Parliament: Parliamentary Initiatives

Motion – Bob Burke

The Hon. K.L. VINCENT: I move:

That this council notes the contribution to the mental health sector of Robert Burke and:

  1. Congratulates Robert Burke on being joint winner of the Dr Margaret Tobin Award in the South Australian Mental Health Excellence Awards;
  2. Acknowledges the ongoing leadership and commitment of Mr Burke and Mrs Judy Burke to promoting the role of family carers in mental health; and
  3. The ongoing difficulties faced by families of people with borderline personality disorder and the role of community based support groups.

In November last year, I was prompted to put this motion about Mr Bob Burke on the Notice Paper upon hearing that, very deservedly, he had become joint winner of the Margaret Tobin award in the Mental Health Excellence Awards. So, it is with a very heavy heart today that I report to this chamber that Mr Burke sadly died in May of this year.

His work, nonetheless, will live on. He is survived by his lovely wife, Judy Burke, an equally fierce advocate for mental health supports, particularly in the area of borderline personality disorder. I have been in touch with Judy since Bob’s death and know that she remains just as passionate and has every intention to continue the important work that she and Bob started together. I congratulate her on that and, again, pass on my sympathies on the family’s great loss.

I will speak, once again, just briefly on Mr Burke’s work tonight because there is a lot to talk about, but also, given the time, I will expand on it when I take this motion to a vote. So, a bit more about the mental health support group that was set up by Bob and Judy: it will continue, as I understand it, under Judy’s stewardship, as a support group for family carers of people with a borderline personality disorder diagnosis, the group known as Sanctuary.

Sanctuary was founded just a short time ago, really, in February 2012, by Bob and Judy Burke, as they saw, as parents of an adult woman diagnosed with borderline personality disorder (BPD), that there was a need for more information and support. They found that there was a shortage of such information and support through existing mental health authorities and they located other sources of assistance for their daughter. Once she had benefited from those, they decided to share their learnings with other family carers in particular to achieve better supports for those family carers who can often feel quite isolated and have a heavy load on their shoulders, but also in turn that that would lead to better outcomes for people with BPD themselves.

The result was, of course, Sanctuary, a group known to some people in this chamber, which today is a group of more than 100 people who each care for a family member or another loved one in their lives affected directly by borderline personality disorder. They are a group of people who each care for a family member with BPD.

Together, Sanctuary aims, in their words, to create a haven for people who are caring for people with BPD, where experiences and information can be shared, where carers can support each other in their efforts to make sense of this often debilitating and serious mental health condition and to relate to the person they support with understanding and compassion and to find appropriate clinical support and treatment for those people. Sanctuary also aims to help members and others gain a better understanding of what BPD is, and perhaps more importantly what it is not, by countering discrimination and misinformation and replacing it with sound, clinically based information.

Sanctuary also seeks to promote the need for access to a range of treatments for both individuals and families affected by BPD and advocate for recognition of BPD, as it is an often under-recognised and maligned mental health condition, to end discrimination against people with BPD and for the provision of appropriate care and treatment for those whom the members of Sanctuary support. These are, of course, noble aims, as I am sure no-one in this chamber would disagree. They are certainly aims that we have a lot more work to do in this chamber to achieve.

With those few brief words and with my continued support of the work of Bob and Judy and with my continued pledge to make sure that we reach those aims, particularly increased recognition of BPD as a legitimate mental health condition in its own right and the need for more specific approaches in the treatment of people with BPD, I commend the motion to the chamber. Vale, Bob Burke