Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Mental health madness: A letter below than needs action, not politician-speak

Gold Coast Bulletin journalist Robyn Wuth has written to Premier Anna Bligh asking her to address the mental health system after the brutal murder and rape of her cousin, Carmel Wuth. Why was a dangerous young loony housed in an old people's home? It must not happen again

I am Robyn Wuth. I have been a journalist for almost two decades. I have seen tragedy, certainly, but never before have I been touched by it. On Saturday night, my cousin Carmel Wuth was brutally and savagely killed. A man broke into her home, gagged her, beat her, stabbed her and raped her.

She was 77, frail and defenceless. If that were not horrific enough, Carmel was different  the family preferred to call her special.She had never had a boyfriend. Never been kissed. She was an innocent. Very much like a child. She was of this world, but not part of this world and for her to die so violently, so horribly, is a crime too heinous to contemplate.

And yet I must. We all must.

I imagine how terrified she must have been in her final moments. How frightened and bewildered, how utterly helpless.

I only pray it was quick. I suspect it was not.

We have been devastated by her slaughter. Shocked and struggling to understand  we are not the first to live through the pain of losing someone to an act of violence.

Her primary carer, Bev Kelly, yesterday had to identify Carmel's battered body - an act delayed because she was so badly beaten and brutalised.

Carmels murder is eerily familiar. I covered the murder of teenager Janaya Clarke almost a decade ago. Janaya was stabbed by a mental patient Claude Gabriel and as the story unfolded I forged a close bond with her mother, also Robyn.

I stood by her as she fought bureaucrats for justice, even as she was threatened with jail by righteous public servants who used the law to punish her for daring to speak out. They called her irresponsible, I called her brave.

Now, as a journalist, I find myself in a similar position, a Catch-22 of which even Joseph Heller could not have dreamed.

As a member of the family, I am not supposed to talk to the media.

If mental illness is a defence and the accused person never faces trial, I am supposed simply to contain my rage. I am supposed to respect his privacy. I want this man to have a fair trial, to have his day in court and for justice to be served.

I watch closely as it unfolds. A man has been charged, but what are the chances he will ever face trial? I suspect none. Already, the accused has been ordered by the courts to undergo an advanced mental health assessment in a secure facility in a Brisbane hospital.

And so it begins. Will the family be told? Will they bother to tell us the results? Will I be breaking the law to write about it? Am I breaking the law by writing this now. If so, who does that law protect? Not any of the normal, decent citizens of Queensland.

You might as well arrest me now for I have no intention of letting Carmel's killer slip quietly into the system. I have no intention of sitting idle. I want answers, my family deserves the truth.

The system has already got it wrong. We cannot let the system cover up its irresponsible mistakes and let Carmel's killer slip quietly into some twilight zone where normal, decent Queenslanders are kept deliberately in the dark.

How can I put my faith in a system that placed a strong 36-year-old man in a retirement village, among the elderly in the first place?

* A system that prefers to shove the mentally ill out the door and into the community.

* A system that closed the asylums years ago.

* A system that ludicrously relies on the mentally ill to self-medicate, without proper supervision and support.

Police were called to the Trinity Gardens units three times last week, called by residents terrified of the man living in their midst, who some were convinced was deranged.

His behaviour had become increasingly erratic. He had put knives under the doors of residents in what would be an ominous warning of what was to come.

Carmel was one of those residents, a knife put under her door in the dark of night. She was too frightened to make an official complaint.She paid with her life.

Health professionals were called  when I say health professionals, I don't mean a doctor. I mean a social worker and a support person who between them decided there was no risk.

They counselled him, told him to take his pills and went on their way.

They saw no reason for a medical assessment. They determined the course of action, with disastrous consequences.

They worked within the system.

Presumably, their actions followed the guidelines.

There's just one thing  the system is supposed to protect innocent people like Carmel.

Police raised the alarm, identified the risk and the system ignored the warning.

Who made that decision? How could a man so volatile be placed in a retirement village in the first place? Who decided that his rights were more important than Carmel's life? Had those faceless and nameless bureaucrats acted appropriately, had they heeded the warnings, Carmel would be alive. They have to live with that cold, hard fact.

My family is demanding answers and getting none.

They have tried to complain to Attorney-General and Minister for Justice Kerry Shine, to ask for help, only to be told all requests must be submitted in writing.

