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Jul 1, 2013

Anti-abortion, anti-gay marriage ... and the new mental health minister

ALP Senator Jacinta Collins has had a meteoric rise into Rudd's new cabinet. Who is she -- and will her intense social conservatism raise serious questions about her capacity to function as Mental Health Minister?


The most bizarre appointment in Kevin Rudd’s new cabinet is that of Victorian Senator Jacinta Collins, promoted from a parliamentary secretaryship under then-PM Julia Gillard to a cabinet position, as the new Minister for Mental Health and Ageing, under Rudd. Collins bested Kim Carr last week to secure the deputy leadership of the government in the Senate.

Collins has had a couple of stints in the Senate, from 1995 to 2004, when as number three on the Victorian Labor ticket she fell victim to Stephen Conroy’s disastrous preferences ploy that saw Steve Fielding elected and replace Collins in 2005. She returned when she took Robert Ray’s spot in 2008.

Collins — not to be confused with Tasmania’s Julie Collins, also promoted to cabinet — is best known to the public for her dislike of cabs, after she was appalled to discover there was no Commonwealth car waiting for her at Melbourne Airport in 2009.

Those who follow reproductive health and gay rights issues, however, know Collins for other things.

Collins is from the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees’ Association and holds the social views one expects of a Shoppie: she is stridently anti-abortion and a diehard opponent of same-sex marriage; “stable, biological parenting” should be fostered “as a social norm” she said in reference to the same-sex marriage bill last year.

Less than a fortnight ago, Collins helped vote down a bill recognising overseas same-sex marriages. During her time out of the Senate, Collins was a director of the anti-choice Caroline Chisholm Society, which is currently run by former Shoppie and Collins adviser Helen Cooney. Collins was at the society when it was controversially funded by then-health minister Tony Abbott to establish a pregnancy counselling service. Collins was a winner last year of an award for “Christian Values” from the “Christian Values Institute”.

All of that would normally be incidental: Labor has several former Shoppies and there are many politicians with the same views across the Parliament; one Kevin Rudd is a former winner of the “Christian Values Award” as well. But Collins is now in charge of mental health, which raises some of the same concerns as when Tony Abbott was health minister; it will be interesting to see whether Collins draws the same criticism from the Left about her views as Abbott did (and still does). Many in the anti-abortion lobby — although not the Caroline Chisholm Society — claim without any evidence that abortion causes mental health problems for women, including “post-abortion syndrome”, a condition invented by anti-abortionists.

In particular, in mental health Collins follows Mark Butler, who did an excellent job in the portfolio. Butler oversaw expanded funding for the Reconnect homelessness program, components of which specifically address gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and intersex youth. He also funded the National LGBTI Health Alliance to run a suicide prevention and mental health program. Butler is understood to have locked down funding for a number of programs before his promotion.

It’s hard to see Collins, given her view that same-sex marriage is a “distraction” and that traditional Labor voters believe children should be raised by a mother and father, not having a big problem in engaging with major portfolio stakeholders or eliciting trust on issues like mental health among gay youth.

Collins’ promotion also illustrates that Don Farrell, the South Australian ALP Senator and Shoppie powerbroker, has lost little of his power despite opposing the return of Rudd, whom Farrell bitterly opposed as party leader in 2007 and whose removal Farrell helped coordinate in 2010. Farrell, who became Minister for Sport in the outer ministry today, is every bit as hardline on social issues as Collins.



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44 thoughts on “Anti-abortion, anti-gay marriage … and the new mental health minister

  1. paddy

    One can only hope that she’s “in for the election campaign” and not the long haul. (Should the polls continue the shine on our shiny new dear leader.)

  2. Mark Duffett

    So opposing same-sex marriage is sufficient to qualify for a description as “gay-hating’, according to Crikey’s editorial lead? More than a bit over the top, I’d have thought.

  3. Christopher Nagle

    This ought to be a sobering reminder that when it comes to homosexual marriage and abortion, the verdict of history is anything but ‘in’.

  4. Venise Alstergren

    Why bother voting for Labor when we can get exactly the same sort of deal with Tony Rabbott and his Catholic non-principles?

    Perhaps Kevin Rudd’s promises are like pie-crusts; made to be broken??!! Surprise, surprise.

