially out of coal-seam gas in conjunction with their farming activities.

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