We will, but we resent having to do so.

We resent having to ask the Opposition Leader Lawrence Springborg and Surfers Paradise MP John-Paul Langbroek to fight for justice for Carmel, but they have taken up our fight and we thank them for that.

We were disappointed that we had to ask.

We resent your audacity, Premier Bligh and that of your Health Minister Stephen Robertson, for defending such an appalling system.

For daring to say that nothing could have been done. You are both wrong, and you know it. The system is as much to blame for Carmel's death and I hold you, and it, in utter contempt.

I am tired of government platitudes and tired of excuses.

I have heard them before, but never have the words seemed so hollow, the promises so empty.

Time and time again we see cases where the mentally ill are involved in horrendous crimes of violence.

All these years, I have interviewed so many people whose lives have been touched by tragedy.

For the first time in my life, I understand.

The system is failing.

We have it wrong. How many lives must be lost before the situation is remedied? Nothing will bring Carmel Wuth back.

Nothing will make her exit from this world any gentler.

Carmel is gone, but maybe we can save someone else this pain.


Immigration blamed for housing crisis

Hard to argue with given extensive State and local government restrictions on housing developers and land usage. Such restrictions are not going to go away any time soon

A massive, uncontrolled increase in immigration in the past three years has fuelled the housing affordability crisis, home builders say. Housing Industry Association (HIA) managing director Ron Silberberg blamed the shortage of private rental accommodation on net immigration he estimated at 250,000 people a year.

"There has been an uncontrolled expansion of the immigration program," Dr Silberberg told a Senate committee in Canberra. "The pace in which it's increased has been massive over the last three years. "Do we need an explanation as to why there's pressure on private rental housing?" He described the immigration program as a federal government lever which could be used to address the housing crisis.

Asked if he blamed the squeeze entirely on immigration, Dr Silberberg said its effect was substantial. "It's a very significant influence on the demand for housing and accommodation." Dr Silberberg was speaking at the Senate select committee on housing affordability's first day of public hearings. More than one million Australians are considered to be in housing stress by paying at least 30 per cent of their income on accommodation.

The HIA chief also said the industry suffered from a skills shortage because only a tiny fraction of immigrants had training in residential construction. Only about 800 of the net figure of 250,000 arrivals had the necessary skills, he said. "I don't think the department of immigration has a proper understanding of labour market forecasting because that's done by another agency. "Demand for skilled people and professionals is so tight it's not even worth advertising."

The Planning Institute of Australia (PIA) told the committee that the construction sector's ability to meet demand is just as important as releasing more land. "Addressing undersupply is a critical issue if we are to ensure that we are able to adequately and affordably house our communities as Australia continues to develop," PIA national president Neil Savery said. "We're not saying that addressing supply is the panacea to the problem and certainly that the equation in relation to supply isn't simply: `Let's release as much land as we can possibly can on the urban fringe of the city'," he said.

Institute chief executive Diane Jay said releasing more land sounded simpler than it was. "There's some evidence that even if there were more land immediately available we really don't have the capacity within the construction and development sector to go a lot further in terms of meeting supply," she said. The group welcomed the federal government's planned National Housing Supply Council but said it must produce nationally comparable data on land release as well as new housing statistics.


South Australian report reveals decades of State care sex abuse

Another catastrophic "child welfare" system. Wards of the State -- made wards for their own "protection" -- found that the State was a gross child-abuser. And it went on for 40 years!

The horrific extent of sex abuse against children in state care over four decades has been revealed in the 600-page report of the Mullighan inquiry to State Parliament. Retired Supreme Court judge Ted Mullighan, QC, yesterday issued a stark warning that children in state care would remain vulnerable to sex abuse unless urgent action was taken to overhaul a system in crisis. His $13.5 million inquiry considered hundreds of allegations of widespread child abuse within government and non-government institutions, spanning 40 years. The report contained 54 recommendations, which Premier Mike Rann yesterday said would be comprehensively examined before a detailed response in early June.

Victims who provided evidence to Mr Mullighan during his three-year inquiry yesterday packed the public gallery of the House of Assembly as Mr Rann described how the contents of the report had "sickened him". "Decade after decade, the perpetrators of this abuse not only robbed children of their innocence but also stole both their past and their future," Mr Rann said. "But the victims, fearful and forced into silence for so long, deserve our compassion and, most importantly, our resolve in dealing with issues past and present. "I congratulate Ted Mullighan not only for lifting the veil on the depth of child abuse over decades but also in the way he has given victims a voice at last."

