Remote Australia is in the grip of a suicide epidemic that is taking the lives of children as young as 8 years old. Aboriginal towns in the Kimberley are now suffering the highest rates of suicide in the world.  As the West Australian city of Geraldton buried 11-year-old Peter Little, who was found hanging from a tree by another child, indigenous leaders called for urgent action to address a growing crisis. As many as one in 12 Aboriginal deaths are caused by suicide. “We are talking about an epidemic,” said Tony Abbott’s chief indigenous adviser, Warren Mundine. “We are looking at a society in collapse. I am a father and I cannot understand how an 8 or 9 year old child can’t see a future for themselves. It’s unimaginable.”

Figures compiled by the Aboriginal Torres Strait Islander Suicide Prevention Evaluation Project reveal the rate of Aboriginal suicide in the Kimberley is as high as 70 deaths per 100,000 people, more than six times the national rate. The latest World Health Organisation data shows Guyana, in South America, has the highest country rate of 44 deaths per 100,000 people. Though the official rate of Aboriginal suicide in Australia is one in every 24 deaths, a researcher at the evaluation project, Gerry Georgatos, has put the figure at between one in 12 and one in 16 deaths, given the high number of suicides that are put down to other causes.

“What we have is a rising crisis and the Kimberley is sadly beginning to reach the numbers it reached in 2007, 2008 and 2009,” Mr Georgatos said. The impoverishment of remote communities has increased, we have tough sentencing regimes and mandatory jailing. One in 13 adult Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander males in WA is in prison: that’s the world’s highest jailing rate.” As the suicide rate grows, Aboriginal leaders in the Kimberley are growing increasingly frustrated at the millions of dollars in funding for mental health research and service delivery that is being wasted on the ground.

The West Australian government has been accused of gross complacency on indigenous suicide despite the rising number of deaths. Numerous summits have been held following suicide spates in remote communities in recent years. Community leaders such as Wes Morris, who runs the award-winning Yirimam Project in the Kimberley, are labelling the state government’s response to the Aboriginal suicide crisis “pathetic”. Mr Morris said state governments of both political persuasions had failed to understand that “cultural wounds require cultural healing” and had continued with poorly targeted polices devised by “white fellas” that only exacerbated the problem.

The Yiriman Project was initiated by Aboriginal elders in 1997 through the Kimberley Aboriginal law and Cultural Centre. Elders take young people into the bush to help them develop a sense of their cultural heritage, which builds self-esteem and identity. A report on Aboriginal suicides in 2008, hailed the success of Yiriman in saving lives and recommended it be expanded to the entire Kimberley. Mr Morris said this had proved impossible because the state government had refused to provide funding, despite the group’s repeated applications. He said the program survived on modest funding of about $350,000 a year from the commonwealth government and private donors.

The report also recommended the government put in place a leadership structure in the Department of Indigenous Affairs “which will command the respect of other government agencies and Aboriginal people”. The department’s budget has only increased from $28 million to $34m in the past six years. WA Mental Health Minister Helen Morton said the government had “demonstrated its commitment to work with Aboriginal communities” to address the issue of suicide and said the Aboriginal youth suicide rate had “significantly declined” since 2011. Ms Morton said a new suicide prevention strategy was being developed after the expiration of the prevention strategy that ran from 2009 until last year.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner Mick Gooda called for more to be done. “It seems to me we’ve almost become immune to the shock,” he said. “We need to be shocked out of our complacency. We’ve become desensitised where we need to be outraged. I find it hard to comprehend what life must be like for a child where suicide is the only option available to them.” Aboriginal senator Nova Peris said indigenous youth suicide required urgent action. “Support programs are being slashed, child abuse reports are up 30% but child abuse investigations have been cut,” she said. “The juvenile justice system is in crisis and only 1% of child sexual abuse reports are being substantiated.”

