Indigenous imprisonment, suicide and self-harm rates have risen, report finds

Lorena Allam
·3 min read

Rates of Indigenous imprisonment, suicide and self-harm have risen over the past four years, and the number of Aboriginal children being taken into out-of-home care has tripled, according to the Productivity Commission’s four-year report on overcoming Indigenous disadvantage (OID).

But the commission also found areas of early child development, economic participation and some aspects of health and education have improved.

The commission said that where outcomes have not improved, they need to be understood as structural and systemic barriers that work against the wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

“Poorer outcomes are not due to people being Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander, but can be attributed to the additional personal challenges and structural barriers faced by many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people,” the commission chair, Michael Brennan, said.

“Removing these structural barriers is critical if the wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people is to improve,” Brennan said.

Connection to culture is a key to many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people’s identity and strength, the OID report said, and is “a foundation on which wellbeing can continue to be built”.

Related: More Australians want an Indigenous voice protected in constitution, survey suggests

The report is released every four years by the Productivity Commission and is the most comprehensive analysis of data about the wellbeing of Aboriginal and Islander people.

The rates of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in out-of-home care have almost tripled in the past 15 years, it said.

Concerningly, it said that the child protection system’s efforts at prevention of removals and early intervention were clearly “not working” for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and their families.

“Structural factors like a lack of cultural competency and difficulties for families in getting the support they need to navigate the child protection system, mean that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children may be more vulnerable to entering the child protection system irrespective of the underlying prevalence of abuse and neglect,” the report said.

The youth detention rate has decreased but young Aboriginal and Islander people are still being jailed at 22 times the rate of non-Indigenous young people.

It said raising the age of criminal responsibility from 10 to 14 years old would reduce the rates of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander children in the juvenile justice system by 15%.

The adult imprisonment rate increased 72% between 2000 and 2019, the report found.

“Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people’s participation in decisions on policy, program and service design and delivery is important to drive real change on the ground,” said the commissioner Romlie Mokak.

Increasing knowledge of the shared history of Australia could promote understanding of the effects that colonisation and government policies have had, and continue to have, on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and change the values and beliefs across the community that lead to racism, Mokak said.

The Uluru Statement from the Heart proposed the establishment of a Makarrata Commission to supervise truth-telling about Australia’s shared history, the report said.

• In Australia, the crisis support service Lifeline is 13 11 14 and support is also available at Beyond Blue on 1300 22 4636 and MensLine on 1300 789 978