Suicide target should be zero: minister

Health Minister Greg Hunt says zero suicides is the only suicide reduction target he will commit to.
Health Minister Greg Hunt says zero suicides is the only suicide reduction target he will commit to.

HEALTH Minister Greg Hunt says aiming for no suicides at all in Australia is the only suicide reduction target he will commit to.

Lifeline is among mental health groups pushing for a national target, suggesting a 25 per cent reduction in suicide deaths within five years.

But Mr Hunt says that won't happen on his watch.

"All of these targets are important and critical, but the only acceptable target from my perspective is a zero target," he told ABC radio on Monday.

Lifeline's call for a target came after Australian Bureau of Statistics data showed there were 3128 deaths by suicide in Australia last year, compared to 2866 in 2016.

But the concept of a target is not new, with a National Mental Health Commission review in 2015 recommending the government aim to halve the number of people taking their own lives within a decade.

Federal Labor has committed to adopting that target if elected, but Mr Hunt says that would send the wrong message.

"The idea that we would say it's acceptable for 1500 people to take their lives is not something that on my watch, in my time, I'll be adopting," he said.

"So I respect the views of others, but our target is zero. And each life lost is a tragedy."

The federal government on Sunday announced a new Productivity Commission inquiry into Australia's mental health system.

The inquiry will look at the impact of mental illness on the economy and scrutinise the $9 billion spent a year by federal, state and territory governments.

Mr Hunt said it would be an opportunity for the coalition to learn what is being done well and what can be improved.

"This is a chance to ensure that we are more effective."

Mental health groups have suggested the inquiry could be a significant step forward in improving the system.

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Australian Associated Press