Mental Health Problems: Not Just a Knee-Jerk Reaction

SYDNEY, 21 October 2005

The report titled “Not for Service”, prepared by the Mental Health Council of Australia, the Mind and Brain Institute and the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission, has revealed serious failings at all levels of State and Federal Governments, in relation to the identification and treatment of those with  mental illness.

It is therefore timely to highlight the massive waste of money, since 1996, in implementing John Howard’s Gun Bans - so far more than one BILLION dollars - crushing the old rabbit rifles, fox guns and target pistols of LICENCED Gun Owners.

 That money and related resources SHOULD have been invested in Mental Health Services.

After Martin Bryant murdered 35 people at Port Arthur, many experts raised the issue of Mental Health, even  pointing out that, had it not been for the Richmond Report,  Martin Bryant would have been locked away, or at least been having treatment; those 35 people would have not been murdered!

A crime survey showed that, in NSW between 1999 and 2003, 36 people were murdered by recently released mental health patients! Further, the Australian Institute of Criminology report No 7/05 showed that as many as 7% of murder victims during 2003/2004 were killed by a mentally ill offender.

Yet, for all the money, time and police resources wasted on Gun Control, gun crimes are still on the increase. The criminals and the mentally deranged didn’t hand in their guns, did they?  Valuable police resources continue to be wasted on a vast (and inaccurate) registration system, to log and trace firearms owned by the very group of people who are least likely to commit any crime - Licenced Firearms Owners. 

Howard, because of his “I hate Guns” views and against the advice of experts, turned the Port Arthur murders into a “guns issue”, rather than considering the mental health aspects. Later, after two students were murdered at Monash University, Howard once again pursued a “Ban Guns” approach, even though Huan Yun Xiang, charged with the murders, was found to be “unfit to stand trial, because of severe mental illness”!

It is no longer acceptable, following a crime committed by a mentally disturbed person, to advocate the simplistic solution of “Ban Guns”, any more than it would be to attempt to solve the illegal drug problem by proposing a ban on hypodermic needles.

It’s time to move the discussion away from the instruments of crime, be it gun, knife or syringe, back to the perpetrators of and reasons for, crime. If mental health is the problem, then it must be addressed.

Peter Whelan