    It was obvious where the troubles in the new Krudd Kabinet will surface. All the ones carrying bibles were the professional ‘Christians.” Seldom have I ever witnessed a race (joke) to the bottom of the fifteenth century.

    I think I’ll vote for the sporting shooters, on condition they leave the animals alone and line up our parliamentarians.

  5. SusieQ

    I do wonder why the ‘shoppies’ candidates are not in the DLP (can’t recall if they were previously?? if someone can let us all know?) – that seems their natural home.

  6. mikeb

    I have no idea on Jacinta Collins’ aptitude or not, but I don’t think that having conservative views on abortion or SSM should disqualify her.

  7. Venise Alstergren

    To put a Tony Rabbott think alike in mental health is the equivalent of putting the Original Tony Rabbott in as health minister-as John Winston Howard did. She could have been given a different portfolio.

    One happy person will be Senator John (the blacksmith) Madigan DLP.

  8. klewso

    Ahhhh Julie Collins? I love her “Send in the Clowns”….?

  9. Venise Alstergren

    KLEWSO: Wrong Collins. This one is called Jacinta, as in just cinta sex.

  10. Shaniq'ua Shardonn'ay

    Shows how out of touch Labor is on mental health issues. BTW Crikey, is it possible to do some analysis on how GLBTI actually intend to vote. I suspect that for many it is not a high priority – and the two major parties are well aware of that fact.

  11. klewso

    Of course Venise ….. this one is one.

    “Since you asked”, I was thinking of the new Housing Minister – someday soon, both sides now, turn, turn turn….

    [Having pulled the pin – I’m just waiting to see which of his picks, for his team, goes off first? Anyone running a book – what’s Tom Waterhose’s number?
    Has Fitzgibbon’s brother got a key to this office?]

  12. Carolina Cadiz

    Bernard Keane is a dedicated prolific writer and a very professional journalist. He is intelligent, determined and even cute, that’s why I am astounded that he would attack someone’s character on the basis of opposing g-y marriage. Is it hate speech to have an opposing opinion on g-y marriage, Bernard? Which social engineer selected this theme for you this morning?

    Memo to Bernard – being socially conservative does not make you an extremist of any kind nor does it make you a political pariah. Also, opposing abortion is always open to contextual interpretation of when, how and why.

    Balance please Mr Keane.

  13. carolinestorm@iinet.net.au

    Senator Collin’s portfolios not been ones which would appear to lead to Minister of Mental Health and Ageing and the previous did as good a job as could, considering funding. But many of us happy to have a woman in this role. Particularly one whose speeches have covered asylum seekers and mental health, gamblers and mental health and a the Mental Health Reform Package. Despite good intentions, the plight of the severely mental ill[SMI] worsens every year. In Victoria there are some 140,000 SMI, according to World health organisation global estimates. Some 10,000 have access to private care, the Mental Health System cares for 60,000 to 61,000 each year.
    This means that 65,000 severely mentally ill receive no specialist care. The Mental Health Council of Australia (2009) stated fewer than 40% of SMI receive any specialist care. To have as new minister a woman who has a degree of Bachelor of Social Work makes those of us who care and work for the SMI feel that there may well be a greater degree of care and work to improve such tragic figures. Indigenous Australians in remote areas and our severely mentally are Australia’s most neglected and vulnerable people…each group has a life expectancy of some 56 years…28 years fewer than you and I expect as our right!
    A warm welcome to our new Minister Health and Ageing.

  14. shepherdmarilyn

    When Gillard was on radio in 2002 giggling with rednecks about turning refugees back to Indonesia and making them all stay home in the first place it was Jacinta who was on the CMI and SIEVX investigation who kept ringing for information about those sent back to Indonesia by Howard – she was sickened by the racism of it all.

    It’s amazing that not one of the so-called beloved supporters of Gillard stood down or quit parliament.

    Guess women have more brains than the few whining old men.

  15. Simon Mansfield

    Equality is not a Smorgasbord of choice. You either believe in equal rights or you don’t. Marriage equality should not be subjected to a conscience vote. Have a party room vote and then all go out and vote for it as a bloc. As if it would be acceptable to vote for or against slavery or voting for women or counting indigenous Australians as a conscience vote. Rudd should recall parliament and ram marriage equality through. Of all the policies changes – it’s the one that can never be reversed. Abortion and euthanasia are world’s apart from marriage equality.

