Last year, I aggregated Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) hospital collated data on reported suicides of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples – 996 suicides from 2001 to 2010. That is 1 in 24 of all deaths of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people – by suicide. There is no ABS data available at time to determine whether the crisis has abated or got worse, but I have been record keeping reported suicides – whether through the media, community organisations or via other sources – for my own academic research on premature and unnatural deaths. I have found that from the beginning of 2011 to end 2013 there have been nearly 400 suicides – child, youth and adult – of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
My own research estimates that the 996 suicides recorded between 2001 to 2010 are an under reporting of the actual numbers, and instead of 1 in 24 deaths by suicide, I have estimated that the rate of suicide was between 1 in 12 to 1 in 16. The 2001 to 2010 suicides average to 99.96 suicides per year. In reflection it was 99 custodial deaths alone over a ten year period in the 1980s that led to the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody. How many suicides will it take before this nation’s most horrific tragedy is met head on with a Royal Commission?
My research compilations during the last three years of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander suicides are at nearly 400, no less than 380. Where there had been an average 99 deaths by suicide from 2001 to 2010, according to my research the annual average for 2011 to 2013 has tragically increased to approximately 130 suicides per annum.
Last year, on October 23, the Chair of the Prime Minister’s Indigenous Advisory Council (IAC), Warren Mundine read my journalism and some of the research published predominately in The National Indigenous Times and by The National Indigenous Radio Service and in The Stringer and Mr Mundine responded with a never-before-seen commitment by a high profile Government official to urgently do something about the out-of-control crisis. He added the crisis to the IAC’s mandate – and he time-limited it to six months so that the crisis would not languish. But three months have passed and we have not heard anything from the Council despite several requests to them for information on any potential progress.
At the time, Mr Mundine expressed his shock at the extent of the crisis.
“The figures sit before your eyes and the scale of it you sort of go ‘oh my god, what the hell is going on?’ I admit that I was probably one of the problems, because we seem to handle mental illness and suicide and shunt it away, we never dealt with it as a society, but we have to deal with it, confront it, because we are losing too many of our people, too many of our young ones… It is about us understanding this and challenging ourselves, and as I said I am just as bad as anyone else out there who put this away and did not want to deal with mental health and the suicide rates, so we have to get over that,” said Mr Mundine.
“We are looking at putting (the suicide crisis) on the table for our first meeting, and looking at over the next three and six months at what’s the advice we will be looking at giving to the Government and the Prime Minister to deal with this issue.”
“My personal opinion, and there is no science in this, this is just my observation, is our self-esteem and culture, I think, plays a major part in these areas.”
“It is a problem and I congratulate The National Indigenous Times for putting it on the front page. We need to really start focusing on this a lot better and I’m not talking about the people who are in there already doing it because they’re the champions. I’m talking about myself and the rest of Australia, we need to get our act together.”
Since October 23 there have been two score suicides.
Dumbartung Aboriginal Corporation CEO Robert Eggington said that in the last two weeks another spate of suicides has blighted both the south west and the north west of Western Australia.
“There have been suicides among our youth in recent weeks, another tragic spate. We met with the Premier last year and we are waiting for his promises to be kept to fund safe spaces and strategies for us to coordinate the helping of our people, but to date we have been kept waiting,” said Mr Eggington.
Chair of the Narrunga People, Tauto Sansbury said that he has been trying to arrange a meeting with Mr Mundine but despite three months of effort this has not occurred – Mr Mundine had promised to organise a meeting with Mr Sansbury following articles about the high rate of suicides among South Australia’s Aboriginal people.
“We have become used to broken promises by our State Government for a 24/7 crisis centre for our people and we hoped that Warren (Mundine) would represent the needs of our people, stand up for our most vulnerable, the at-risk, but to date he is yet to meet us let alone represent us,” said Mr Sansbury.
“Our young people and adults continue to fall victim to suicide.”
To the Northern Territory, where Aboriginal child suicides have increased by 500 per cent since the launching of the infamous “Intervention”, Arrente man and Bond University criminology student, Dennis Braun has reported the dark plight of one of the Territory’s communities – 33 deaths in five months. The community’s Elders have requested that the community is not publicly identified.
“The majority of the deceased were under 44 years of age. The youngest was a 13 year old who committed suicide a couple of days just before Christmas.”
“There should be an inquiry, but there is not despite 33 deaths. If this happened in an urban community like Sydney there’d be an outcry even after three or four deaths, with (residents and the wider community) wanting to know why it is happening and where to go for help.”
This publication has prioritised the suicide crisis for quite some time, sustaining the coverage, and the stories of loss, the grieving families, and we have effectively campaigned to Government to rise to the occasion. We do not apologise for this. On October 23, Mr Mundine and the Indigenous Advisory made a commitment that they must keep.