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Indigenous Suicide in the Kimberley

Estimates & Committees
Rachel Siewert 25 Feb 2011

Community Affairs Committee – Friday 25 February 2011

Senator SIEWERT—Last time we were here we talked about some suicides in the Kimberley and unfortunately there have been some more, to the point where people over there are calling it a crisis. What action is the department and the Commonwealth taking to assist Western Australia to get some more resources on the ground to deal with this specific issue now?

Ms Harman—I will take this one and then hand this over to my colleague, Ms Krestensen. There is the immediate response and the things that we are doing currently on the ground, working very closely with the WA government, and then there is obviously the need for the Commonwealth to play a role in terms of the longer term response and gathering the kind of research and evidence to help us to deal more effectively with these things in the future. A couple of comments from me: the department funds, as you know, the StandBy Suicide Bereavement Response Service. The StandBy coordinators in the East Kimberley and West Kimberley regions have actually been a central point of coordination for the current response, and that, as I understand it, has been at the request of or with the endorsement of community elders and council leaders. That Commonwealth funded service has actually been pretty instrumental in responding to communities, to this tragedy at the moment.

Looking at the longer-term, bigger-picture stuff, an Indigenous suicide strategy will obviously be an important framework going forward. We are also looking at ways to fast-track funding from the $274-million tackling suicide package specifically at the request of Minister Butler. There are probably two elements of that that we are going to be focusing on: the $22.6 million community fund that is going to be targeting community responses at specific at-risk groups, including Indigenous people; and the national rollouts of the Access to Allied Psychological Services or ATAPS suicide pilot which is $23.5 million starting next financial year.
What we are going to be looking at there is whether we can fast-track some of that and indeed develop an Indigenous-specific response building on the very successful pilot. My colleague, I understand, has started talking to the Kimberley division about that and they are pretty interested. I might hand over to my colleague now.

Senator SIEWERT—Thank you.

Ms Krestensen—Ms Harman has given us a comprehensive answer, but just to add to that I will mention that we have been in discussions with the StandBy service. As Ms Harman said, that has been the central coordinating point for a lot of the activity. The actual coordinators that they employ through the StandBy service are being used to draw together and to work with a whole range of local services including Burdekin youth headspace, which has a local presence; the Kimberley Aboriginal Medical Services Council; state government mental health services in the area; the Western Australian Aboriginal health service; the Aboriginal health services in the Fitzroy Valley; the men’s outreach service and WA police and ambulance. They are all working very closely with the Commonwealth funded StandBy service.

We are working very closely with our state office in Perth about this issue and they are working, in turn, with the local FaHCSIA services and the local state health services. As Ms Harman said, we have been in discussion with the service we fund there. In addition to StandBy we have also got the Yiriman Project which works in the local area. Also, we have recently funded Billard Aboriginal Corporation for a stand up for life suicide prevention project which is building on the network successes of the Billard blank page summit to look at developing a further summit, and to really work with community members and key stakeholders to set in place a form of community based network or safety net to work upstream.
We have had discussions with the Kimberley Division of General Practice, as Ms Harman said, to explore the possibility of looking at a culturally appropriate form of the ATAPS suicide prevention project which works through divisions of general practice to provide specially trained allied health workers with the capacity to provide intensive support to individuals who are identified as being suicidal, at risk of suicide or who have self-harmed or attempted suicide. We are thinking through its applicability, not only to Kimberley but also to other areas where there might be a spike, so to speak.

In general our response to these kinds of things is twofold: firstly, it is about ensuring that there is some sort of form of bereavement support available either through a service we fund or to explore whether the state government is funding such a service; and secondly, just to ensure that there are the mental health services in place to provide support to families, to members and to other young people who might be impacted by the event.

Senator SIEWERT—I really appreciate that comprehensive run down and I really appreciate that you are looking at fast-tracking some of that $274 million because it really is needed. I will ask two more questions following up: there was the Billard blank page summit and you talked about another summit—is that the Balgo one?

Ms Krestensen—That is correct.

Senator SIEWERT—So you are actively considering funding for that?

Ms Krestensen—We provided funding of $199,800 to the Billard Aboriginal Corporation for the project I mentioned which is going to be running a series of discussions and field visits with a lead-up to the actual summit itself in June.

Senator SIEWERT—That project is an extremely worthwhile project. I understand elders are meeting in the Kimberley on Saturday or early next week. I could have it wrong; it could be early next week. I suspect there may be some more suggestions coming out from the Kimberley Aboriginal Law and Culture Centre, KALACC, following that meeting and I am wondering whether you are able to engage in some discussions. I do not know obviously what they are going to come up with but is there a possibility of being able to engage with them further in terms of suggestions that they may make?

Ms Harman—Our WA state office is feet on the ground, if you like, and they have been working extremely closely with the communities affected and with all the service providers. I am very confident they are aware of this impending meeting and I am sure they are probably connected to it as well.

Ms Powell—I can probably add to that. I know our state manager and a number of OATSIH staff have been talking to all of the health service providers affected in the region, to make it clear that we want to talk to them about what kind of response services they might need programmatically, but also to support the staff that work there because they are also very traumatised. The messages they are getting are that they are a little bit overwhelmed right now but very soon they will want to talk about those things. I am quite confident that they will be involved.

Senator SIEWERT—That is why I was asking because that is the feedback I have had as well. That is why they are having the meeting and they will obviously want to discuss with you the community driven approaches. The community health services are obviously community driven but I know that they are thinking about some more community driven projects. Thank you. I really appreciate the run down, thank you.

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