Assistant Minister for Mental Health and Suicide Prevention - press conference - 10 October 2023

Read the transcript of Assistant Minister McBride's press conference in Orange on First Nations health; Voice to Parliament; listening driving better solutions; World Mental Health Day.

The Hon Emma McBride MP
Assistant Minister for Mental Health and Suicide Prevention
Assistant Minister Rural and Regional Health

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EMMA MCBRIDE, ASSISTANT MINISTER: Good morning. Thank you for coming out today. I'm Emma McBride, the Assistant Minister for Rural and Regional Health and Mental Health and Suicide Prevention. I'm here in Orange at the Aboriginal Medical Service that was established back in 2005. It now has 111 employees, of which 30 per cent are First Nations and I've had the chance to hear from Alisha and Casey and others who are part of their team today. And what I've heard here is what I've heard around Australia, that went First Nations people have a say, in the policies and programs that impact them, that's how we can close the gap. That's how we can see real change. And today on World Mental Health Day, we know that a First Nations person is twice as likely to die by suicide as a non-Indigenous person, that the rates of distress in younger First Nations people can only be properly addressed when programs are designed by First Nations communities. And we'll hear more from Casey later about the particular suicide prevention programs that they have here. But it's what I saw in Yarrabah in Far North Queensland, in vaccination rates during COVID-19. It's what I've heard in Alice Springs from First Nation women and elders about birthing on country. And it's what I've heard here today about mental health and suicide prevention, but particularly in a culturally safe way where it's about recovery and healing. And as we're five days out now from the referendum, here in Orange today is another example of what I've seen when Aboriginal people have a say, in the policies and programs that impact them, that's how we see real change, how can close that gap of eight years in life expectancy, how we can turn around that stark gap in suicide rates, how we can improve the health and wellbeing of First Nations people, boost those protective factors and strengthen communities. So I might hand over now to Casey now to talk particularly about the programs that they're running here and the real difference that they're seeing in orange and in central west of New South Wales.

CASEY NADEN, ORANGE ABORIGINAL MEDICAL SERVICE: My name is Casey Naden, and I'm the Care and Recovery Lead here at OAMS. So there was a real need to move away from suicide prevention and aftercare because suicide is very new for Aboriginal people. Hence, why my position here and my title is recovery. So NACCHO, the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation funded us because we know, they know, that community controlled Aboriginal organisations know our community best. So we surveyed 150 people in our community, and what that showed us was a real need to move away from suicide prevention and aftercare and more into what has helped us for 60,000 years, and that was getting back to culture. There is a real need for men's and women's programs within suicide prevention and to start to move into our healing process. We are focused on how we can heal through suicide and colonisation and help improve our suicide statistics. We have the highest suicide rate for some age groups in the world, which is really mind blowing and absolutely sad. So here, at OAMS, with the our prevention and aftercare service, we're trying to get back as to culture and what has helped us.

ALISHA AGLAND, ORANGE ABORIGINAL MEDICAL SERVICE: My name is Alisha Agland I'm the chairperson of the Orange Aboriginal Medical Service, and I'm also an Ambassador for the Uluru Statement Youth Dialogues, so I'm very proud to be joined here today with our social emotional wellbeing team on World Mental Health Day. We reflected this morning on the impact that can we have when we listen to communities, and also acknowledge our 60,000 plus years of cultural knowledge and expertise. I think a sticking point for me this morning, in our reflections is the gift that we have as First Nations people to the rest of Australia when it comes to healing in our diseases, which is, when we talk about suicide, this is a new disease for our people. So I'm so excited at the prospect of being able to come together as a nation to be able to deliver on closing this gap, and we know that to be able to achieve that we need a Voice. Thank you.

JOURNALIST: What impact would a Voice to Parliament have on your ability to deliver services to the community?

AGLAND: So something that we spoke about this morning, we certainly do have an amazing service here, particularly in amongst all of our diversified business, in terms of primary health, social emotional wellbeing, in the various other areas that we service here in Orange for our Aboriginal community, as well as the rest of the community. At current, we spoke about how funding is currently achieved. So one of the biggest things, and this is something that we spoke about when giving evidence to the Joint Select Committee, is that funding is coming from multiple different sources to be able to provide the service to our community, which we know they desperately needed. So we hope that through a Voice we can actually streamline funding so that we're not fighting neck and neck with mainstream providers so that we can just do our job and do what we know, best for our community.

