NACCHO Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Health News: Urgent calls for funding to tackle housing crisis

water leakage from house in remote WA Aboriginal community Mulan

The image in the feature tile is of housing, with a hazardous water leakage, in the remote WA Aboriginal community of Mulan. The image appears in an article A third of remote Aboriginal houses at ‘unacceptable’ standard published by NITV on 13 May 2022.

The NACCHO Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health News is a platform we use to showcase the important work being done in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health focusing on the work of NACCHO, NACCHO members and NACCHO affiliates.

We also share a curated selection of news stories that are of likely interest to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health sector, broadly.

Calls for funding to tacle housing crisis

An urgent call for the federal government to tackle the Indigenous housing crisis has been made amid the nation’s escalating cost of living pressures. The National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Housing Association (NATSIHA) has joined forces with the Community Housing Industry Association, National Shelter, and Homelessness Australia amid surging rents and interest rate rises to call for immediate government intervention.

NATSIHA chief executive Ivan Simon said the needs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and communities have been ignored by governments. “The extremely high levels of severe overcrowding in remote and non-remote communities continues to have negative impacts on the health and wellbeing of our people. This also includes the standard of ‘disrepair’ of the current housing stock owned and or managed by our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Community Controlled Housing Organisations,” he said.

Since its launch in 2020 NATSIHA has represented all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander-controlled housing organisations. Its purpose is to facilitate access to quality, accessible, affordable and culturally appropriate housing to empower Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander individuals, families and communities The organisation has worked on the Closing The Gap Housing Sector Strengthening Plan and has worked with a number of organisations to deliver key targets that benefit Indigenous Australians.

To view the National Indigenous Times article Urgent call for federal intervention amid housing crisis in full click here.

low standard, housing in remote NT

Photo: Central Land Council. Image source: National Indigenous Times.

Translating research into improved health care

Northern Australia’s expertise in translating health and medical research into improved health care has been recognised through an accredited Research Translation Centre (RTC), now one of 11 accredited centres nationally. As a result of the latest round for accreditation, nine Research Translation Centres have been re-accredited and one centre, Top End Academic Health Partners (Top End Partners), has been accredited for the first time as a RTC by the National Health and Medical Research Council (NH&MRC).

Top End Partners consists of seven organisations from across the Top End of the NT. These are the NT Government’s Department of Health, Danila Dilba Health Service, Miwatj Health Aboriginal Corporation Health Service, National Critical Care and Trauma Response Centre, NT Primary Health Network, Charles Darwin University and Menzies School of Health Research.

Of the 11 accredited RTCs in Australia now, four have a regional, rural, or remote focus and seven have a metropolitan or state-wide focus, with accreditation lasting for five years. NH&MRC-accredited RTCs are collaborations between health care organisations, research and education/training organisations and are a key mechanism driving the translation of health and medical research into clinical practice, policy and health systems. NH&MRC CEO Professor Anne Kelso said collaboration was at the centre of research translation. “Translating research outcomes into patient care is critical to improving the health of Australians,” Professor Kelso said.

To view the NHMRC article Translating medical research into improved health care in the Top End in full click here. You can also access the Top End Partners website here.

Top End Partners logo - purple blue circle with intersecting line & gloves hands over laboratory dish

Top End Partners logo. Images sourced from: Top End Partners website.

Counselling for mob in Melbourne’s west

Kirrip Aboriginal Corporation in Melton has received funding to provide its first government funded mental health counselling service specifically for Aboriginal people in Melbourne’s west. The Department of Health and Human Services has delivered a one-off payment to Kirrip, which will allow them to employ three councillors for three months.

For the last five years, Kirrip has been providing some counselling on a volunteer basis, and Kirrip chief executive Peter Webster said the organisation is “very excited” to be able to bolster the service. “We’ve not had any paid mental health counsellors for Aboriginal community in the west before. I’ve been arguing for this funding for some time.”

“It’s particularly important for kids living in out of home care who are traumatised, but it could be for just about anything and we’re now able to support the community with this free of charge to them.” Lita Kerr is a qualified counsellor, who has previously been employed by Kirrip in admin, and said she is excited to move into a paid counselling position. “It’s a fantastic opportunity that Kirrip can provide this counselling to Mob for free,” she said. “It’ll be great to meet the demand of people when they require it instead of having to wait.”

To view the Star Weekly article Kirrip to provide First Nations specific counselling in Melbourne’s west in full click here.

Kirrip chief executive Peter Webster, councillor Lita Kerr and First Nations Healing Practitioner LJ Phoenix Singh

Kirrip chief executive Peter Webster, councillor Lita Kerr and First Nations Healing Practitioner LJ Phoenix Singh. Photo: Damjan Janevski. Image source: Star Weekly.

