Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander suicide prevention
My adjournment matter tonight is for the Minister for Mental Health, and my ask is that she establishes an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander suicide prevention task force as part of Victoria’s suicide prevention and response strategy.
Last month I participated in a panel discussion hosted by the Victorian Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation, VACCHO. One of the most sobering parts of the night came during a question from the audience about the increase in suicides in Victoria’s First Nations communities. In 2021 the number of First Nations people dying by suicide increased by 75 per cent compared to the previous year, while it declined for non-Indigenous people. In Victoria, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people currently die by suicide at a rate 3½ times higher than for the non-Indigenous population. Suicide is now one of the five most common causes of death for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, yet for non-Indigenous people it is only the 15th most common. These statistics should be distressing for all of us. For years First Nations people have experienced significant socio-economic disadvantage and poorer health and wellbeing outcomes. From health to education, to housing, to economic indicators, and despite multiple strategies to address this entrenched disadvantage, such as Closing the Gap, there is still so much more to do.
Progressing justice and healing for our First Nations community must be a priority for this new term of government and indeed for all of us in this chamber. The work of treaty is a significant milestone in the journey towards true self-determination and sovereignty for First Nations people, but it cannot be used as a cover for inaction. It must go hand in hand with justice reform to reduce the number of First Nations people dying in custody and being unjustly imprisoned, with housing reform to address the disproportionate number of First Nations people experiencing homelessness and with health reform to improve health and wellbeing, and this work must centre on First Nations voices, communities and organisations.
The Victorian Department of Health is currently developing a suicide prevention and response strategy, which is likely to be released in early 2023. As VACCHO have highlighted, this strategy must include a focused Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander suicide task force to develop initiatives to reduce the rates of death by suicide in First Nations communities. I ask the minister to prioritise establishing a new First Nations suicide prevention task force as part of the government’s suicide prevention and response strategy.