On January 20, a young man went on a deadly rampage through Melbourne’s central business district. A vehicle was used to mow down dozens of pedestrians in the busy Bourke Street mall.
At the time of writing 6 people have died, a further 37 have been physically injured, and thousands more have been psychologically traumatised by the event.
The man was known to the police and is known to have a history of mental health issues, substance abuse issues, and to be a perpetrator of family violence. Many people are wondering how such a senseless tragedy could occur.
Constant cuts to mental health and drug and alcohol services likely played a role, leaving this man without the support that he clearly needed. Most of those who require such services do not become violent, but in this case a functioning system could have prevented an act of mass murder.
According to leading psychologists and mental health advocates a combination of a 50% increase in people seeking mental health assistance, an increase in young people presenting with drug-induced psychosis, an increase in people with mental health issues committing murder, and rampant funding cuts to the sector have left mental health workers struggling to cope with demand.
With this being the case many people slip through the cracks and are not provided with the support that they desperately need to keep them, and those around them safe.
We live in a system that continually defunds essential services, but even beyond this, the more immediate cause of the violence related to the fact that our society dehumanises women and LGBTIQ people, and systematically downplays family violence.
This man’s rampage allegedly began when he stabbed his gay brother, apparently because he could not come to terms with, or accept his sexuality. It is alleged that he then took his girlfriend hostage, after threatening to kill her if she didn’t go with him.
Only days beforehand the man had been arrested after an incident involving family violence, but despite having a known history of violence, he was granted bail. This happened, in part, because in general, the state does not take family violence, violence against women and violence against the LGBTIQ community as seriously as other crimes.
The likelihood of incidents like this occurring could be reduced if family violence and violence against women were treated with the seriousness that they deserve.
A number of people, including the Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews, have suggested that bail laws need to be made more stringent. That would not have helped in this situation as the Bail Justice already had the ability to oppose bail. They simply didn’t do it in this case as they did not consider his offending to be serious enough!
Far from having any real concern about public safety, Andrews has used this tragedy to cynically push his law and order agenda. Instead of directing resources to social services in order to deal with the root cause of these problems, the government is focused on building more prisons.
The money and resources spent on law and order initiatives should instead be invested in mental health, drug and alcohol and family violence services so as to prevent, as much as possible, people from becoming so unwell and isolated.
However, the nature of the for-profit capitalist system means that instead of providing the social services that ordinary people need, cuts are being made and public services are being sold off to the private sector. At the same time taxes for big businesses are being reduced. We need to fight to turn this situation around.
By increasing taxes on big business, we could easily afford to pay for a massive expansion of public services. By bringing the major sectors of the economy into public hands, and removing the profit motive altogether, we could use society’s wealth to fund a better standard of living for all. We would no longer live in a dog-eat-dog world where people are denied their basic humanity.
This is the essence of a socialist society, where we prioritise human need, people’s wellbeing and safety.
By Meredith Jacka