Chair of suicide political panel 'disappointed' by ACT and National

  • 13/09/2017

Simon Oosterman, who chaired a political panel on suicide prevention in Wellington on Monday, says he's disappointed in National and ACT's contribution.

But ACT's candidate Grae O'Sullivan responded to the criticism, saying that he answered the questions as best as he could.

National MP Chris Finlayson also responded, saying that he answered every question put to him at the event.

"The families were really disappointed in particularly the texting by the ACT party candidate, and the National party not really responding to questions and just sort of talking round in circles, that really upset the families," Mr Oosterman said.

Mr Oosterman says people left the meeting feeling confused about where the two parties stand on the issue of suicide and mental health funding. 

"All the other parties responded directly to the questions from the families and National and ACT they just really didn't respond to the questions," he told Newshub. 

"It may have actually been better for those parties in the minds of the families if they had just not come and we had the chickens there in their place."

The panel was organised by families bereaved by suicide, and over 200 of them signed a letter inviting all political parties to join the panel.

National and ACT sent candidates to the meeting at the last minute, after the families issued a press release on Monday morning saying that people dressed as chickens would sit in the parties seats.

National leader Bill English put it down to an "administrative" error, and later National MP Chris Finlayson was selected to attend the panel on behalf of the party.

"Look, there will be some administrative explanation for that... I'm sure there will be someone down to go, I've just got to go and find out. I don't know the detail of that, but I'll be happy to find out," he told The AM Show on Monday. 

ACT candidate for Rimutaka Grae O'Sullivan told Newshub he responded to all of the panel questions as best as he could but could not commit to any of the policies as he was not authorised by the ACT party to do so. 

"I had in fact volunteered to attend the forum just that morning as I thought it was important that an ACT party representative was there to hear their concerns and put forward the ACT party's proposals in this important area," he told Newshub. 

Mr O'Sullivan said he told the audience he'd take the issues up with the ACT party, and said he was using his phone to take notes to make sure he captured the families views correctly and then to get his key points across while speaking.

"Other candidates were also making notes on paper but as I came at the last minute I did not have the luxury of having a speech typed out. Once I was aware that some people thought I was not listening... I refrained from making further notes."

Mr O'Sullivan said he was surprised about the criticism from Mr Oosterman and hoped that he wasn't simply trying to make a political point.

Mr Oosterman said the ACT party had known about the event since August 1st, and while he had no issue with Mr O'Sullivan individually he wanted the ACT party as a whole to commit to the families policies.

A spokesperson from Chris Finalyson's office said he "answered every question put to him at this event and has no further comment."

Politics aside, Mr Oosterman says the families bereaved by suicide believe it's time to ask "tough questions about our mental health system".

He says if parliament were sitting today there would be a majority backing for setting a national suicide reduction target and holding an inquiry into mental health.

The families are also calling for $2.3b in health funding, safe mental health staffing and healthy home regulations.

Mr Oosterman said the families plan to publicly release a list of which parties have agreed with their requests later this week.