One of the authors of the long-awaited report of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Suicide Prevention Evaluation Project (ATSISPEP) says it should not end up in a Northern Territory Intervention style response but prompt an implementation “partnership” with guidance from its authors and coordination across and within government.
University of Canberra Chancellor Professor Tom Calma said the ATSISPEP team had conducted the wide-ranging evaluation of the effectiveness of existing suicide prevention services and programs under the stewardship of Indigenous National Mental Health Commissioner Professor Pat Dudgeon.
Calma told Croakey he believed that news reports published this week about the evaluation were based on an earlier draft of its final report, which is expected to be released on Friday in Broome at a roundtable to be attended by three key Federal Ministers.
Health Minister Sussan Ley will chair the roundtable on disproportionate rates of suicide in the Kimberley region, with Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion, and Assistant Minister for Health Ken Wyatt also attending. Dudgeon will also be there for the launch.
Calma told Croakey he could not attend but was encouraged by comments by Ley on Thursday that recognised the need to take a social determinants of health (SDOH) perspective on suicide – not just focused on mental health but addressing everything from overcrowded housing through to intergenerational trauma.
He was also pleased that she had emphasised the need to engage closely with the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community and showed support for the recommendation of an evaluation tool that will be able to guide communities and agencies in putting together effective programs.
While he welcomed the interest of the Ministers in talking with the community in Broome, Calma said ATSISPEP had already conducted extensive round tables about Indigenous suicide around the nation with vulnerable groups, taken many submissions, as well as listening to the “voice of the people” through the National Empowerment Project.
“I’m very happy Ministers are keen to listen (in Broome) but the time for listening is probably over and the time for seriously considering and implementing recommendations is where we’re at now,” he said.
His warning echoed similar concerns voiced at the Royal Commission into juvenile justice in the Northern Territory this week. In his opening address at the Royal Commission hearing in Darwin on Tuesday, Counsel Assisting Peter Callaghan asked:
“Do we need to confront some sort of inquiry mentality in which investigation is allowed as a substitution for action and reporting is accepted as a replacement for results?”
Calma, a former Social Justice Commissioner, said politicians on both sides need to be aware of the expectations of funding and support that come from staging roundtables, the concern of those who aren’t invited at being left out, and the personal cost to participants.
“Particularly with suicide, every time we conduct hearings we open a wound,” he said.
Calma said the ATSISPEP report now needs a “meaningful implementation plan” but he also expressed hope that the Federal Government would not “just charge off” with a unilateral response as the Howard Government did with the controversial Northern Territory Intervention in response to the landmark Little Children are Sacred report.
“It’s got to be a partnership between the government and us as the authors, in how we take it forward and it is imperative that the Indigenous community is meaningfully engaged in the implementation of suicide prevention programs,” he said.
That would have to include a transparent process of funding allocation from Primary Health Networks, now charged with the primary responsibility on suicide prevention and mental health programs, and how they would properly engage with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and communities.
PHNs were “not necessarily skilled in this area” and would require a lot of guidance, he said.
The Little Children are Sacred report’s author, Indigenous health leader, Pat Anderson, also gave expert evidence this week to the Royal Commission, describing the NT Intervention as a “huge betrayal” of the trust that so many community members had placed into the inquiry she led into the protection of Aboriginal children from sexual abuse.
Anderson, who is chair of the Lowitja Institute, issued a strong appeal to the Royal Commission that its inquiry into abuse of Aboriginal young people in juvenile justice does not result in a report that gets shelved like so many vital investigations into issues affecting Indigenous people in Australia.
“This is the nature of Aboriginal reporting in the whole of the country: very little actually happens. We spend a lot of time talking about Aboriginal issues and the problems and everything, but very little has been done. It’s just the nature of these things. And I really fear – our hope is, Commissioners, that this isn’t the fate also of this inquiry.
In fact, I would go so far as to say the very survival of Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory depends on this Commission making a real impact here, that it not just be – we all feel good about talking about it, and we go away feeling all warm and fuzzy, and it’s dropped into a filing cabinet somewhere. Please, I beg you, do not just put it into the filing cabinet.
You are morally bound to do something, not just talk about it. That’s all this country does is, talk, about blackfellas.”
CRISIS SUPPORT 24/7
Lifeline:13 11 14 www.lifeline.org.au
Suicide Call Back Service:1300 659 467 www.suicidecallbackservice.org.au
beyondblue:1300 22 4636 www.beyondblue.org.au
MensLine Australia:1300 78 99 78 www.mensline.org.au
Youth Support Services
Kids Helpline:1800 55 1800 (24/7 crisis support) www.kidshelp.com.au
headspace:1800 650 890 www.headspace.org.au(direct clinical services)
Veterans and Veterans Families Counselling Service 1800 011 046 www.vvcs.gov.au
For Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people
National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (NACCHO) www.naccho.org.au
Social and Emotional Wellbeing and Mental Health Services www.sewbmh.org.au
Australian Indigenous Health InfoNetwww.healthinfonet.ecu.edu.au
Headspace Yarn Safehttps://headspace.org.au/yarn-safe/
Black Rainbow Living Well for Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander LGBTIQ Suicide Prevention