Megan Krakouer and Gerry Georgatos work extensively in the suicide prevention space. Here they share their views on the Government’s response to the Coroner’s Inquest and Message Stick reports, as well as a discussion with Walmajarri Elder, Joe Brown.

 

A tireless advocate for his people in the Fitzroy, Walmajarri Elder, Joe Brown, lost to suicide his 17-year-old son and 16-year-old granddaughter.

Now Mr Brown and his wife, Vera Butcher, are raising their granddaughter’s son. They are loyal to family and Walmajarri Country and weep for the children of the Kimberley whose days on earth were far too few.

We were not put on this earth to bury our children and grandchildren.

The Western Australian Labor Government response was extremely disappointing for the memory of young lives lost. Last Friday, in Broome, the State Government announced their long-awaited and overdue response to the coronial inquest into the deaths of 13 of the Kimberley’s children, 12 by suicide.

The Government claimed to have worked on a comprehensive response for 12 months. We call this out, because this is people’s lives. The increasing suicide toll has gone on for three decades and been ignored by Governments lack of coordination of grassroots solutions.

“No Government listens, they just say they do,” Mr Brown said.

On behalf of the WA Government, Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Ben Wyatt, delivered the ‘response’ in the absence of Deputy Premier and Health Minister, Roger Cook, who is currently enveloped by the Coronavirus pandemic.

During the announcement Minister Wyatt said: “Reducing the rate of youth suicide in the Kimberley is a complicated challenge that will take time.”

“I assume you want a solution that you can go home today and feel good about – I can’t give you that.”

“People who expect a 12-month response are naive and silly; this is something that is going to take a long time to resolve.”

The WA Government made a rush job response to the Coroner’s recommendations during these last months. Instead of focusing on suicide prevention, they conflated First Nations spend – the essential services spend – with suicide prevention spend.

With the suicide prevention spend they reprehensibly bundled into the ‘package’ response, the $32 million over five years of the so-called Suicide Prevention Action Plan, which is for all West Australians.

Mr Brown is dismayed that despite the past, the response is not comprehensive enough. The State Government has had thirty years to do the right thing.

“I lost my son, in the 1990s, he was 17. Nothing changed since then,” Mr Brown said.

“I lost my granddaughter almost 10 years ago, she was 16. Nothing changed since then.”

“Governments have had many years to fix things. But they never fix, they make more problems.”

The State Government hit headlines with a $266 million package. To some it sounded a lot, but sadly it’s a pittance.

Over $200 million to support the future of the State’s 282 remote First Nations communities. However, this is part of the State’s Aboriginal spend and should never have been labelled as suicide prevention spend.

If the WA Government cared about remote First Nations Peoples as equal among sisters and brothers, they’d dedicate a billion dollars over two years from their budget surplus. Are First Nations lives not worth some of this surplus?

Some additional funding was lumped into the package, but nothing systemic, nothing a whole of Kimberley approach.

The State Government has betrayed the Kimberley’s First Nations families, with the ‘new’ 2021 to 2025 State Suicide Prevention Action Plan as the way to go – $32.3 million over 5 years.

It follows the Government’s Mental Health Commission-led 2016 to 2020 Suicide Prevention Action Plan, which has been an abysmal failure. And now, more of the same?

This Suicide Prevention Action Plan is for the whole of the State, for all Western Australians, so it’ll be pennies and dimes at best for the Kimberley’s First Nations Peoples, and the same for First Nations Peoples throughout WA.

We need a suicide prevention strategy that’s not paper-thin, half a billion dollars over five years for WA’s First Nations Peoples affected by suicidality. In our view, this would significantly reduce the levels of suicidality.

In the meantime, Joe Brown and Vera Butcher continue to raise their granddaughter’s 11-year-old boy.

“He is strong in culture, in lore and in school,” Mr Brown said.

“We make him strong, to stay away from wrong ways.

“I don’t want to see children buggered by drink, ganja too.

“We teach proper lifestyle, not wrong lifestyles which too many teenagers see and do, robbing cars … The families can’t handle.

“Teenagers can’t be handled at 16 and 17 if they have lost [their] ways.”

“Fitzroy needs the Government to not forget its people, our strengths like culture.”

“Government needs to fund the good things. We had a good project, Yiriman. We took our youth to Country, for weeks, teaching them good ways, about our history, of the three tribes, of the river. But this project which was working is not funded anymore,” Mr Brown said.

The Walmajarri Elder said his community needs many things, but the Yiriman Project was one thing that should never have been defunded.

“You see the Kartiya [non-Indigenous] Government does not listen. Because they do not listen, what’s been happening in Fitzroy for years, for instance, it’s worse today than before.

“We have no money for Yiriman, no money for good things, no money for our people.

“I worry about our kids. I worry when they grow up, they are not going to be able to feed their kids,” Mr Brown said.

“I don’t want them to take their lives. Our story should not be suicide.”

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

By Megan Krakouer and Gerry Georgatos

 

Megan Krakouer is a Mineng woman from Western Australia’s southwest. Presently, Megan is the Director of the National Suicide Prevention and Trauma Recovery Project and also works for the National Justice Project.

Gerry Georgatos is a suicide prevention and poverty researcher with an experiential focus. Among his academic qualifications he has a Masters in Human Rights Education and a Masters in Social Justice Advocacy.