  16. @chrispydog

    Denying evidence that gay couples can raise children successfully so that your christian dogma can run your agenda for you seems like a pretty big abnegation of human values to me.

    But I saw a good Labor lesbian couple raise a lovely child in the 1980’s, so WTF would I know?

  17. Venise Alstergren

    I wonder how many women have had mental breakdowns as a result of being forced to have their children? Mental health is no place for a fundamentalist religionist-of any variety- no matter how hard they work at kissing the bishop’s ring.

  18. Matt Hardin

    Maybe the SDA should focus on issues like self service checkouts putting their members out of work and stay out of the private lives of the citizenry.

  19. Carolina Cadiz

    “I wonder how many women have had mental breakdowns as a result of being forced to have their children?”

    That’s a big fat broad brush you draw with there, Miss Alstergren. Got any stats on that one?

  20. Harris Evan

    ainly lacks balance.

  21. drsmithy

    So opposing same-sex marriage is sufficient to qualify for a description as “gay-hating’, according to Crikey’s editorial lead? More than a bit over the top, I’d have thought.
    I’d call opposing equal rights before the law based on someone’s sexuality to be pretty “hateful”.

    If someone opposed mixed-race marriage, would you consider it reasonable to call them “racist” ?

  22. AR

    Do Collins & Wong ever chat?

  23. tonyfunnywalker

    Hope she does not have a loud voice and shows the diversity of views on societal issues in the labor party rather than the doctrine approach of the liberals.

  24. Matt Robins

    Hi Josi V,

    Thankyou for the link. It confirms everything in regards to the most essential position of those mothers losing their children to child adoption. But Venise made no mention of mothers and forced or open adoption. She simply stated ” many women have had mental breakdowns as a result of being forced to have their children” there is no explicit reference to adoption, forced or otherwise. The link you supplied references adoptions, so in that regard I think Carolina would be correct.

  25. Matt Robins

    Dr Smithy

    ” I’d call opposing equal rights before the law based on someone’s sexuality to be pretty “hateful”.

    The comment above is poles apart from the comment below.

    ” If someone opposed mixed-race marriage, would you consider it reasonable to call them “racist” ?

  26. Eric Best

    As Wittgenstein showed, our concepts are fluid, and we can see ‘marriage’ undergoing a shift of meaning. For most cultures, throughout history, regardless of their attitudes towards homosexuality, marriage had a firm biological basis in heterosexuality and the begetting and raising of children. People grounded in this sensibility will have problems with the notion of homosexual marriage. It does not mean they are sexist: For them, it’s not so much about the rights of individuals but the meaning of marriage. Others will be less wedded (sic) to this sense of marriage and will therefore view the matter more simply as an issue of human rights.

  27. Mark Duffett

    drsmithy, if that’s what ‘hateful’ now means, you can put it along with ‘sustainability’ as one of those words that has become so debased as to be useless.

  28. Nerrilyn Diefenbach

    I am very concerned that someone who has demonstrated prejudice towards the LGBTI community should be in charge of Mental Heath and Ageing – extremely concerned. I do see a parallel between this and e.g. putting a racist in charge of say Immigration or Foreign Affairs. In Queensland the LNP has already stripped away health services to the LGBTI community based on the same agenda that Ms Collins has demonstrated. I wouldn’t go as far as to say the agenda is “hate” based but it certainly is ignorance and prejudice based. I am very disappointed in her appointment and it makes me wonder how much thought went into the decision. Obvious PM Rudd isn’t all that far along yet in his understanding of the needs of the LGBTI community and how deeply these agendas concern and affect them.

  29. beachcomber

    This raises questions about how democratic the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees’ Association elections actually are. For many years it has been run by men who would sit comfortably with Bob Santamaria in the DLP, and they appoint extreme Right Wing people for the Senate and other positions of power within the ALP. Yet the membership of this Union are largely women, who are unlikely to share the same narrow view on social issues as the Right Wing men that they elect time and time again. How is it that the Union Leadership can be so out of kilter with its’ membership?

  30. oldskool

    Are you sure about that Eric?

    I would Agree with your statement there Mark, with the qualifier that opposing same sex marriage still represents a reprehensible and indefensible discriminatory statement, and thus as a position could only be held by the LGBTI equivalent of racists.

