A slow-motion genocide of a generation of children and young people is underway in the Kimberley right under the noses of the State Government.

Back in December 2020, National Indigenous Times ran a story on the back of sickening video footage of rampant petrol sniffing in a remote community on the outskirts of Fitzroy
Crossing.

At the time, anecdotal reports suggested that up to 70% of the community’s children had been involved in the petrol sniffing activity. It was also understood that sources on the ground that State agency staff were threatened to silence by their superiors after the story broke.

Since then, there has been a litany of sad Kimberley stories of youth crime, fatal car crashes and youth suicides.

These stories follow a familiar pattern with stolen cars, house break-ins and assaults rendered upon unwitting citizens and tourists, by children and young people who are hardened by neglect and crying out for attention and acceptance from their peers.

This is also in the shadow the terrible statistics on youth suicide which have been the subject of investigation by the Western Australian coroner.

Fast forward to December 2021 and more shocking social media footage coming from Derby with what appears to be a malnourished child (probably an age between 8 years and 10 years) smoking drugs.

This is within the context of informal reports, from people on the ground, they know who the child is, and, that this is a regular activity for many children.

Sadly, we have a State Government that is so addicted to good news and spin that it seems incapable of dealing with real issues – instead actively threatens those who speak out with the truth.

Take for example the disgusting action of the Department of Education charging an education worker, a Mr Burston, for the crime of honesty. In this case he was doing his job to promote school attendance and shared data with the local authority the Shire of Halls Creek who was working with him on solutions.

While the department saw fit to try to criminalise him for doing his job, thankfully, the Court disagreed with the department, and he was acquitted.

I also asked about school attendance in Parliament in May 2021 because I had heard from people on the ground that high school attendance around 10-15% in both Halls Creek and Fitzroy Crossing.

The information I received from the Minister showed that attendance at between 30% and 50%. This is appalling low enough, but I am told these data can be made to look better depending on how you cut it.

I hear, again from people on the ground that there are about 8 children out of a potential enrolment of about 130, who attend High School more than 80% of the time in Halls Creek.

This figure is important, because studies show that chronic absenteeism (missing more than 10% of school days) has a compounding negative impact on outcomes including the mental health of the child.

If the numbers are correct, we can safely assume that in Halls Creek alone, about 95% of students have very little chance in the future before they even leave school.

It not a superlative to call what is happening in the Kimberley as a slow-motion genocide. The genocide of young people that doesn’t result in thousands of graves right now – even though the Kimberley is dotted with sad memorials of fatal car crashes and too many suicides involving our children and young people.

But we all know that the lack of parenting, little or no education, nutritional deficiencies, poor housing, exposure to family violence and reckless substance abuse all result in early mortality of those children later in their adult years.

These are the real problems which need a crisis response that directly addresses each of them to save a generation of children and young people.

I try to be balanced in my work as a member of the State Opposition, knowing how hard it is to deal with the entrenched problems. It is because of this; I respect my Labor colleague and local member Divina D’Anna MLA who is genuinely trying while constrained as a backbencher in the WA Labor State Government.

But I find no words to describe the lack of confidence in the Minister for Education, Sue Ellery MLC because of the actions of her department to suppress the truth and put fear into the heart of every responsible public servant.

I am also disappointed with the now booted and former Minister for Aboriginal Affairs Stephen Dawson for a lack of advocacy when he held such an important role in 2021.

Prior to entering parliament and private business, I spent 28 years as a public servant, including at senior levels, so I know firsthand the chilling effect punitive actions like those on the brave Mr Burston have on his colleagues right across the public service and I invite any of them to contact me at neil.thomson@mp.wa.gov.au with information that I will treat
with the utmost confidence if they are willing to do so.

Fear of retribution just drives a culture of paralysis, buck passing and thwarts all creativity at a time when we need our public servants to lead with initiative and confidence, knowing they will be supported even if they make a few mistakes along the way.

Local desperation and frustration in the State was expressed well when a Kimberley elder recently suggested to me that the Commonwealth Government should impose a Biosecurity Zone over the Kimberley, to take control away from the State and directly address the epidemic of neglect.

By Neil Thomson

Neil Thomson MLC is the Liberal member for the Mining and Pastoral Region, lives in Broome WA.