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Frydenberg’s mental health accusations against Andrews exposed as baseless

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Cartoon by Mark David/@mdavidcartoons

Tawdry attempts by federal Coalition ministers to vilify Victoria’s Premier have now been shown to lack a factual foundation, reports Alan Austin.

CLAIMS BY FEDERAL Treasurer Josh Frydenberg that Victoria’s Labor Premier Daniel Andrews harmed the mental health of his constituents gained considerable traction last year. These were damaging to Andrews’ reputation and to his ability to manage the pandemic — which had caused far more deaths in Victoria than in the rest of the country.

Data released last week by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) confirms that mental health actually improved dramatically in Victoria as a result of Andrews’ determined efforts. Andrews worked tirelessly last year to control the virus, limit the social dislocation and keep his constituents well-informed.

Victorian deaths down substantially

Total deaths in Victoria from all causes last year were 41,093. That is 2,851 below the 2019 tally of 43,944. Victoria’s coronavirus deaths in 2020 were 800, mostly in federally-run nursing homes.

Total deaths nationwide declined by 4.7%, which reflects well on all state governments, which have carriage of most health matters. Victoria’s reduction of 6.5% in total fatalities was greater than in any other state.

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Startling suicide stats

Contrary to doomsday predictions, suicides in Victoria actually fell from 717 in 2019 to 694 in 2020, a decline of more than 3%. Relative to population, the 2020 rate was the second-lowest in the last seven years, at 103.7 per million. It was also lower than in 2009. 

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This confirms that the widespread accusations by Federal Coalition ministers and the pro-Coalition media that Andrews' approach had greatly increased suicides were totally false.

It is true more Australians sought suicide prevention help in 2020 than in previous years. We can now see this likely reflected the effectiveness of the extensive campaigns promoting these services – primarily in Victoria – rather than any actual increase in stress-related self-harm.

Victoria’s mental health outcomes overall

Virtually all indicators of morbid anxiety and depression improved substantially through 2020. Heart attacks deaths fell by 9.1% nationwide, with Victoria’s 14.3% reduction leading the country. Heart attacks increased in Tasmania.

Fatalities attributable to ‘mental and behavioural disorders’ were down 9.9% in Victoria, ahead of every other state. Outcomes in this category barely changed in Queensland and Western Australia but they worsened in South Australia. The national decline was 5.7%.

Fatalities from circulatory disorders declined by 10.6% in Victoria. That was the best outcome of any state, with the national average 6.8%. Gastric and duodenal ulcer deaths declined 9.3% nationally, by 10% in NSW, but by a thumping 17.7% in Victoria.

Cancer deaths fell by 2.4%, with lung cancer fatalities declining 4.6%, probably attributable to restricted access to smoking outdoors. Again, Victoria showed the way with an 8.1% decline.

Frydenberg’s malicious false attacks

Josh Frydenberg accused Victoria’s Premier last October of “callous indifference” to the hardships arising from the lockdowns. He said:

“...the bloody-mindedness [of Daniel Andrews] is unforgivable. The stubbornness is unforgivable. He’s making it up as he goes.”

Frydenberg told Sky News that Victoria had:

“... some of the harshest lockdown laws that we’ve seen anywhere in the world... That’s obviously had a devastating impact on the economy... But it’s also had a devastating impact on young people, people’s mental health and wellbeing.”

He told The Today Show on 12 October:

“You have seen the mental health of young people deteriorate with a drastic increase in the number of calls to the various organisations that are providing that relief ...”

These damning condemnations were broadcast extensively in the electronic and print media across the nation.

Frydenberg claimed that “the mental health impacts have been well documented”. They hadn’t been then. They have now. Frydenberg’s claims were false.

Other Federal ministers to mount similar tawdry attacks against Daniel Andrews now exposed as baseless include Health Minister Greg Hunt and Prime Minister Scott Morrison.

Comparisons with NSW

Frydenberg asserted last year that:

“New South Wales has been the gold standard for contact testing and tracing.”

The ABS now confirms that NSW in 2020, in fact, had higher rates than Victoria in fatalities caused by mental and behavioural disorders, heart attacks, circulatory and arterial disease, gastric and duodenal ulcers, infectious intestinal diseases, lung cancer and tuberculosis. And, critically, on total deaths in 2020.

NSW led Victoria on suicides, homicides and cerebrovascular disease.

Lowest overall death rate on record

The columns in the green chart, above, show raw numbers of deaths each year Australia-wide. When we compare these to population, outcomes in 2020 are even more impressive.

The fatality rate last year actually fell to the lowest since the ABS began keeping these records in 1984. The 161,300 Australians who died came to 627.8 per ten million population, an all-time low. 

This reflects extraordinarily well on all state and territory governments.