Today, Western Australian State Coroner, Ros Fogliani, released her report of the investigation into the suicide deaths of 13 Indigenous young people that occurred between November 2012 and March 2016 in the Kimberley Region.
I cannot adequately express my sense of grief at the deaths of these young people.
Nor can I ever comprehend the loss and devastation their families and their communities are feeling.
The families and communities who have experienced these tragedies have been deeply affected and the pain will never leave them.
The high rate of suicide among young First Australians is one of the nation’s most confronting challenges.
Our national Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander suicide death rate is more than double the rate of the rest of Australian society. And among 15 to 34 year olds, it’s three times as high.
The inquest has found common elements and factors contributing to the suicide deaths of the 13 young people.
These include alcohol abuse, domestic violence, poor living conditions and poor school attendance. Tragically, these young people were never able to reach out for help from support services.
There are 42 recommendations in Ms Fogliani’s report. These recommendations have been made to help target the causes of the issues.
A number of recommendations highlighted the need for suicide programs to be culturally sensitive, and that genuine and empowered relationships with First Nations communities are critical for the success of any program.
The report also highlights the need for better coordination between government agencies responsible for suicide prevention, and has recommended a Commissioner for Aboriginal Children and Young People be established.
The Australian Government has taken prompt action to address youth suicide in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.
On 25 January 2019, I hosted an urgent meeting in Perth with experts and members from the communities to discuss how best to respond to these recent tragedies.
As a result, an additional almost $5 million has been provided for a range of initiatives, including:
· fast tracking the rollout of the Be You school-based support in the Kimberley and Pilbara
· delivering of a targeted social media campaign
· expanding of the Young Ambassadors for Mental Health project to include a special focus in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander youth
· supporting to families dealing with grief with a focus on suicide prevention.
· commitment to working with my WA state colleagues.
The Australian Government also provides $4 million to each of the 12 National Suicide Prevention Trial sites, including two sites for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities in the Kimberley and Darwin.
The report provides a unique opportunity to rethink how we do things with local communities.
I will be reviewing the coroner’s report as a matter of urgency.
The Australian Government will carefully consider the WA Coroner’s report and recommendations. These will inform the Government’s approach towards the issue of Indigenous suicide in the Kimberley region going forward.