• Youth mentors say Aboriginal children need to start with education, knowledge and then behaviour change will happen. (NITV News)Source: NITV News
Trauma-afflicted communities in the Kimberley, WA, are being left to fend for themselves as suicides skyrocket to an unprecedented level, a leaked report reveals.
Andrea Booth

The Point
14 Mar 2016 - 5:42 PM  UPDATED 14 Mar 2016 - 7:07 PM

"Our communities. They are not responded to. And then they feel like shit and they take their lives," a participant of a roundtable says as quoted in a leaked government document.

The Kimberley Roundtable Report, provided to The Point by National Indigenous Times on Monday, says the rate of Indigenous suicides has doubled in the Kimberley over the past five years.

There were one hundred suicides between 2000 and 2010.

Indigenous people in the Kimberley, north west of WA, are now eight times more likely to take their lives than non-Indigenous people, the paper states.

It adds that participants were concerned "historical and intergenerational traumas" that had been left unaddressed were contributing factors.

"How we going to help one another when we are going through the same things?" says one roundtable member.

Stan Grant: This stops now
COMMENT | Children in our communities are taking their own lives. We need to speak out, or risk losing another generation.

The damning report comes after a 10-year-old took her life last Sunday in the small community of Looma in the Kimberley.

The girl was in the care of extended family in Looma in what Western Australian Child Protection Minister Helen Morton last week described as an “informal arrangement”, adding that the girl was exposed to trauma during her short life.

The 10-year-old, who is believed to have watched her 14-year-old cousin take their life three years earlier, is one of about 19 Indigenous suicides in Western Australia since December, nearly half of the usual total yearly amount, Gerry Georgatos, a suicide prevention researcher, told media.

Gerry Georgatos: National inquiry or royal commission into Indigenous suicides is long overdue
COMMENT | The rate of suicides in the Indigenous community - and in particular among children - is a humanitarian crisis. The apparent suicide of a young girl in WA calls for immediate action.

After the girl's death, Western Australian Coroner Ros Fogliani announced a coronial inquest will occur.

"It is not presently possible to confirm the number of deaths which will be listed for inquest or the timing of the hearing as coronial investigations are not yet complete and the state coroner is continuing to review suspected suicides in the region,” Ms Fogliani said in a statement.

It will be the fourth inquest to take place within ten years.

In 2008, former Coroner Alastair Hope released findings into a coronial inquest into 21 Aboriginal suicides that occurred through 2006. Again in 2008, he handed down a report into four suicides and one death that resulted from a "reckless disregard for self-preservation" in the community of Oombulgurri. In 2011, Coroner Hope conducted another inquest into five Aboriginal suicides within 12 months in the remote community of Balgo.

An open letter to Nigel Scullion: Fund an Indigenous specific Lifeline service to help prevent suicides
This is a letter from Alex Ferguson the Executive Director of Lifeline Central West Inc, to the Federal Indigenous Affairs Minister, Nigel Scullion, calling on the government to support its proposal to develop a national call centre of 100 fully trained Indigenous suicide prevention counsellors.

The Kimberley Roundtable Report was compiled after a discussion in August 2015 as part of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Suicide Prevention Evaluation Project (ATSISPEP), funded by the Federal Government.

Some roundtable participants - of which nearly 80 percent are Indigenous - say in the report that suicides are happening because communities are being ignored by government and services.

“The kids have nothing if I may say,” says one.

“I am in a small town and there are no youth centres, no anything.”

Another participant agrees: “There is a disconnect between the service providers and communities.”

“The government [has] exacerbated the problems and they need to understand this.They should not make decisions without listening to some of the bodies that are on the frontline,” says another.

Government's response

A spokesperson for Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion told The Point the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Suicide Prevention Evaluation Project is tasked to find out what does and doesn’t work to stop suicide and why.

“It is expected to provide recommendations shortly which the government will carefully consider and respond to in due course,” the spokesperson says.

When asked if the office was currently taking enough action given that the rates of suicides are already high, the spokesperson said the minister had, “already acted to address the tragically high levels of Indigenous suicide in WA – including in the Kimberley region.”

They said this was evidenced through agreeing to provide $1 million for a “critical response project to better coordinate suicide response services and ensure they are delivered in a culturally appropriate way for First Australians.”

Have previous coronial findings been heard? 

Lawyer John Hammond, who represented families in the Oombulgurri inquest, told The Point he would represent families in Coroner Fogliani’s hearings.

He says governments have not been acting on enough recommendations from the previous inquests into suicides that have occurred through the region, such as those that advise governments to work with local Aboriginal organisations to provide culturally based support.

“I’m hoping that the inquest will address whether any of the 27 recommendations made by Coroner Hope have been adopted and if they haven’t, why they haven’t,” he says of the 2008 inquest into 21 suicides in the Kimberley.

“And members of the relevant government departments be called to the inquest to explain what has happened in the last nine years.”  

Roundtables have already been held in Mildura, Victoria, and Darwin, Northern Territory. More are planned for Cairns, Queensland, Adelaide in South Australia and Shoalhaven, NSW, says the report.

Readers seeking support and information about suicide prevention can contact BeyondBlue on 1300 224 636, Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467.