Mr Mullighan said he had been totally unprepared for the "foul undercurrent of society" which had perpetrated child sex abuse against wards of the state between the 1940s and 1980s. He had personally interviewed 792 people who alleged they were victims, with many, including an 81-year-old woman, revealing their stories for the first time. Further investigations had determined 242 alleged victims were wards of the state when they were sexually abused, with allegations involving 922 perpetrators. Mr Mullighan said he had referred 170 people with information about 434 alleged pedophiles to police, who arrested two suspects and reported 13 others. "I was appalled and horrified at the way in which children were exploited, abused and threatened and how they have lived in that situation for years without being able to do anything about it," he said

Mr Mullighan said he had decided to detail all the evidence he had received to highlight the extent of child sex abuse - and how it could be avoided in the future. "We need to educate the public about this scourge of child sex abuse so the public know how bad it is and how extensive it is," he said. "We need to be vigilant, not only with our own children but also with other children."

In his report, Mr Mullighan said he had received evidence the state's child protection system was in "crisis", with inadequate resources and funding. "The number of children being placed in care has increased; there is a shortage of foster carers and social workers; there is an inability to place children according to suitability rather than availability; and children are being placed in serviced apartments, bed and breakfast accommodation and motels because there is no other accommodation," he said. "Such a state of affairs cannot properly care for an already vulnerable group of children, let alone protect them from perpetrators of sexual abuse. "The evidence to the inquiry demonstrates that more resources must be made available to deal with the crisis created by the past as well as implement necessary reforms for the present and future." ...

Mr Mullighan said extra resources also had to be injected into the criminal justice system to prosecute child sex offenders regardless - and fast-track their trials. "Unfortunately, the process from investigation to trial now takes many years," he said. "It is important these allegations are not seen as a lesser priority in the criminal justice system because they are `historical'. The Pedophile Task Force, the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, the Legal Services Commission and the courts need to receive sufficient resources to investigate, prosecute, defend and conduct trials concerning the allegations of child sexual abuse arising from this inquiry in a timely manner."


Population soaring across Australia

Australia's population is racing ahead at rates not consistently seen since the migrant boom years of the 1950s and 60s, with growth of 1.5 per cent, or a record 315,700 extra people, during 2006-07. Figures released yesterday by the Australian Bureau of Statistics show the growth is not being driven in any one particular geographic or demographic area, but is across all Australia except for parts of western NSW and western Queensland. Growth is slightly stronger on the edges of capital cities, in the inner cities, and in seachange areas, particularly along the east coast. The overall growth rate of 1.53 per cent was up from 1.48 per cent the previous year.

While there were two years of high migration in the 80s in which higher growth rates were recorded, it was back in the period 1947-72 that Australia consistently recorded more than 1.5per cent. However, in terms of raw numbers, the extra 316,000 people who called Australia home in 2006-07 represents the biggest increase ever.

A breakdown of the growth compared with the previous year shows there were 10,000 extra births (273,000, up from 263,000) and 31,000 extra people gained through migration (178,000, up from 147,000), although there were also 1000 more deaths (135,000, up from 134,000). "It's everything coming together at the same time," demographer Bernard Salt said. "Generation X has finally realised they can have babies; migration is very high, mainly because of the skills shortage and the need to fill jobs to keep the mining boom going; and the baby boomers aren't dying yet."

The Gold Coast and Brisbane remained the fastest-growing areas, with an extra 17,000 and an extra 16,000 people respectively, meaning the City of Brisbane local government area's population has now exceeded a million. After these, the big growth areas were on the edge of major cities, with Wanneroo, on the northern outskirts of Perth, and then Wyndham and Casey, on the outskirts of Melbourne, being next on the list of fastest-growing. Another high-growth group were the seachange coasts, with the Tweed-Byron area of northern NSW and the "surf coast" area of Victoria around Torquay among the boom areas.

The competition between Sydney and Melbourne also intensified, with the population of the Melbourne statistical district growing by an extra 62,000 people, while that of the Sydney statistical district grew by only 51,000. But while the growth in Melbourne was the same as the previous year, the growth in Sydney was well up on the 36,000 recorded previously.


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