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The SANE Blog

#YES23 Q&A with Tom Brideson

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At SANE we are proud to support diversity and inclusion as part of our community’s own journey with lived experience and in line with Australia’s current steps toward reconciliation with First Nations people. 

This week we spoke to SANE’s Reconciliation Action Plan Chair Tom Brideson about the importance of reconciliation in the context of complex mental health and what the #Yes23 vote means to Indigenous Australians.  

Tom is a Deputy Mental Health Commissioner with the NSW Mental Health Commission and was previously the statewide coordinator for the NSW Aboriginal Mental Health Workforce Program. 

Tom, tell us a bit about yourself and your role at SANE. 

I was born in Gunnedah, NSW. My mother was one of nine children who grew up in Breeza, NSW on the Liverpool Plains. Her mother was from Caroona Mission, now known as Walhallow. Growing up, and at least once or twice a year we returned to Breeza and Gunnedah because of family and our connection to the area. They were amazing times, even the eating and clean-up times (which seemed to be constant all day). These are good memories of family times.    

My involvement with SANE is to facilitate the organisational Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP) process and to ensure alignment with the multiple elements of the Strategic Plan to ensure a systemwide responsibility is applied to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples, families and communities.  

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples experience mental health issues at higher rates than the mainstream community and a dedicated focus will ensure these needs are met throughout the organisation in ways that become standard practice for all levels of the organisation. Currently, five per cent of SANE’s service users are Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people but staffing levels across SANE require some attention. So, the role of developing the RAP with the committee is important.  

Importantly, SANE is undertaking relevant training and cultural activities that assist people’s understanding of the needs and perceptions of mental health. 

What are your thoughts on the upcoming referendum? 

I am confident that the upcoming referendum will be agreed by the good people of Australia. I am aware of the polls, but I am also aware there is only one poll that matters, on 14 October 2023. We can, and do, become embroiled in the toxic conversations and false advertising of the No campaign which hold many untruths within their material. 

While the No campaign has focused on all things negative and all things except the referendum, The Voice is a very simple proposition: to have a Voice to provide advice on issues affecting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and to recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the constitution through the Voice. Unfortunately, this has been politicised due to not having bipartisan agreement. While this is a distraction, Australia will hopefully see the benefit of the invitation to walk with us for a better future – a future that allows us to deal with our collective past and determine a better future for the nation. It is really that simple. 

All matters to do with the Voice will be subject to and align with the laws as determined by parliament, which is the same for all advisory groups. However, the Voice creates a long-term sustainable solution to a long-standing history and as things change so too will the legislation again through the usual processes of parliament.  

In light of recent comments about appealing to the No voters describing colonisation as having no effects on Australia today. This is simply wrong and there is compelling evidence to discount any such claim. I recently spoke at the Orange Yes Walk where I described some family experiences and examples where colonisation has had a direct impact on people’s lives and titled it: Within My Lifetime. These were significant issues of assimilation policies that emerged from colonisation. Even some of the most hardened No advocates do not believe there was/is no continuing impact, so these are simply lies. 

The work in mental health and suicide prevention clearly raises the issues of multiple gaps. As an example, it is worth remembering back to 1991 with the Royal Commission Into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody Report which identified 43 of the 99 deaths were people removed from their families as children. It is also worth remembering that the Bringing Them Home Report 1997 had harrowing evidence of child removals. It asked for a national apology and 10 years after the LNP refused to do this, it was Prime Minister the Hon Kevin Rudd that did this as one of the first Acts of Parliament. The National Apology did not hurt any Australians and was a unifying moment of acknowledging the sorrow of people in that experience but also to face these wrongs, in some ways.  

Likewise, the Native Title did not hurt any one of us. What it did was to overturn the doctrine of Terra Nullius, and established a law that was consistent to the land title laws of Australia. These things did not hurt us and like the Voice, it too will not hurt Australia.  

Our cultural and political lives have been interrupted for recent decades with constant changes forced onto us since colonisation and the Voice is an opportunity to set consistency and longevity of 60,000 years in stone amongst the landscape of Australia. This is the foundation for our future as a nation, this is the foundation for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples, and most importantly this is the foundation for all our children. We all want to understand and celebrate our history and our future by ensuring the Voice can provide advice to improve people’s lives, which is exactly what the Voice will do. Enough of the negative distractions and let’s focus on the core issue of the referendum and if you do you too will see it is reasonable and a simple request that requires a simple Yes in the ballot box. 

How are your family and close community feeling about the YES vote? 

There are multiple views relating to my family and community. Of course, everyone wants a good result but it is overpowering seeing all the negative media, the constant discourse and the messaging plastered on the TV, social media and newspapers. People want it resolved. 

We have the opportunity as a nation to deal with our collective past, that is what is on offer in the referendum. We can provide advice to improve the lives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples and we can build a better future for all. The Voice provides the opportunity to listen to advice on policies and programs that affect us and all that is asked of the powers to be is to listen when making laws moving forward, including healing as a mature and grown up nation. 

How will the YES vote in the referendum help to “close the gap”? 

Providing advice means better, more informed solutions can be found. Providing advice means improving the outcomes. Providing advice makes economic sense. Providing advice is sensible. Providing advice means programs and policies are more targeted. Providing advice means the disparities of the gap can be addressed. Providing advice is good for us and good for you. There is nothing to fear from an advisory committee. While it might not be perfect for all it is a good development.  

The Voice has been provided to the Australian people to decide upon. It is our collective future that is at stake here. It is our national identity that we need to decide if we do the same old thing and produce the same old results that have not worked, or do we trust ourselves in wanting a better future for our children and their children as well as all the children of Australian people for generations to come. It is a simple choice! 

How and why are you involved in SANE? 

I have known CEO, Rachel Green, for many years and have been involved in several collaborative projects in the past. I caught up with Rachel at a Suicide Prevention Australia Conference in early 2023 I was soon asked if I would be interested in Chairing the SANE RAP Committee. I have always been aware of SANE and the important work that is conducted with people who experience complex mental health issues including trauma. These are areas that I have always had an interest and experience in and welcomed the opportunity. This role gave me the opportunity to explore a system-wide approach with the RAP and become much more familiar with SANE as an organisation.  

What is your impression of SANE and the work our team does? 

The work undertaken by SANE is dynamic and the important online opportunities for people experiencing complex mental health issues is amazing. I have had multiple opportunities to talk with staff across the SANE, including the Board. What I am impressed with is the commitment to people with lived experience in a genuine way. Team leaders and Peer Ambassadors are engaged in their work and staff are involved and central to the success. 

At SANE we believe that Voting Yes is a pivotal first step in addressing the injustices of the past and an opportunity to walk forward in the spirit of reconciliation, as well as a commitment to strengthen self-determination for First Nations peoples to improve social and emotional wellbeing outcomes. 

To learn more about the #YES23 campaign, visit

Need support? 

SANE has a range of support services available including counselling, 24/7 community forums peer support and groups, information and resources. Visit learn more. For 24/7 crisis support, please call 13YARN on 13 9276 or Lifeline on 13 11 14. 

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