Already this year we’ve seen two key Royal Commission Reports handed down that have the ability to impact the future of mental health reform and service delivery and the lives of Australians – the and the .
These detailed and vital reports, coupled with the and Vision 2030 collectively outline hundreds of recommendations combined, recommendations for action to improve our mental health ecosystem.
And that’s the key point here, while the intent for reform has been collective and commendable, the time for review and reflection has finished and action must now follow, and soon, if we are to see the benefits of true generational reform.
This week is the 30-year anniversary of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody and for me it has been a clear reminder of how these crucial reports – informed as they are by listening to lived experience and practical data – can be a line in the sand, but also how the residual impact of action (or inaction) can determine and define true reform.
The Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody was, and still is, extremely high profile and important.
It found that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples were not more likely than others to die in custody, but that they were ‘grossly over-represented in custody’, with a ‘significant’ contributing factor to the over-representation found to be inequality – whether it be social, economic, cultural or all three.
In 2019, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples made up 28 per cent of the prisoner population in Australia, while the most recent census data says Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people account for just three per cent of our population.
In South Australia, where there is a push to raise the age of criminal responsibility from 10 years old to 14, First Nations children make up less than five per cent of the population but more than 60 per cent of the juvenile prison population. In the Northern Territory this was 100% in 2019.
So, if the 1987 Royal Commission highlighted ‘gross over-representation’ as a significant factor, it appears this factor remains a generation on, and that is our challenge, not just as advocates for reform but as advocates to improve the social structures of the communities in which we live and therefore their mental health and wellbeing.
As advocates, our challenge is to use these reports, and lines in the sand, to seek lasting system change and reform. They should be the blueprints from which we re-design the systems we need, and the systems that will address the ‘significant’ factors raised through such careful review.
The final recommendation of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, number 339, reads:
That all political leaders and their parties recognise that reconciliation between the Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal communities in Australia must be achieved if community division, discord and injustice to Aboriginal people are to be avoided. To this end the Commission recommends that political leaders use their best endeavours to ensure bi-partisan public support for the process of reconciliation and that the urgency and necessity of the process be acknowledged.
To recognise is one thing, but to act is another. In this instance clearly our ‘best endeavours’ have not been enough over the last 30 years, which is why we need more than best endeavours to maximise the current opportunity for true generational mental health reform.
You can find a full list of recommendations from the 1987 Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody , and you can also watch our Mental Health Australia – Welcome to country video .
Have a good weekend.
Thank you and good luck to Melanie Cantwell
After more than 14 years at Mental Health Australia, across several positions, Deputy CEO Melanie Cantwell is sadly leaving Mental Health Australia. Along with the Board and staff I am sincerely grateful to Mel for her acumen, diligence and years of service and passionate commitment to mental health advocacy. She has always reminded us of the voices of consumers and carers, and she has been extremely generous in orientating me as the new CEO into the breadth of work of Mental Health Australia. We are sure you as the stakeholder community will join us in wishing Mel all the very best for a well-earned break and for future endeavours.
Welcome to two new staff members
We would also like to welcome two new staff members who started at Mental Health Australia this week. Rikke Brøchner Andersen who has joined us on secondment from the National Ethnic Disability Agency to help out with the Embrace Project two days a week, and Nikki Hogan who has started in a new Partnerships Manager role. Welcome to both Rikke and Nikki.
Framework for Mental Health in Multicultural Australia Workshops
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