The Western Australian Government has engaged a non-Indigenous organisation to consult with community about a $9.2 million alcohol and drug service for youth in the state’s Kimberley region.

As of the 2016 Census, 41.6 per cent of the Kimberley population identified as Indigenous, and according to a 2018 WA Country Health Service report, for the period 2006-2015, the mortality rate in Kimberley residents for alcohol-related causes were 2.3 times higher than the State rate.

Despite this, national consultancy firm Nous Group was selected by the Mental Health Commission to lead the project after a Request for Quote was advertised on Tenders WA in September 2019.

Two principal consultants at the firm are former Department of Child Protection Director General, Emma White, and former WA Mental Health Commissioner, Tim Marney. NIT does not suggest the consultants played any part in securing the tender.

The Mental Health Commission’s Assistant Director Strategy and Reform, Natasa Dale, said the tender was advertised “to find a suitable organisation to undertake the consultation and co-design … with local communities”.

“An evaluation panel assessed the responses received and Nous was found to be the preferred respondent, best meeting the requirements of the request,” Dale said.

The Kimberley Youth AOD Service will target young people with complex needs, and may include services such as:

  • Residential rehabilitation
  • Low medical withdrawal
  • Day programs
  • Family intervention
  • Assistance with co-occurring mental health issues
  • Links with existing service providers.

Dale said the service could potentially link up with existing service providers, however the project is still in its early stages.

The $9.2 million in funding from the State Government is to be allocated over three years for the co-design, development and operation of the service.

Consultations are already underway, with Nous Group Senior Consultant, Edward Souti, and Nous Group Consultant, Jennifer Tran, heading up conversations in the Kimberley. Both project leads are non-Indigenous.

Dale said regional leadership bodies and youth networks have been “engaged to build regional-level consensus and ownership for the consultation and co-design process” since December 2019.

However, Walalakoo Aboriginal Corporation Chair, Robert Watson, said he was unaware the consultations were taking place until he was asked to attend a meeting with the consultants.

“I was just surprised … everyone I’ve spoken to from the health authorities to [Aboriginal] health organisations—they had no idea,” he said.

Watson said he was concerned with how Nous Group procured the project before learning it was through a tender process.

He said community consultation for the project needs to be driven by a group rich in learned experience.

“That’s the Indigenous organisations, all their members are actual candidates or clients [for these services],” Watson said.

“I hope that there’s real engagement ranging from government service providers to non-government Aboriginal organisations and Traditional Owner bodies, and to weigh in on having a say on what should happen.”

Nous Group declined to answer NIT’s questions and referred requests for comment on to the Mental Health Commission.

By Hannah Cross

 

*Editor’s note: A previous version of this article stated Nous Group had been awarded $9.2 million to consult on the project. This has since been amended.