“In the past we used to walk with our fathers and our grandfathers and have a yarn with them.
If we had a proper look at the data we would find there were a lot less suicides when our communities were strong and our families were there all the time.
And then the policies of the past impacted that level of bonding, families have been broken in some instances.”
Mr Wyatt revealed his plan as he prepares to visit Garma and a remote Northern Territory community where leaders say jobs have helped save their young people.
On Saturday 3 August at 11.15 the Voices workshop at Garma
Minister for Indigenous Australians Ken Wyatt
Pat Turner : Coalition of Peak Organisations
Unemployed Indigenous people in remote towns and communities will be trained as round-the-clock emergency contacts for troubled young people as part of the Morrison government’s plan to address the scourge of indigenous suicide.
Minister for Indigenous Australians Ken Wyatt wants some of the 29,000 Aboriginal people in the Community Development Program — formerly work-for-the-dole — to serve as “permanent part-time youth engagement people”.
CDP participants are required to complete 20 hours a week of work-like duties that benefit their community, but so far none have performed this role.
Those indigenous people found suitable for the role would complete a mental health first aid course and be available to listen and mentor, Mr Wyatt said.
Aboriginal Australians take their own lives at twice the rate of other Australians, and the figures are even higher among indigenous youth.
The Arnhem Land community of Gunyangara was crippled by indigenous youth suicide in the years before the local Aboriginal corporation took control of the town’s services and began employing its young residents to run a diverse range of businesses. Locals now build their own houses, including by making bricks and milling the wood for frames.
Djawa Yunupingu said the community had survived “very bad times”. No resident had taken their own life for 10 years: “We made our own destiny,” he said.
Mr Wyatt will visit 10 newly built houses at Gunyangara today before facing some of the nation’s most respected backers of the Uluru Statement from the Heart at the Garma festival at nearby Gulkula.
He has pledged to take Australians to a referendum on constitutional recognition of indigenous Australians, one of the elements of the Uluru statement. He has not committed to what many consider the most important first step — a constitutionally enshrined voice. Woolworths — Australia’s biggest employer — and mining giants BHP and Rio Tinto are among corporate supporters of a constitutionally enshrined voice, and two former High Court chief justices have set out to explain why it can be achieved without compromising the authority of parliament. But yesterday Mr Wyatt made his strongest plea yet for Uluru backers to compromise.
“There are some things I have had to set aside from my younger days when I had fire in my belly,” he said. “We hope to have what we want, an optimum outcome. We also have to be pragmatic.”
Mr Wyatt warned that if the referendum failed, statistics showed it was unlikely to be resurrected. He indicated it was better to take the question of constitutional recognition of indigenous Australians to a referendum and win, than to include the question of a constitutionally enshrined voice and lose.