Mental health impacts of imprisonment

Being taken away from your loved ones and everything that’s familiar in life, deprived of your freedom, dehumanised and subjected to a strict daily routine for a prolonged period of time can take an enormous mental toll on any person, and lead lasting and even life-long psychological scars. What many outside prison walls don’t understand, don’t consider and don’t care about is the mental health impact of being a prison inmate.

An example of this is on a question put to inmates due to be released which asks them to rate any change in their mental health since entering prison; as being a lot better, a little better, the same, a little worse, a lot worse or unknown. Many suggested that their mental health had improved in prison. This of course is the answer the majority of inmates would give, being aware that to suggest it had deteriorated may necessitate a delay in parole, or further parole conditions.

Of Indigenous prisoners, the vast majority reported prior to release that their mental health was excellent, very good or good and that they had received culturally  appropriate health care in prison; again, being aware of providing the right answers to ensure there are no hiccups in being granted parole. This was despite less than 9% having received a consultation or treatment from the Aboriginal controlled health organisation or service or, the Aboriginal medical service (AMS).

To view the Sydney Criminal Lawyers article Australian Prison Life: Part 3, Mental Health Impact of Imprisonment in full click here.

graffiti or yellow brain on brick wall, top half of background black, bottom half red, overlaid with shadow of prison bars

Image source: VICE.

Improving mental health in the Pilbara

Clinical psychology students from the University of WA involved in the first-ever rural and remote placement in the Pilbara said they’re passionate about improving mental health in remote Australia. Megan Ansell and Phoebe Carrington-Jones are provisionally registered UWA psychology postgraduate students undergoing their training in clinical psychology.

Since March, they’ve offered face-to-face individual and group therapy programs to community members in the Karratha under the expert supervision of an experienced clinical psychologist. The placement is a collaboration between the UWA School of Psychological Science, WA Centre for Rural Health and Karratha Central Healthcare, with the aim of encouraging mental health students and graduates to consider working in the regions.

Ms Ansell, who has an interest in trauma-related presentations and anxiety, said that she and Ms Carrington-Jones hoped to pave the way for future psychology students to come to Karratha on placement. “Phoebe, who has a specific interest in chronic pain management and sleep, is especially passionate about this, having grown up in regional WA,” she said. “We’d also love young people from the area to gain exposure to psychology as a field and feel encouraged to pursue it as a career, given the severe shortage of mental health professionals in remote WA, especially Aboriginal psychologists.” UWA director clinical psychology programs Associate Professor Jeneva Ohan said the first placements have broken new ground.

To view the Harvey-Waroona Reporter article UWA students given insight into Pilbara mental health challenges on inaugural psychology placement in Karratha in full click here.

WA Centre for Rural Health acting director Associate Professor Rohan Rasiah with Phoebe Carrington-Jones, centre, and Megan Ansell. WA Centre for Rural Health acting director Associate Professor Rohan Rasiah with Phoebe Carrington-Jones, centre, & Megan Ansell

WA Centre for Rural Health acting director Associate Professor Rohan Rasiah with Phoebe Carrington-Jones, centre, & Megan Ansell. Image source: Harvey-Waroona Reporter.

‘On Country’ football linked to health and wellbeing

In Papunya, a remote Luritja and Pintupi community, the red earth football field is the centre of social activity every weeknight from March to September. Against the backdrop of Ulumbaru, the NT’s second-highest mountain, men and young people train into the night Alice Springs Town Council’s decision in March to withdraw its support for Central Australia’s remote football competition leaves the rhythms of life for community football players in the lurch this year, as coaches scramble to put together a league of their own.

The controversial “pause” on remote communities’ access to Alice Springs ovals was implemented as a response to the Alice Springs “crime crisis”. The move has raised the possibility of devising “On Country” leagues to be played in communities. Recent federal government attention to the “crime crisis” in Alice Springs presents an opportunity to support surrounding communities in tangible, self-determined ways.

Sports in Papunya facilitate community-level leadership, governance and decision-making that align with Luritja cultural practices and understandings. Funding sporting infrastructure in communities could also increase community wellbeing, unity, and economic self-sufficiency. While studies are limited, football in Aboriginal communities has been shown to support health, wellbeing and social needs, and helps people stay on Country.

To view The Conversation article ‘On Country’ football league an opportunity to bring communities together – but we need more government funding in full click here.

Aboriginal teenage boys playing AFL in red dust, NT

Image source: ORIC website.

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