  31. Eric Best

    Thanks for the link, oldskool. I think my comment still stands: the link seeks out the notable exceptions, but I did not make a universal claim.
    That aside, my purpose was against those arguments, such as Matt’s, that resistance to gay marriage is necessarily sexist (in the same way that resistance to mixed marriages is racist). I know several people who are not sexist in the least for whom the idea of gay marriage stretches the meaning of marriage to breaking point. I imagine such reservations are, in some ways, similar to the Catholic Church’s concerns about artificial birth control: both involve fears of disembodiment and an extreme privileging of the individual will above our shared ‘nature’.
    My personal take is that while, aka Wittgenstein, ‘marriage’ does not need to be defined in heterosexual terms, it is, nevertheless, apposite to understand the historical & cultural contexts / prejudices for (and against) such significant shifts, rather than unconsciously assume the “self evident” rightness of whatever position we adopt.

  32. Venise Alstergren

    CAROLINA CADIZ: (19) About seven million. DFWM kid.

  33. carolinestorm@iinet.net.au

    So many differing views and subjects have entered this conversation and very few have considered the plight of the severely mentally ill, a dire life which, for most, contributes to a grave number of premature natural and suicidal deaths. Does any person care that, as well as being the only developed country in the world with trachoma and ensuing blindness…a disease totally preventable…we now have a higher suicide rate than many undeveloped countries, particularly in the Asia/pacific area? Research stats. suggest this may be because of a friendlier, more caring attitude, with less stigma than the severely mentally ill receive here. How much stigma exists and has been sent out from our country’s leaders; in the last 20 years they have been able to save billions by reducing the treatment rate of the severely mentally from close to 100% to fewer than 40%? Poor fellow my country.

  34. Okay_Jack

    Apparently free thought, religious beliefs and personal convictions are only to be supported if you agree with the writer of this article.

  35. drsmithy

    The comment above is poles apart from the comment below.
    How so ?

  36. Malcolm Street

    Okay_Jack – the point of the article isn’t about the new Minister’s views in isolation, it’s about them in the context of being Minister for mental health and her suitability thereof. The comparison with Abbott as Health Minister is an apposite one.

  37. shawn lowell

    I’m gay and I find this story is drawing a long bow!

  38. Queen Clytie

    Here here, Matt Hardin. Just how many union members really get asked about their views on non-industrial issues? Unions should not be allowed to use the force of their numbers on social policy issues, but given that’s unlikely then there should be a hell of a lot more accountability not only to the rest of the Labor party but also to the community as to how they do it.

  39. Okay_Jack

    I’m sorry Malcolm Street; the article does imply that Senator Jacinta Collins is an inappropriate choice to manage her new Portfolio on the basis of her opinions and beliefs. You have admitted this so much yourself, albeit in a so called condition of “isolation”. The reasons to how her views possibly impact on her ability to administer in this area elude me. Have you any examples of how her official statements or actions have directly disadvantaged anyone who is a client of these services she oversees? I think it’s simply a case of vilifying her for a position she holds in regard to certain matters mentioned above, and have no bearing whatsoever on her ability to perform her duties.

    Thank you for your comment Shawn Lowell, I totally agree with you.

  40. drsmithy

    The reasons to how her views possibly impact on her ability to administer in this area elude me.
    Given the mental health problems suffered by victims of aggressive homophobia, particularly the young, I’d say a homophobic minister presents a problem, if for no other reason than the implicit of empathy for victims.

    Similarly, strident anti-abortion views bode poorly for providing appropriate support options in that area.

  41. Venise Alstergren

    A politician should endeavour to serve the public, not just the bigoted and amorphous mass of twisted hatred. A fact that the Rabbott should bear in mind.

  42. Okay_Jack

    drsmithy could you please give an example as to how the Senator has been inappropriate in her actions. You are essential saying that she is unable to hold such views and religious convictions. Anyone with these views are homophobic? Ridiculous argument and logic, without any foundation.

  43. drsmithy

    drsmithy could you please give an example as to how the Senator has been inappropriate in her actions.
    Given she was just appointed, no.
    You are essential saying that she is unable to hold such views and religious convictions.
    Anyone with these views are homophobic?

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