Letters to
the editor

RANZCP must step up for those in need

With his humane and incisive analysis of another health catastrophe, Rick Morton has done it again (“The truth on spiralling mental-health waitlists”, February 19-25) and nails the causal issues. How long have families, carers and sufferers had to watch as millions of dollars are funnelled into suicide-prevention initiatives and call centres, or put on lengthy waitlists for psychologists who, in the main, are not trained or supported to treat people with serious brain illnesses such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder or clinical depression, for which we need psychiatrists. As a reader who has buried and cares for family members with enduring mental illness, it was galling to learn of the abject incompetence of the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists board and their role in denying very ill Australian’s access to hundreds of psychiatrists. To them I can only ask: “Where in God’s name is your humanity?” Fix this or move on.

– Mary Hollick, Ballarat, Vic

Living conditions need to change

It is true that the mental-health system is broken, but not in the ways Rick Morton’s article emphasises. His case study is telling because of the expensive resources directed towards the suicidal man – by GP, mental-health teams and police – to no apparent effect. These are the wrong kind of responses. Living in poverty, this unfortunate man’s distress has been medicalised by a system that ignores social and interpersonal determinants of mental health in favour of a biomedical approach. The problem will not be fixed by directing more funding to the mental-health sector. Improving the mental health of the population requires radical – not incremental – change that recognises mental-health problems as social and structural, requiring (as Morton’s article does briefly mention) an intersectoral response. Changes need to be made to the conditions of living, rather than to the brains of individuals who suffer.

– Jon Jureidini PhD MBBS FRANZCP, Adelaide, SA

Government only out for a quick buck

I never thought I’d see the day when a government of Australia engaged in the wanton destruction of knowledge (Alison Barnes, “Research and destroy”, February 19-25). The Morrison government’s myopic prioritisation of commercialisable research shows an absence of understanding of the depth of research that lies behind commercial breakthroughs. They’d sooner grab the quick buck than foster world-class research. This government has already caused huge damage to our universities through its funding cuts and JobKeeper exclusion: tens of thousands of jobs have been lost. The forced restructuring of pay and promotions to enforce the new commercialisation drive will further undermine our universities’ academic excellence; the ministerial prerogative to veto grants in the “national interest” politicises this. Academic research is not a function that can be switched on and off like a marketing campaign. It must be given consistent support, independent of ministerial whims. This government’s vandalism must be stopped.

– Christopher Young, Surrey Hills, Vic

Putin not the bad guy this time

“Speak loudly and carry a big twig” (Michael Costello, February 19-25) was the perfect summation of our federal government’s foreign diplomacy. It’s sad to read something written by yet another “former secretary” to a government department. We need more people like Michael Costello to still be advising the ignoramuses in Canberra, as it’s obvious they get their ideas from the Cornflakes packet. Many of us may have little time for Vladimir Putin, but his behaviour over Ukraine does not make the West blameless. Anyone aware of Russia’s past can understand its obduracy at the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s attempt to expand eastwards. When Russia finally began to pull out of Germany in 1989-90, it was with the assurance from the Bush administration that NATO would not expand eastwards. According to Joshua Shifrinson’s 2016 study: “In early February 1990, US leaders made the Soviets an offer. According to transcripts of meetings in Moscow on Feb. 9, then-Secretary of State James Baker suggested that in exchange for cooperation on Germany, US could make ‘iron-clad guarantees’ that NATO would not expand ‘one inch eastward’. Less than a week later, Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev agreed to begin reunification talks. No formal deal was struck, but from all the evidence, the quid pro quo was clear: Gorbachev acceded to Germany’s western alignment and the US would limit NATO’s expansion.” This seems to have been conveniently forgotten. We should not be duped into thinking that Putin is the bad guy here: Russia for once is not expanding westwards, but NATO is certainly threatening to expand eastwards. As Costello rightly states, there needs to be consideration for Russia’s concerns instead of the US continually beating drums of war. And please let’s keep minnows such as Scott Morrison and Peter Dutton out of it.

– Eileen Whitehead, Queens Park, WA

Strong advisers needed

Michael Costello’s article is an extremely useful explanation of the background behind Vladimir Putin’s threatened invasion of Ukraine and the real issues globally around this crisis in the making. It is also a timely reminder of the dangers of the current degrading of the public service as a source of nonpartisan advice. If only Scott Morrison and Peter Dutton had this public servant advising them, maybe we wouldn’t be putting our foot in our mouth as a nation quite so much.

– Francis Pollard, Moffat Beach, Qld

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This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on February 26, 2022.

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