Gerry Georgatos – A Robodebt contributed to the death by suicide of a 19 year-old-mother. Stressors and suicide are always the story. Society is defined by the sum of its relationships, and many relationships are that classist, racist, sexist, ableist, ageist that we devastate people.

Australia is heading once again to 3,000 suicides.

Once again, Australia is heading to a record number of suicides of First Nations people. This year is tragically heading to a harrowing record loss to suicide of First Nations people, with more than 110 suicides thus far. At this rate, and pray it reverses, stops, the suicide toll end of year could for the first time pass 200 losses.

In supporting many of the families who have lost children and older, sadly I know that the majority of those lost were most certainly preventable and not inevitable.

It breaks my heart to know that a Robodebt tipped a young mother to suicide. It is harrowing and an indictment of our nation, as a society, of our governments.

I will not identify the community or the region as there is relentless unimaginable grief and I do not want to compound their distress with them being inundated. The family is devastated and angry.

A 19-year-old single mother experiencing an arc of issues living below the poverty line, alone with a bub, without the support of the biological father, struggling day to day then receives a Robodebt around $9000. This is not how it should be.

She sought assistance from the community shire office and was told they could not help. She visited the office a number of times distressed about the unaffordable debt she did not understand how she could owe this amount. This is not how it should be.

Despite an accumulation of stressors, isolation, the Robodebt indisputably contributed to her negative self, to it all being too much, tipping her.

It’s my view that Centrelink should denounce Robodebts, distance themselves, take a stance and reject Robodebts. It’s my view that those who are responsible, be it the Government as a whole, that they are morally culpable. Where is the person to person contact? Unaffordable debt, its sudden impost, is a dramatic hit for people living poverty, for a young mum. There should always be sensitive people first approaches and civilities and not barbaric ruthlessness. Our Governments need to be better than this. But they aren’t.

The young mum is gone forever. The bub is without a mother. An aunty is caring for the bub.

Our Governments, Commonwealth, State and Territory, have to own that they contribute to the suicide toll. They are not there for the most vulnerable. There is little authentic suicide prevention, reductive supports, negligible outreach.

There was a young gentleman, early 20s, in another community, almost the continent apart from the 19-year-old mother; he had to do the CDP for his welfare payment, in effect sweeping dirt. Meaningless activity, meander and ambling, day after day, his spirit finally embers till he took his life in a shed near the dirt site he swept day after day. Is this how we are to treat people?”

Australians need to understand the harrowing details, the issues, the grim realities, because without the truth, with censorship by omission, our governments will not be galvanised into reforming dangerous practices nor in investing in the supports that are long overdue.

The suicide crisis is getting worse, and I’ve just described two preventable losses from 110 where in fact our governments themselves could have prevented them. The majority of the 110 plus suicides of First Nations peoples were preventable.

The suicide toll of First Nations can be reduced, in fact to a quarter and to significantly less the Australian suicide rate. That’s another article, and I will write it soon. I have written hundreds of articles on suicide prevention. But this Government is flailing commitments and failing to deliver suicide prevention. In my view, they are contributing reprehensibly to an increasing suicide toll. They are not alone, but they are the most culpable.

There’s a lot of posturing on suicide prevention, a lot of commitments, but a lot of nothing done.

It is my certain belief that after a decade of every ensuing year with an increasing suicide toll we can for the first time in a long while reduce the suicide toll to less than the preceding year and that would be inspiring, the right direction. But, alas.

If we focus on poverty as the overarching suicidality narrative, we can reduce the suicide toll to around a quarter of the existing toll for First Nations peoples, and in terms of rates, to even less than the non-Indigenous suicide rate. We can reduce to half the suicide toll for all Australians if we focus on socioeconomic stressors as the overarching suicidality narrative. I remind that close to 100 percent of First Nations suicides are of people who lived below the poverty line but above the poverty line First Nations suicide are dramatically much less in rate to the overall Australian suicide rate. I remind that the majority of Australia’s 3,000 suicides are of people within or proximal to poverty, socioeconomic disadvantages.

We need to speak out, leave no-one behind. Remind ourselves that the majority are not born into ‘privilege’. Remind ourselves that all of us, without exception, can be born into the best of ourselves or the worst of selves. If we want to be decent human beings, if we really believe in the “fair go” then we must be there for those whose journey needs us.


  • Gerry Georgatos is a suicide prevention and poverty researcher. He is also the national coordinator of the National Suicide Prevention & Trauma Recovery Project.
  • Crisis support services can be reached 24 hours a day: Lifeline 13 11 14; Suicide Call Back Service 1300 659 467; Kids Helpline 1800 55 1800; MensLine Australia 1300 78 99 78; Beyond Blue 1300 22 4636.