Aboriginal Organisations in the Fitzroy Valley have called for more significant action from Government in response to the Coronial Inquest into 13 Indigenous youth suicides in the Kimberley Region.
The inquest, sparked after the death of a 10-year-old girl in the remote community of Looma, following a number of suicides in the region, held hearings across the Kimberley in 2017.
State Coroner Ros Fogliani handed down 42 recommendations for Government and service providers, saying "The situation in the Kimberley Region is dire and children and young persons have continued to die by suicide, despite the valiant efforts of service providers". The Kimberley has the highest suicide rate in Australia and one of the highest in the world.
Fitzroy Valley organisations used a ministerial meeting discussing the future of the Fitzroy River Catchment to present a letter to the Western Australian Government. The letter, in part, reads; “We are the Aboriginal People and Organisations of the Fitzroy Valley Region. Whilst you are attending to the few pastoral industry interests in water harvesting from the Fitzroy River, we want you to understand one clear message: “Our Lives are more valuable than water” ”
The letter goes on to state; “We require joint Ministerial participation in a forum in Fitzroy Crossing by June 30, 2019. Our belief is that if you are able to jointly engage at the request of a few wealthy pastoralists, you most certainly have the ability to do this for Aboriginal Lives.”
The Fitzroy River Catchment is under increased pressure to develop into an agricultural powerhouse. A CSIRO study released last August found that a $1.1 billion agricultural industry could be established along the river.
“They've identified the economic future of the Fitzroy Valley, but the future is no good to us if we don’t develop the social infrastructure that will benefit from the economic future,” says Patrick Green, chairperson of Leedal, an Aboriginal-owned organisation which operates Fitzroy Crossing’s supermarket, post office and two pubs. “The coroner has identified a huge shortfall in a number of areas, and I want a full commitment from all to look at how we, together, would develop the way forward with addressing the coroners recommendations.”
At the time of the release of the report, Fitzroy Valley Woman & Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner June Oscar said that it must be a turning point for action “This time, there must be action. There have been more than 700 recommendations from 40 inquiries into Aboriginal youth suicide and related factors over the past 14 years and our children are still dying” she said.
“Government can walk and chew gum at the same time,” said Aboriginal Affairs Minister Ben Wyatt after the Fitzroy River meeting. “How we respond to the Coroner's report will be released shortly, but we also need to ensure that people are taking responsibility of themselves, for their own communities because ultimately Government cannot solve these issues”.
The Minister also stated that The “Government has tried for generations now without success, so that’s why we need and are committed to working with communities to have a proper partnership arrangement the coroner identified that, those programs that work involve a partnership where Aboriginal people are delivering services on behalf of their own communities,” he said.
The State Government is expected to release its response to the Coroners recommendations within the next few weeks.