JOURNALIST: Have you been struggling to get the ears of Canberra?

AGLAND: I think many different community controlled organisations have absolutely struggled to get the ears of Canberra. But I might pass to Emma to speak more on that one.

MCBRIDE: Today, and meeting with Alisha and Casey and hearing from them, OAMS is an example where listening to people makes a real difference. And we've seen through this service that was established in 2005, and has been running for close to two decades that now has over 110 staff of 30 per cent of which are First Nations, we see the real difference that can be made in communities, in advocacy, and how that is informing service provision and can see real results in communities. OAMS is one of those examples, those shining examples, of success. Through a Voice, we will be able to see these scaled up and rolled out nationally, so that the success that we see here through OAMS would be then seen in other parts of Australia. And those examples I gave before, in Yarrabah in Far North Queensland, or Alice Springs in Central Australia, there's some outstanding examples of policies and programs that have been co-designed co-produced with First Nations people informed by cultural practice of over 60,000 years, where we've seen real results. So what I've heard this morning has reinforced what I've heard in pockets around Australia, where we listen to First Nations people, we genuinely sit with them and listen, we can see real results and through the Voice, we'll be able to see that nationally in every part of Australia. And I think that's what OAMS is a really good example of what we'd like to see elsewhere through a Voice.

JOURNALIST: Are you concerned for the mental health of Indigenous Australians at the moments because of the debate around the referendum?

MCBRIDE: In my role as Assistant Minister for Mental Health and Suicide Prevention, front of mind for me is the health and wellbeing, emotional wellbeing, of all Australians. I know that some of the discourse around the referendum may be distressing to people and I just ask, on World Mental Health Day as I've asked throughout this debate, that people conduct themselves respectfully. Australia has a strong democracy and part of that strong democracy is that people can express their views, but I would encourage everybody to express those views in a way that is respectful and constructive. And through the recent Budget, the government invested more than a $10.5 million through NACCHO into First Nations social and emotional wellbeing that's been distributed through state and territory organisations. So we've  invested in in support, but I would just again, encourage everybody in participating in the last five days of the referendum in a respectful way, that is mindful of other people.

JOURNALIST: If the referendum does fail, how will the Australian Government look to turn around some of those health outcomes that you mentioned, particularly around mental health for Indigenous Australians?

MCBRIDE: We are focused with five days to the referendum in getting the referendum over the line, because we believe it is a once in a generation opportunity to accept the generous offer of First Nations people to walk with them. And we know from the example of OAMS, or where I was in Wagga last week, or Yarrabah in Far North Queensland, we know that through listening to people, that's when we see better results and close the gap. So up until Saturday, my strong focus is getting the referendum over the line. Of course, whatever the outcome, and I'm optimistic about the outcome, but whatever the outcome, the government intends to work closely with First Nations people, including through community controlled organisations, to close the gap and to see better results, particularly in mental health and suicide prevention.

JOURNALIST: A poll's come out from a UK firm called Vocal Data that says Calare will vote No, 70 per cent of Calare will vote No. Is that surprising? What's your message to voters in these final days?

MCBRIDE: We know that change is always hard and progress doesn't come easy. But I know from the people that I've met on pre poll this morning, and the volunteers from Yes, that I met last night, and those volunteers from Yes came from the National Party, from the Labor Party, from the Greens Party, and interested people in the community. So my encouragement to voters here is to accept this generous offer from First Nations people that will be a step of unification for Australia, and I know that there is no better example than in health policy, where we listen to First Nations people as we do through OAMS, where we can see better results,

JOURNALIST: Specifically to people who haven't made up their mind, most polling showing that at least a reasonable number of people have not given it a big think yet. Specifically to those people what, or what would you like them to be thinking about not as five days?

MCBRIDE: For those people who have haven't made up their mind and are still weighing up their decision. I think there's no better example than OAMS, where you see First Nations people have a direct say, in the policies and programs that impact them, we get better results. In a country like Australia, to have First Nations people that gap in life expectancy is eight years, as we've heard, First Nations people are twice as likely to die by suicide as other Australians, that a young Indigenous man is more likely to go to jail than to go to university. This is unacceptable, and in a country like Australia, it's broken, it's not working, and the Voice is a once in a generation chance to accept this generous offer to be part of a unifying moment and see better results for all Australians. Thank you.

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