Former Australian of the Year Fiona Stanley says action, not more inquiries or summits, is what’s needed to address the escalating Indigenous suicide rate.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has asked Health Minister Sussan Ley to host a summit on the issue in the Kimberley in northern Western Australia and a coronial inquest into the issue has been planned.
Just under a decade ago, Professor Stanley gave extensive evidence to a previous coronial inquest into Indigenous suicides in the Kimberley.
The distinguished child health expert argues the former WA coroner Alastair Hope’s recommendations remain valid and urges the current crop of lawmakers to read his report.
“A roundtable [on Indigenous suicides] may be very good, at least Aboriginal people in the Kimberley may be keen to have a say with the Prime Minister,” she said.
“But we’ve had an older report from Alastair Hope, which is now eight or nine years old … with recommendations that were very clear and very good.
“We even go back further than that to the Aboriginal deaths in custody royal commission, the Stolen Generation report … all of these major, expensive, labour intensive investigations have the same kind of recommendations, they are all there.
“So I query whether we need any more talkfests, or royal commissions or other reports.”
Some of Professor Hope’s recommendations, including tougher alcohol restrictions for the Kimberley, have been acted on.
Others included the introduction of a homemaker program, to teach public housing tenants how to maintain their homes.
In 2007 Professor Stanley told the Hope inquest to do nothing about the living conditions of Aboriginal people in the Kimberley would be a breach of human rights.
She says she believes what has happened in the intervening years has indeed been a breach of human rights.
“I’m now beginning to realise what it’s like to be Aboriginal in Australia,” she said.
“Do you know how many Aboriginal people there actually are in Western Australia, the actual count? 85,000 people.
“Can’t we provide those services for 80,000 people?”
Talking is the first step: health department
When asked to respond to Professor Stanley’s remarks, a spokeswoman for the Ms Ley confirmed the Government would hold a roundtable discussion in Broome in coming weeks about its plan for a suicide prevention trial site in the Kimberley.
“The Government is serious about a call to action on suicide, which is why as part of our commitment to improve mental health and reduce suicide rates, the Government recently announced a landmark suicide prevention trial site in the Kimberley region,” the spokeswoman said.
Professor Stanley said: “I’d really like to know what their suicide prevention strategy is.
“It’s very interesting… that at the same time they’re setting up a royal commission into the Don Dale disaster they are stopping funding 70 Aboriginal controlled early childhood intervention services, many of which have been going for 30 years or more.
“Now why am I worried about that? Pathways into suicide start in early childhood.”
Professor Stanley also said she was against the Government’s royal commission into the Northern Territory’s youth detention system, for the same reasons she is opposed to more reports and discussions about Kimberley suicides.
This article first appeared on ‘ABC’ on 4 October 2016.