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Indigenous Suicide

Senator SIEWERT (2.32 pm)—My question today is to the Minister representing the Minister for Mental Health and Ageing, Minister Ludwig. Bearing in mind the increasing rate of suicide amongst Aboriginal Australians in Northern Australia, I ask a question on that issue. There have been six Indigenous people younger than 18 in the Northern Territory who have taken their own lives in the last month, and there have been at least two in northern Western Australia, along with a number of attempted suicides. I ask: is the government aware of this situation? Does it agree that this needs urgent action? Will the government start developing immediately a specific Indigenous suicide prevention strategy?

Senator LUDWIG—I thank Senator Siewert for her question and her continuing interest in Indigenous issues, including Indigenous suicide. The Australian governmentis committed to reducing suicide rates amongst young people in Indigenous communities. Under the National Suicide Prevention Program the government is providing $6.169 million over 2009 to 2011 to community based suicide prevention projects in communities in WA, including the Kimberley region. We are also providing the Kimberley Division of General Practice $3.4 million from 2006-07 to 2010-11 to employ mental health professionals in areas such as Broome, Halls Creek, Fitzroy Crossing, Kununurra, Derby and the Kutjungka and peninsula region. The Kimberley Division will also receive $283,000 in 2010-11 to run the successful Access to Allied Psychological Services program, with a catchment area that includes Balgo.

I could add that over the last couple of years there have also been funds of up to $10 million allocated through the National Suicide Prevent Program nationally for community based projects that work with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities to build strength, capacity and resilience within the Indigenous communities, to support those in those regions. Of course it is recognised—Senator Siewert makes this point— that the ABS Causes of death, Australia, 2008 report did identify that suicide accounted for 4.2 per cent, which is approximately 103, of all Indigenous deaths due to external causes. That is, 74 males and 29 females— (Time expired)

Senator SIEWERT—I thank the minister for his answer. I ask a supplementary question. I specifically would like to know: what is the government’s considered opinion about a separate Indigenous strategy that deals with suicide prevention, as recommended by a wide range of mental health and health practitioners? I am asking about the specific issue of the strategy, because these programs, while they are very worthwhile, obviously need some other element, because they are not reducing the rate of suicide. We have just had a spike in the rate of suicides in Northern Australia.

Senator LUDWIG—I thank Senator Siewert for her supplementary question. As I understand it, it is not only about the broader issues, which the government has made election commitments on—to provide $276.9 million to prevent the tragedy of suicide in the wider community, which goes to boost helplines such as Lifeline provide areas of training for frontline community workers, improve safety at notable suicide hot spots, provide outreach teams to schools affected by suicide and support community led prevention activities. All of that comes within the general strategy of election commitments to provide support. I understand that the specific question goes to Indigenous communities, which I have mentioned in part in my response to her primary question. If I could put it in the context of being part of the Labor government’s $276 billion, which I have outlined, those policies include— (Time expired)

Senator SIEWERT—I again thank the minister. I note that only $8.1 million of the government’s promised $277 million in additional spending on suicide prevention is earmarked for this financial year. I wonder if the government has looked at rolling out a high percentage of that money more quickly in Aboriginal communities, particularly in Northern Australia, to deal with this specific spike. As it is occurring right now, that money is required right now.

Senator LUDWIG—If I do not quite respond to the specific issues raised by Senator Siewert, I thank her for her supplementary question, I will see what the mental health spokesperson can add in this area if I do not finalise the question in the time. As part of the Labor government’s $276.9 million election commitment to tackle suicide, as I have outlined, $22.4 million has been allocated to support additional community led suicide prevention activities, including in Indigenous communities. In terms of the specifics of the rollout and to address the urgency that Senator Siewert has identified within Indigenous communities, particularly on the issue of suicide, I will seek from the minister what I might be able add to the answer I provided to Senator Siewert. Within the broader area, of coarse, the National Suicide Prevention Strategy is the overarching strategy— (Time expired)

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