Govt must act on indigenous suicide: Calma

It’s not us, it’s you.


That’s the message from indigenous service providers to the government, University of Canberra Chancellor and Indigenous leader Tom Calma says.

As joint head of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Suicide Prevention Evaluation Project (ATSISPEP), Professor Calma is urging the government to develop a multi-party platform to end decades of limited progress for indigenous affairs, particularly around high suicide rates.

Prof Calma said the government has been treading water on indigenous affairs, and that grassroots organisations who had been “getting steam up” and seeing results were then “cut off at the knees”.

Prof Calma said the government has quarantined $17.8 million set aside for indigenous suicide prevention programs until ATSISPEP provides it with a report on the situation.

Indigenous people cannot afford the government parking such important programs, and is urging it to take notice of suicide rates in the way it did when it launched a royal commission into deaths in custody, Prof Calma said.

It took 99 indigenous people to die in Australian jails before a royal commission was announced, while today 130 indigenous lives are lost to suicide each year, he said.

Prof Calma wants the government to engage with indigenous experts and heed their advice, rather than commission reports that sit forgotten on a shelf.

“For too long we as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have been blamed for the inactivity and lack of progress when report after report, people after people tell the government ‘it’s not us, it’s you, the way you develop policy, the way you change policies and programs at the drop of a hat, the total inconsistency in your approach; that’s what’s causing the problems’,” Prof Calma said.

“Until we can get confidence back up and people can see governments are genuine then we (won’t) see change.”

Indigenous Mental Health Commissioner Pat Dudgeon wants a national inquiry into the crisis as World Suicide Prevention Day nears on September 10.

“This is a crisis situation, strong and immediate action is needed,” she said in a statement.

“However, a national inquiry or royal commission should not pause or delay initiatives that are already in place or are about to be put in place.”


* About 130 people ended their lives each year over the last five years, marking a 30 per cent increase on the ten preceding years.

* Leading cause of death for people aged 15-35, responsible for one in three deaths.

* Northern Australia has among the world’s highest self-harm and suicide rates.

* This translates to high incarceration rates, with up to one in six indigenous people having been to jail.

(SOURCE: ATSISPEP, September 2, 2015)