Mr BARTON (Eastern Metropolitan) (16:29): I rise to speak on Ms Patten’s motion on loneliness. I will be supporting this motion today. I think this motion is more important than ever. More than one-quarter of Australians have experienced loneliness for the first time during the COVID-19 pandemic. It has been described as the next public health crisis facing Australia. Almost 40 per cent of 3047 Australians surveyed said they have never felt lonelier than through this lockdown.
The first step to addressing this issue is giving it the space it deserves. Unfortunately, loneliness has been one of those topics we do not like to speak about, because it has got a stigma. Forty-eight per cent said they were too embarrassed to admit to others that they were lonely, and 41 per cent worried others would judge them if they said they were lonely. We know this is far from the case. Most people I know make an effort to reach out to others and are more than happy to support others through tough times when they can. It is tough to open up about loneliness, but these are the conversations we need to have. We need to challenge the preconceptions about who may be lonely and encourage Victorians to find a sense of connection through our shared experience.
It is interesting to note that there is a perception among the majority of Australians that people aged 65 and above are the loneliest in the community. This is not the case. It has been found that gen Z and millennials are more likely to feel lonely than all other generations. I say this not to surprise you but so that we can address loneliness better as a community.
Another misconception is that loneliness affects only our mental health. This is also not the case. As this motion points out, social isolation and loneliness are serious public health risks. Of course this is a difficult thing to measure precisely. However, it has been found that social isolation significantly increases a person’s risk of premature death in all cases, a risk that rivals those of smoking, obesity and physical inactivity. Social isolation has been associated with about a 50 per cent increase in the risk of dementia, and poor social relationships have been associated with a 29 per cent increase in the risk of heart disease and a 32 per cent increase in the risk of a stroke.
It is clear we need addressing loneliness to be a priority. One way of doing this is to create a dedicated ministerial portfolio for loneliness, a proposal I would support. This portfolio would ensure that we would look at the policy from a social perspective as well and look further at how we can foster high-quality social relationships in the community. This is something we can all address today. If you know someone who for any reason may be experiencing social isolation, please reach out. Give them a call. I promise you it can make all the difference for someone going through a hard time. Let us eradicate this loneliness together.