A $266.7 million package to support Indigenous youth in response to the Coroner’s Inquest and Message Stick reports into Aboriginal youth suicide has been criticised as inadequate by organisations on the ground.

Announced in Broome on Friday by WA Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Ben Wyatt, the Commitment to Aboriginal Youth Wellbeing involves developing “policies and initiatives that affect Aboriginal people”.

A statement released by Ministers Wyatt and Cook last week said the $266.7 million in funding will “address the issues raised in the reports” – without actually acknowledging what those issues were.

The combined 86 recommendations from the two reports have been reduced to 12 key commitments focusing on four areas of cultural wellbeing, health, youth, and community.

The bulk of the funding, over $200 million, will go to infrastructure and essential services to support the future of remote Indigenous communities, such as those in the Kimberley, where 13 young people lost their lives in less than four years.

Over $32 million will also be funnelled into the State Suicide Prevention Action Plan, which will be implemented across WA, plus an extra $3 million to expand make more accessible clinical mental health services in the Kimberley.

Despite the Government allegedly responding to the reports on Aboriginal youth suicide, none of the $35 million is Aboriginal specific.

Funding for the State Suicide Prevention Action Plan will be spread across the entire state, while the funding for Kimberley mental health services will be dispersed throughout the region.

Similarly, the Government’s response allocated an additional $6.2 million for the Kimberley Juvenile Justice Strategy under the guise of responding to suicide prevention.

A 2019 statement from Minister Wyatt and Minister for Corrective Services, Francis Logan, however, stated the Kimberley Juvenile Justice Strategy “aims to improve youth justice outcomes in the Kimberley” – not to prevent or reduce suicide rates in the region.

Although absent from the announcement due to COVID-19 obligations, Deputy Premier Cook, who is also Minister for Health and Mental Health, said in a statement the WA Government recognises the trauma wreaked on generations of Aboriginal families and communities, with suicide devastating too many.

“The Commitment to Aboriginal Youth Wellbeing sends a clear message to young Aboriginal people and their families across Western Australia: we know many of you are doing it tough,” Minister Cook said.

“Many of you are hurting and in grief and we are committed to working with you, and the community as a whole, to help turn that around.”

Minister Wyatt added that these new commitments represent the McGowan Government’s drive to “deliver real change in partnership with Aboriginal people”.

“Through key initiatives like the whole of government response to the issue of youth suicide, Commitment to Aboriginal Youth Wellbeing, and the Kimberley Juvenile Justice Strategy, we are implementing a person-centred and culture-focused approach to the wellbeing of the Aboriginal community, especially children and young people,” Minister Wyatt said.


Too little, too late

The response has been lambasted by organisations on the ground, with early criticisms labelling the package as far too simplified and far too late.

A trio of Kimberley organisations have released a statement calling for a comprehensive response to the 86 recommendations originally outlined in the Government’s Statement of Intent on Aboriginal youth suicide from May 2019.

Kimberley Aboriginal Medical Services (KAMS), Kimberley Aboriginal Law and Cultural Centre (KALACC) and the Centre of Best Practice in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Suicide Prevention (CBPATSISP) said communities are waiting for “substantive responses to each of the 86 recommendations”.

The Kimberley Statement outlined three key actions the Government should commit to:

  • Responding in detail to each of the 86 recommendations
  • Directly engaging with communities and investing in long-term, co-designed solutions with clear implementation processes
  • Immediately funding critically important culturally-based initiatives including the Yiriman Project, recommendations from the Empowered Young Leaders report, and service delivery via Kimberley Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services.

“We also ask that the State Government not assume that they know what is best for Aboriginal young people,” the Kimberley Statement read.

“This means committing to a process of co-design with Aboriginal Community Controlled organisations and communities.

“A partnership for codesign of the solutions requires commitment, resources and action that is paced over the long-term.

“Anything less than this will be exceptionally disappointing and will only serve to delay addressing youth suicide in region further.”

Director of the National Suicide Prevention and Trauma Recovery Project and proud Mineng woman, Megan Krakouer, was also disappointed with the State Government’s proposal.

She said the response is “nowhere near enough to significantly reduce suicidality”.

“The WA Government, with its usual practice of unjustifiable, year-long delays … is too late not just for those lives lost, such as the 13 children’s lives examined by the Inquest, but is too late for the lives lost since, and is too late for lives to be lost tomorrow and in the months ahead,” Krakouer said.

“Unless Governments invest significantly in improving the lives of the intergenerationally impoverished families and communities then suicidality will remain sky high.”

Krakouer said while $266 million sounds like a lot of money, there are 282 Aboriginal communities across WA all in need of assistance.

“A package drip-fed over years will go nowhere fast … They should have spent half a billion over two years on the communities, and upgrade fast so we reduce the infrastructure disparities and health inequalities.”

If you or anyone you know is struggling with mental ill-health, call or visit the online resources below:

By Hannah Cross