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Minister Burney Speaks Out About Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Suicide

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Minister Burney speaks out about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander suicide

10 July 2022: The Minister for Indigenous Australians, the Hon Linda Burney MP, has described the Labor Government’s suicide prevention approach, saying it would focus on, “self-determination, respect for First Nations knowledge systems, restoration of culture and First Nations leadership of programs and services.”

In her first major speech about suicide as Minister, Ms Burney told a national webinar audience of mental health leaders, convened by the CBPATSISP, that the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander suicide rate, “hurts me every time I see it. It hurts all of us. These statistics hurt because they represent people in pain, people we know, families who need to put the pieces of their lives back together.” Indigenous adults die by suicide at twice the rate of other Australians, while for children and teenagers the rate is four times as high.

Ms Burney, a Wiradjuri woman who represents the electorate of Barton in southern Sydney, described her own 2017 loss of her son to suicide, saying he was, “in his 30s and a beautiful young man who found this earth a very difficult and cruel place.”

She said suicides were connected to the context of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people’s lives. “Too many experience poverty, trauma, marginalisation and discrimination,” she said. “We know we must make progress on all these fronts if we want to see the future First Nations people deserve.”

The Government’s commitments to full implementation of the Uluru Statement from the Heart, including a Makarrata Commission to oversee a national process of truth-telling, and to holding a referendum to enshrine a First Nations voice in the Australian constitution, would “make a difference”, Ms Burney said, providing a respectful foundation for Government partnerships with communities to, “deliver programs that take a holistic approach to wellbeing and address the social and cultural determinants of mental health.”

Ms Burney praised the CBPATSISP’s Manual of Resources for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Suicide Prevention, saying it was, “so valuable to have a central repository of First Nations-led evidence-based information, targeted to both the needs of First Nations people as well as the communities.”

The CBPATSISP webinar was convened to present the Manual, an online hub containing more than 400 online resources and links for culturally responsive suicide prevention and social and emotional wellbeing support, to senior representatives of State and Territory health departments and Mental Health Commissions. The meeting follows the recent National Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Agreement, which commits all governments to increasing collaboration with community-controlled health organisations and giving more job and training opportunities to Indigenous people.

Professor Pat Dudgeon, Director of the CBPATSISP, said, “our research shows clearly that distress and suicide are consequences of continuing colonisation, which results in intergenerational trauma, lack of access to culture, and social and economic disadvantage at individual, family and community levels. It is extremely pleasing to hear Minister Burney make the link so clearly between Indigenous suicide and the broader circumstances of our people, and I thank her for addressing our meeting. We look forward to working with the Minister and the Government to support their commitments to reducing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander suicide, including through social justice and Indigenous leadership of programs and services.”

A video of Minister Burney’s speech is available online now. 

For more information or to request an interview with Professor Pat Dudgeon, please contact Julie Robotham: julie.robotham@uwa.edu.au or 08 6488 6925.

About suicide among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people

The suicide rate among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adults is double that of other Australians, and among children is four times as high.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (2021):

  • Suicide accounts for 6% of all deaths among Indigenous people (vs 2% non-Indigenous).
  • Suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death for Indigenous males (vs 10th non-Indigenous). It is the 10th leading cause of death for Indigenous females (vs 23rd non-Indigenous).
  • One-third of all Indigenous child deaths (ages 5 to 17) are suicides.
  • 17% of all suicide deaths in Australian children (ages 5 to 17) are Indigenous children.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples embrace a holistic concept of mental and physical health within a broader context of social and emotional wellbeing (SEWB). This recognises the interconnectedness of physical and mental health with spiritual and cultural factors and connection to Country, community and traditions.

The lasting impacts of colonisation have resulted in intergenerational trauma and social and economic disadvantage at individual, family and community levels. This can result in multiple stressors such as unresolved grief and loss, trauma and abuse, domestic violence, removal from family, substance misuse, family breakdown, cultural dislocation, racism and discrimination, which challenge Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people’s mental and physical health and wellbeing.

Trauma, grief and loss as well as alcohol and substance use are key factors in Indigenous suicide deaths. Healing programs and services to promote social and emotional wellbeing are essential components of a culturally safe Indigenous suicide prevention response.

About the Manual of Resources in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Suicide Prevention

The Manual brings together video, podcast, graphic and written resources that have been developed by or with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. The resources are for use in situations ranging from building resilience and empowering communities, to crisis support and responding after a suicide. The Manual is presented in three sections, for:

  • Individuals, families and friends, young people, Elders and community organisations
  • Clinicians and other support workforces
  • Primary Health Networks and other funding organisations

The Manual builds on the foundational work of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Suicide Prevention Evaluation Project (ATSISPEP), which described the principles of Indigenous suicide prevention, making those ideas accessible to broad groups of users.

About the Centre of Best Practice in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Suicide Prevention (CBPATSISP) 

The CBPATSISP was established in 2017 to develop and share evidence about effective suicide prevention approaches for Indigenous people and communities.

Building on the foundation of the earlier Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Suicide Prevention Evaluation Project (ATSISPEP), the CBPATSISP influences Indigenous suicide prevention policy, practice and research by promoting access to evidence and resources and through advocacy.

The work of the CBPATSISP is centred on the rights of Indigenous people and communities to self-determination, and the critical importance of cultural responses to distress alongside clinical approaches.

The CBPATSISP is a Commonwealth Government-funded consortium led by The Poche Centre for Indigenous Health at the School of Indigenous Studies, University of Western Australia, with partners The Healing FoundationTelethon Kids InstituteMenzies Institute for Medical Research and Health InfoNet.

If you or someone you know needs help or support, you can contact your local Aboriginal Community-Controlled Organisation or

  • Lifeline: 131 114
  • Kids Helpline: 1800 551 800
  • Mensline: 1300 78 99 78
  • Beyondblue 1300 22 46 36
  • Q Life 1800 18 45 27
  • Open Arms Veterans & Families Counselling 1800 01 10 46
  • The National Indigenous Critical Response Service 1800 80 58 01
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