The National Office Public Interest team regularly prepares submissions to government inquiries, using psychological knowledge to advocate in the interest of community wellbeing. Recently, the APS has made three such submissions, and was subsequently invited to give evidence in person by each of the associated government committees.
On 4th May, 2012, the APS was invited to give evidence to the Inquiry into Australia's Biodiversity in a Changing Climate, as part of a special session with other members of the Climate and Health Alliance. Dr Susie Burke FAPS, senior psychologist with the National Office Public Interest team, represented the APS at the Hearing. She presented evidence on the essential contribution that healthy ecosystems make to our quality of life, emphasising how biodiversity is of profound importance for meeting psychological needs of hope and inspiration, connection to the natural world, restoration, recreation and identity. Even in an urban environment, biodiversity plays a key role in mental functioning. Research into restorative environments actually shows that the more biologically diverse the green space, the higher its psychological value. Susie also highlighted the importance of acknowledging the interdependencies of human communities and ecosystems. We need approaches to enhance the resilience of our ecosystems which simultaneously build the resilience of communities so that humans thrive in their environment while biodiversity is protected at the same time.
Also on 4th May, the APS was invited to give evidence to the Senate’s Marriage Equality Inquiry. The bill proposed to amend the Marriage Act 1961 and the Marriage Amendment Act 2004 to remove discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender. APS Manager of Public Interest, Heather Gridley MAPS, and Associate Professor Lynne Hillier MAPS, Principal Research Fellow at the Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society, represented the APS at the hearing and provided evidence on the impact of discrimination on the mental health and wellbeing of gay, lesbian, bisexual and sex and/or gender diverse people, especially young people. They identified that psychological research provides no evidence that would justify legal discrimination against same-sex partners and their families, and restated that the APS supports full marriage equality on human rights, health and wellbeing grounds. It was pointed out that, to the extent that there is evidence of the benefits of marriage in supporting family stability, depriving some families of those benefits amounts to discrimination.
Lynne spoke about her 15 years of research with same-sex attracted and gender-questioning (SSAGQ) young people which documents the shift in their aspirations for marriage (and parenthood) alongside increasing acceptance in the wider society. She stated that removing all discrimination from the Marriage Act to ensure that all people, regardless of their sex, sexual orientation or gender identity, can choose to marry will also promote acceptance and the celebration of diversity, particularly among young people.
Finally, on 14 May, Professor Debra Rickwood FAPS, principal author of the recent APS review paper on gambling, and APS Public Interest Advisory Group member Amanda Jones MAPS, together with Heather Gridley MAPS and Emma Sampson MAPS from the Public Interest team, presented to the Joint Select Committee on Gambling Reform. Debra provided a background to the APS’ interest and concern regarding gambling harm, citing the original (1997) and updated (2010) APS review papers on gambling, and identifying the range of perspectives (from psychological science and practice to public health policy) the APS brought to the issue. She then provided an overview of definitions of problem gambling as well as its prevalence and impacts.
Amanda identified the differential impact of different gambling/gambling products and their associated levels of harm, singling out Electronic Gambling Machines (EGMs – or ‘pokies’) as the product linked to most harm. She suggested that there is limited value in 'responsible gambling' messages in contexts designed to undermine responsibility (impaired control means people gambling cannot readily exercise informed choice), and therefore in terms of prevention, a public health/consumer protection approach is necessary.
In response to senators’ questions, Heather confirmed that problem gambling is about more than problem gamblers, suggesting that treatment alone will not address gambling-related harm. She also warned of the danger in waiting for ‘sufficient’ evidence to implement necessary measures, citing barriers to effective research from conflicting interests in balancing the goals of preventing and reducing harm with reductions in gambling revenue for government and industry.
When asked specifically about the impact of gambling on lower socioeconomic communities, Emma spoke to the APS recommendation that consideration be given to developing limits (caps) for the number of EGMs per community or location, given the concentration and unequal spread of EGMs and consequent burden of harm within socioeconomically disadvantaged communities. The APS presenters reiterated that a range of measures is needed to address gambling related harm, from slowing down machines to capping maximum payouts.
All three submissions have attracted considerable media attention in ways that stand to increase the credibility of psychological science in the public domain.
The APS submissions can be accessed at: www.psychology.org.au/APSsubmissions/Social_issues/ and the three related media releases at: www.psychology.org.au/news/media_releases/