Senator Bridget McKenzie denies claims she said suicide rates were being 'politicised' during SSM debate

Senator Bridget McKenzie (right) speaking during an interview on Sky News earlier today.
Senator Bridget McKenzie (right) speaking during an interview on Sky News earlier today.

NATIONALS Senator Bridget McKenzie denies claims she said suicide was being “politicised” by either side of the same-sex marriage debate.

Sky News published a 28-second excerpt of an interview she gave on Thursday in which Ms McKenzie, who has an office in Bendigo, stated suicide should not be used by either side of the debate.

“I would hate to think that somebody is using suicide, particularly of our young men and women, as a way to further the cause of either side of this debate,” she said.

“At the end of the day, somebody’s decision to take their own life – you must be at the end of the road.

“I don’t think we should be politicising somebody who is going through that sort of trauma.”

The excerpt was published on Sky News’ Twitter feed and her comments were immediately condemned by same-sex marriage supporters.

A number of community health organisations, including Cobaw Community Health in Kyneton, have spoken of the impact the debate was likely to have on the mental health of LGBTI people.

Studies show LGBTI people aged 16 to 27 are five times more likely to attempt suicide and transgender people aged over 18 are 11 times more likely.

Ms McKenzie’s office provided the full interview to the Bendigo Advertiser on Thursday afternoon to give context to the senator’s comments.

A spokesperson for Ms McKenzie said the comments were not in reference to the ‘yes’ or ‘no’ campaigns.

She was answering a question about conflicting comments made by Nationals MPs about the impact of the same-sex marriage postal survey on the mental health of LBGTI people.

Interviewer Samantha Maiden asked: “Do you see a link, as has been made in the past, between being gay and lesbian and having an elevated risk of mental health issues? Could this be exacerbated by the plebiscite?”

Here’s Ms McKenzie’s full response:

“I hold a science degree, so I’ll always go to the evidence.

And the evidence has shown over many many decades that growing up as a gay man or woman in Australia, particularly in certain areas and in certain cultures, you are not accepted and welcomed, and that has significant implications for your mental wellbeing.

I think we’ve made incredible strides, particularly over the last decade and a half in addressing that, but there’s still a way to go.

I don’t dispute the facts that growing up a gay man or woman particularly in rural and regional Australia can have significant implications for your mental health, and that we need to - as I’ve said previously - ensure our schools, our workplaces, our communities, are welcoming.

Whether you want to link that to a yes or a no vote on changing the definition of traditional marriage, is I think, a different question.

I would fully back ensuring that our communities and our institutions do not encourage, or are places, where homophobic attitudes are expressed.

That is to improve welfare.

I would hate to think that somebody is using suicide, particularly of our young men and women, as a way to further the cause of either side of this debate.

At the end of the day, somebody’s decision to take their own life – you must be at the end of the road.

I don’t think we should be politicising somebody who is going through that sort of trauma.”

The final three sentences were published in the Sky News Twitter excerpt, and were criticised by co-chair of Bendigo Say Yes Tash Joyce.

After seeing the full answer, Ms Joyce said the comments were “at best cynical, and at worst heartlessly callous”.

“People’s personal lives are being held up to public scrutiny through an unnecessary and divisive process instigated by her Coalition government,” she said.

“When the community affected by this is the community that is telling you that this is happening, you need to listen to them. She needs to ask: why is this the case?”

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