THE head of the Prime Minister’s indigenous council, Warren Mundine, says he does not believe reducing levels of indigenous incarceration should become a formal Closing the Gap target, despite the large number of Aborigines in jails being high on his agenda.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people experience suicide at around twice the rate of the rest of the population. Aboriginal teenage men and women are up to 5.9 times more likely to take their own lives than non-Aboriginal people.
REFER PREVIOUS Justin Mohamed Chair NACCHO commenting on the crisis
NACCHO Aboriginal Health: Estimated 400 suicides in our communities in last three years
This is a crisis affecting our young people. It’s critical real action is taken to urgently address the issue and it’was heartening to see the previous Federal Government taking steps to do that.
For any strategy to be effective, local, community-led healthcare needs to be at its core.
But so far we have not heard from this Government on the future of The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Advisory Group and the $17.8 million over four years in funding to reduce the incidence of suicidal and self-harming behaviour among Indigenous people.”
Justin Mohamed Chair NACCHO
Mr Mundine is this week in Parliament House meeting politicians in an effort to revitalise the bipartisan approach to indigenous affairs. Yesterday he met with Labor’s first indigenous MP, Nova Peris, who is also the deputy chair of the committee charged with coming up with a form of words to change the Constitution to recognise indigenous Australians.
But Mr Mundine has rejected a push by indigenous groups lobbying for a new justice target, arguing Closing the Gap targets are not the only way to deliver big change.
It comes as the Abbott government has said it was considering a target to reduce indigenous incarceration rates as a new Closing the Gap measure. Labor promised the new target during the election campaign, and the Coalition offered bipartisan support but has since been silent on the issue.
Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion said the government had not made a final decision but was committed to reducing incarceration rates.
“There is no doubt that we have to decrease the number of kids going into detention centres but I don’t want it to become about just numbers decreasing, it’s about how do we keep people out of the prison system and how do we work upon jobs and education programs – that’s the main focus.
“There is no doubt that incarceration rates need to be dealt with, but we need to be dealing with it in a very constructive way about decreasing crime and decreasing the number of people who are getting arrested and going to jail and how you overdo that is to break this cycle of crime.”
He said he did want “proper data” on detention and jail rates.
“I think people get too much fixation on the Closing the Gap targets, everyone knows I’m a supporter of decreasing incarceration rates but let’s just start doing it.”
He said he had become concerned that the bipartisan approach to Aboriginal affairs was breaking down.
“I want to start having the conversation with the opposition because we need to have the government and the opposition onside. The main issues on our agenda are schooling, jobs and education and health and incarceration and I want to tell them that we need to be working together and I am going to make this happen.”
Mr Mundine’s broader indigenous council has now backed proposals put forward by him, including job and training placements for indigenous teenagers in juvenile detention, first in Western Australia, then nationally.
Mr Mundine said the council’s focus must be on the missing and disengaged young people who were neither in school nor work.
Mr Mundine said a proposal by mining magnate Andrew Forrest to stop young indigenous people obtaining welfare had merit but there were scores of youth not receiving welfare because they relied on family and friends.
“There’s about 40,000 to 50,000 people not in the Centrelink system or in employment so what they’re doing is they’re living off their families,” Mr Mundine said.
“We’ve got to put in place processes to make sure they don’t go into criminal activity.”