Source: Compiled by APN from media reports

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Social media can be a useful tool for consumers to talk back to companies. In recent times a number of websites have popped up, claiming Halal certifying bodies are the beneficiaries of a constant stream of funds to support Islamic projects which contribute to the advancement of sharia law here and around the world. One website “Halal Choices” warns that “sharia law goes way beyond food and halal and that all of the halal certification organisations are operating under sharia law and have a desire for sharia law to be accepted as a part of our mainstream society.” Halal Choices argue that its agenda is not racially driven one but is merely informing consumers so they can make a purchasing decision based on their choices.

One of the main purposes of these websites is calling out companies who are halal-certified but don’t display it on their packaging. Whilst commencing as fringe groups, they’re getting louder and their activities have gained some traction. Recently a South Australian dairy company, Fleurieu Milk & Yoghurt Company, said it would drop its halal certification as a result of a concerted campaign against the company. Fleurieu sales and marketing manager Nick Hutchinson said the trouble started several weeks ago when he received an email asking if the company’s products are halal-certified. Mr Hutchinson admitted that Fleurieu did have halal certification.

Fleurieu does not need halal certification in a general sense because its dairy products are halal anyway, but paid for the certification because of a reportedly $50,000 contract with Emirates airline to supply yoghurt. Mr Hutchinson said “We are a small company, but we were worried from a sales and marketing perspective. Our concerns were that our loyal supporter base may have begun to doubt the company.” Mr Hutchinson said that  the company had received feedback from consumers who have expressed disappointment that Fleurieu had caved in to a minority group. The company has shut down its Facebook page after it had become a warring platform for the anti-halal brigade and their detractors.   

Mr Hutchinson said despite the backlash against its stance, the company stood by its decision.  Another iconic Australian brand Byron Bay Cookie Company said it had also been approached over its Halal certification of its products. Big name companies such as Cadbury, Parmalat, Bega and Nestle have also landed on lists of companies that have halal certification on their products. The South Australia government’s Investment and Trade Minister, Martin Hamilton-Smith, however said that Halal certification can be worth big money to an Australian business looking to export to Islamic countries. The Dubai Chamber of Commerce recently estimated that the halal market could be worth up to $US1.6 trillion by 2018.

He went on to say “One of our key friends and trading partners, Indonesia, is the largest Islamic country in the world with South Australian businesses exported $839 million worth of goods to the Middle East in the 12 months to September. So what does halal actually mean? It’s a religious requirement for Muslims that the food they consume is prepared in a certain way — one that is free from pork products, alcohol and non-halal meat sources. It’s also a requirement that halal meat is slaughtered by a Muslim. In Australia, it is a legal requirement that animals are slaughtered unconscious, according to the RSPCA, and halal meat producers locally comply with this standard if they are to receive certification.

Source: Compiled by APN from media reports

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Anthony Mundine, the three-time world boxing champion has confirmed his comments from 2013, when the controversial boxer claimed Aboriginal culture and homosexuality are mutually exclusive. Mundine told a reporter “I speak the truth … I got nothing against homosexuality, if you’re gay, be gay. That’s your choice, that’s your right in this day and age. But don’t exploit it on prime time television when there are kids watching. And when your son asks ‘dad is it all right, for a man to kiss a man?’ then I would say “Within my belief and my culture, no it’s not. And in Aboriginal law, it’s forbidden.”

The reporter asked “Do you see the possibility of Aboriginal culture evolving to accept homosexuality?” Mundine replied: “No. It’s an old culture. It’s been here 40 thousand years, maybe longer. And it’s never been allowed. There is no changing this, changing that.”  Mundine had previously landed himself in hot water over comments he made about the ABC series Redfern Now last year, declaring that Aboriginal culture and homosexuality don’t mix. Mundine posted his comments on Facebook, criticising the show for including a homosexual character that was representing Aboriginal culture. The remarks were slammed as a “gay rant” by many, while some supported his views.

Source: Compiled by APN from media reports

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