Former Victorian premier Jeff Kennett has accused a state Labor backbencher who kicked in a door at a Canberra hotel of misusing mental health as a reason for poor behaviour.
Will Fowles smashed a door at the Abode hotel during a confrontation with staff over his luggage on Thursday morning. Police have questioned the MP for the Melbourne seat of Burwood but he has not been charged over the incident.
Fowles has apologised for his behaviour, citing mental health and addiction issues and has vowed to foot the damage bill.
Kennett, who founded beyondblue in 2000 to raise awareness of depression, was unsympathetic to Fowles’ explanation.
“What I object to very much indeed is him using the coverall of a mental health illness in any way contributing to this act,” Kennett told 3AW radio on Friday.
“Mental health does not lead to acts of violence, criminality or antisocial behaviour, in a majority of cases. Alcohol and drugs do, but not mental health. I think this is an unacceptable use of mental health as an issue.”
The Victorian premier, Daniel Andrews, dismissed Kennett’s comments and stood by his newly elected backbencher.
“I don’t think it would be easy to admit to the world you have a wide range of problems and he’s done that,” Andrews told reporters in Bendigo.
Andrews said he hasn’t spoken to the MP directly since the incident.
“In the months and years ahead – as regrettable, as unacceptable as his conduct was in Canberra – hopefully he’ll be able to look back … and say that was a turning point and he got the care and support and treatment he needed to turn his life around,” he said.
Asked if MPs should be drug and alcohol tested, Andrews said his government had unsuccessfully tried to introduce the measure in 2016 but couldn’t get agreement in the parliament.
Andrews noted his government had given empathy and respect to an MP on the other side of politics who had been experiencing personal problems and acknowledged politics can be a rough game.
In a statement issued on Thursday afternoon, Fowles said his behaviour was unacceptable and he was “deeply ashamed” of his actions.
“While there are reasons for it, there are no excuses,” he said. “I have, for a long time, been dealing with addiction and other mental health issues. Medication I take was in my luggage, which was locked in a room that I was not able to access, as no staff were on site.”
Marc Bryant, a spokesman for Mindframe, an organisation which promotes responsible commentary around mental health issues, said piling on to public figures can, in some cases, inadvertently encourage “self-stigma” in society.
“There are many, many men who take their own lives and never seek help in Australia … it takes on average 18 years for people to seek help for alcohol addiction,” Bryant said.
“Self-stigma stops, particularly males, from seeking help.”
* Crisis support services can be reached 24 hours a day: National Alcohol and Drug hotline: 1800 250 015; Lifeline 13 11 14; Suicide Call Back Service 1300 659 467; Kids Helpline 1800 55 1800; MensLine Australia 1300 78 99 78; Beyond Blue 1300 22 4636.