Legislative Council: Tuesday, June 27, 2023


Veterinarian Suicide Prevention

The Hon. I. PNEVMATIKOS (14:36): My question is to the Minister for Primary Industries and Regional Development. Will the minister inform the chamber—

Members interjecting:

The PRESIDENT: Order! The Hon. Ms Pnevmatikos, sit down, please.

Members interjecting:

The PRESIDENT: Order! We're wasting question time.

Members interjecting:

The PRESIDENT: Order! Minister, order!

The Hon. I. PNEVMATIKOS: My question is to the Minister for Primary Industries and Regional Development. Will the minister inform the chamber about the state government's recent announcement to support Sophie's Legacy?

The Hon. C.M. SCRIVEN (Minister for Primary Industries and Regional Development, Minister for Forest Industries) (14:37): I thank the honourable member for her question about what is a very important topic. I would like to start by acknowledging the friends and family of Dr Sophie Putland, who passed away in 2021. Sophie died through suicide. Those close to Sophie have established Sophie's Legacy, an organisation that honours Sophie by campaigning for more public awareness about the veterinarian industry.

I had the opportunity earlier this year, along with the Hon. Sarah Game MLC, to attend the launch of the Sick as a Dog podcast, which is a podcast series produced by journalist Caroline Winter, where Sophie's story was shared by her parents, Kate and Garry Putland. I would like to commend both Garry and Kate for the strength they have shown in ensuring that Sophie's story is shared widely, resulting in a greater spotlight and awareness of the issues that many vets can encounter when working in the industry. I have met with both Garry and Kate on a number of occasions, and it is clear that they are very strong advocates for reducing the suicide rate within this sector.

Concerningly, I am advised that veterinarians are one of the highest at-risk occupations for suicide, being four times more likely to die from suicide than the general population and twice as likely as other healthcare professionals. Some research suggests that in Australia a vet dies through suicide every 12 weeks, and this figure, as I am sure everyone would agree, is shocking.

It is for these reasons that I can provide an update to this place that South Australia is the first state government to provide funding, in this case of $25,000, in support of the Sophie's Legacy initiative, which is a new national mental health campaign for veterinarians. The South Australian government's funding will go towards assisting the South Australian-based programs and a public awareness campaign to educate animal owners and other vet clients on the importance of respectful behaviour and engagement with vets and their staff.

Specifically, the funding will ensure that the We're Only Human campaign is rolled out across South Australia and includes every veterinary clinic in the state. We are hoping that every clinic in South Australia will have a We're Only Human poster up in their clinic. It's a poster which encourages animal owners to be kind and respectful and to better understand the pressures impacting staff who are working in the industry. I understand that Sophie's Legacy is seeking to expand their campaign to not only South Australia but around the country, and I wish them the greatest of success in that endeavour.

Vets play a vitally important role in our community and should be treated with respect across the community. Of course, pet owners, when they are visiting a vet clinic, are often very distressed themselves and understandably, but we must also understand the stress that the vets are under and their staff, and I urge clients to show empathy, understanding and respect.

Vets are a key part of the primary industry sector and central to the wellbeing of all our animals. As is the case across many sectors, there is a shortage of vets across the country, particularly in regional areas, so it's in all of our interests to ensure we provide a safe pathway to encourage more people into the profession and, indeed, to stay in the profession. I look forward to working further with Garry and Kate and acknowledge once again their efforts in honouring the legacy of their beloved daughter.