Kimberley Aboriginal Medical Services has spoken out against claims by two federal Labor politicians that the Kimberley Aboriginal suicide trial needs to be doing more to tackle the issue of suicide in remote communities, saying the comments are nothing more than a shallow attempt at political point scoring.
WA Labor Senator for regional affairs Glenn Sterle and Federal Senator and shadow assistant minister for mental health Deborah O'Neill made a whistle-stop visit to Broome last week.
In a story published in the Broome Advertiser yesterday, Senator O’Neill was quoted as saying “not enough is being done with the $3 million allocated to the (Aboriginal Suicide Prevention) trial” and that she has “serious concerns about how this money is being used”.
Today, Kimberley Aboriginal Medical Service Deputy Chief Executive Officer Rob McPhee hit back.
Mr McPhee said Ms O’Neill’s comments were “deplorable”, “ill-informed” and did not acknowledge the tireless work being undertaken by Kimberley Aboriginal communities, health agencies and stakeholders to help turn the tide on the complex issue of suicide.
“We are appalled by the comments made by Senators O’Neill and Sterle in relation to the Aboriginal Suicide Prevention trial in the Kimberley,” Mr McPhee said.
“Suicide is a sensitive issue that strikes at the core of families and communities.
“It is a complex issue and will not be resolved by $3 million of funding in three years. Rather, we must establish adequate groundwork now to ensure we can make a sizeable impact to combat this terrible social issue.”
Earlier this year, the Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt committed $1 million a year for three years to undertake evidenced-based initiatives in a bid to reduce the high rates of Aboriginal suicide in the region. The Kimberley is one of 12 sites involved in the trial.
The Kimberley trial is working to develop a suicide prevention approach that can support the unique and culturally sensitive requirements of remote Aboriginal communities.
Mr McPhee said communities were best placed to identify the needs and programs to assist.
Significant community engagement had already been undertaken as part of the trial, he said. “For two MPs who supposedly have an interest in improving mental health and the rates of suicide in regional communities to ride into town and take aim at the hard work of local authorities is deplorable,” Mr McPhee said.
“The reality is that Deborah O’Neill made a fly-in visit to Broome with a week’s notice at a time when senior, well-briefed KAMS executives were unavailable to meet. Further, her office requested a general discussion about mental health issues, not the suicide trial per se.
“This visit was nothing more than a bid to use the complex, sensitive community issue of suicide as a means of pushing a political agenda.
“Using an issue like suicide to gain political points is irresponsible. It is not acceptable and it must stop.
“Addressing the high rates of self-harm and suicide in the Kimberley is complex and while the trial will go some way towards this, significant change will only occur through long-term and sustained efforts in this area.”
At the request of the community, a high level working group was formed, which is co-chaired by the Federal Minister for Indigenous Health Ken Wyatt and Mr McPhee.The trial working group consists of Aboriginal representatives from Kimberley towns, leaders from key regional Aboriginal community controlled organisations and senior officials from state and federal government agencies.
Kimberley Aboriginal Medical Services is a regional Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Service (ACCHS), providing a collective voice and support for a network of ACCHS from towns and remote communities across the Kimberley region of Western Australia.
If you or someone you know needs urgent support please contact the Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467, the Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800 or Lifeline on 13 11 14.