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Questions Without Notice: Indigenous Suicide

Senator WRIGHT (South Australia) (14:43): My question is to Senator Ludwig representing both the Minister for Indigenous Health and the Minister for Mental Health and Ageing. My question relates to the government's response to the tragic incidence of youth suicide in Indigenous communities. This has recently been highlighted by the Northern Territory inquiry into youth suicide. Unfortunately, this problem is not a new phenomenon. In June 2010 the Senate Community Affairs References Committee report The hidden toll: suicide in Australia acknowledged these issues. In September 2011 the government appointed a new advisory group to develop a specific suicide prevention strategy for Indigenous communities. I am asking about the progress of the work of the new Indigenous suicide prevention advisory group and, in particular, when will the specific Indigenous suicide prevention strategy be publicly available? What is the proposed time line for the roll out of that strategy? How will it be funded?

Senator LUDWIG (Queensland-Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry and Minister Assisting on Queensland Floods Recovery) (14:44): I thank Senator Wright for her question. Ministers Butler, Snowdon and Plibersek have all been working cooperatively and continuously on this issue and, can I say, just as a point of reflection, this government and I am sure all in this chamber remain concerned about the reported higher rates of suicide among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. It is a tragedy for any person to take their own life and it deeply affects their family and their community. That is why this government set up the advisory committee. Suicide prevention remains a priority for this government. That is why in September 2011 we announced the establishment of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Suicide Prevention Advisory Group to inform on the development of Australia's first National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Suicide Prevention Strategy.

The development of the strategy will no doubt involve extensive consultation with communities across Australia including those in the Northern Territory and areas of remote Queensland. We understand that the Select Committee on Youth Suicide in the Northern Territory will be reporting soon and the government will carefully consider the outcomes of their inquiry. The government does continue to work closely with state and territory governments to ensure that responses are well coordinated. The government recently redoubled its efforts in suicide prevention including $6 million being allocated to tackle Indigenous suicide as part of the broader $22.6 million community led suicide prevention activity funding. (Time expired)

Senator WRIGHT (South Australia) (14:46): Mr President, I have a supplementary question. I do note that unfortunately the minister did not provide answers to when the strategy will be available, the proposed timeline for the rollout or, indeed, how it is to be funded. If it is not possible for him to give those answers now, I would ask that they be taken on notice.
I am also interested in knowing whether the government has undertaken any systematic evaluations of suicide prevention efforts in Indigenous communities. Has it implemented any specific programs that identify and address suicide clusters in Indigenous communities, particularly in relation to youth suicide? If so, what is the scope and funding of those programs?

Senator LUDWIG (Queensland-Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry and Minister Assisting on Queensland Floods Recovery) (14:47): I thank Senator Wright. That is a quite detailed multipart question. I will work through some of the detail and part of it I will take on notice to see if I can provide more information from the responsible minister. But in terms of some of the specific issues, I will go to the funding provided to 13 specific Indigenous community based projects including the Yiriman Project in the Kimberley region in WA, and the Train the Trainer program and Suicide Story Training Project in the Central Desert area of the Northern Territory. All of these add to the assistance provided and underpin some of the work that the state, Territory and Commonwealth governments do in this region. Access to Allied Psychological Service Programs received a $206 million increase in the 2011 budget over five years including $36.5 million for Indigenous-specific mental health services. (Time expired)

Senator WRIGHT (South Australia) (14:48): I have a further supplementary question, and I thank the minister for being prepared to take my question on notice. Is the government funding or supporting any suicide prevention strategies that are initiated by, or based on consultation with, specific Indigenous communities and which draw on the traditional knowledge and wisdom of elders? Furthermore, are these initiatives, if any, implemented through locally controlled partnerships?

Senator LUDWIG (Queensland-Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry and Minister Assisting on Queensland Floods Recovery) (14:49): I thank Senator Wright. It is a very specific question. I will put it in this context: the department has contributed-and this is just one program; but I think it highlights in part the issue-$175,330 to Queensland Health to fund a specific prevention officer as part of a regional Suicide Prevention Strategy for the Mount Isa Health Services District that includes Doomadgee, Mount Isa, Mornington Island and Dajarra. This whole-of-government strategy is aimed at developing local capacity and focuses on prevention, awareness and early education. The StandBy bereavement response team are also working with the Doomadgee community at the request of the community members and is part of the rollout of the National Partnership Agreement on Remote Indigenous Housing. The Australian and Queensland governments are committed to supporting employment opportunities for local Indigenous people. I think that just gives a short overview of some of the more specific on-the-ground work. (Time expired)

Penny Wright delivered a speech in response, a transcript can be found here.

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