HON ALISON XAMON (North Metropolitan) [5.29 pm]: At the front of Parliament House at the moment, a vigil is being held to commemorate the devastating death of the 11-year-old girl who died when she had her life support turned off at Perth Children’s Hospital on Tuesday after she self-harmed. I am not going to comment about the aspect of bail or the courts because that issue has been well canvassed in the media. Everyone is talking about it. However, the issue is not as straightforward as it is being portrayed. One moment we are talking about decarceration and in the next we are calling for more people to be locked up. That being said, whether the alleged offender should have been granted bail is something for the courts and the police. It is an issue that will quite rightly be looked into by the Attorney General and the State Coroner. It appears clear that this case is more complex than a simple failure of the Bail Act. We know that suicide is absolutely preventable. Quite simply, 11-year-olds do not suicide if they are receiving adequate support and care. From what I understand, this devastating case illustrates the complexities of Aboriginal child suicide. Everyone is outraged now, as they should be, but I have been outraged for a very long time, as have many other people who have been working on the ground in this space. No inroads have been made and things are getting worse, particularly for Aboriginal children in so many areas. I repeat: 11-year-old children do not suicide unless the system has completely failed them.
As I have said before, these issues have been investigated, inquired into and reported on many times, including more recently through parliamentary inquiries and also by our State Coroner and the Ombudsman. Although every Aboriginal child suicide is different, the experiences of intergenerational and personal trauma are well recognised indicators of vulnerability to suicide, as highlighted by the State Coroner’s report, “Inquest into the deaths of: Thirteen Children and Young Persons in the Kimberley Region, Western Australia”, which was released early last year. In that report, the coroner said —
To focus only upon the individual events that occurred shortly before their deaths would not adequately address the circumstances attending the deaths. The tragic individual events were shaped by the crushing effects of intergenerational trauma and poverty upon entire communities. That community-wide trauma, generated multiple and prolonged exposures to individual traumatic events for these children and young persons.
I have spoken about the findings of that report many times in this place—I have made multiple speeches about it— yet vulnerable children and families continue to be failed, day in and day out, in Western Australia. For example, we know that child sexual abuse causes profound and lasting trauma and can have incredibly detrimental impacts on a person’s mental and physical health, and interpersonal relationships. However, children remain unable to access the support and care that they need after they have experienced or even disclosed abuse. On Tuesday night, I spoke again about terrible gaps in children’s access to appropriate mental health care in Western Australia. The next morning, I woke to the heartbreaking reality of another death, splashed on the front pages of our daily newspaper.
Housing is another example. Precarious housing is a well-recognised significant vulnerability. I understand that this family had experienced, and continues to experience, a housing situation that is neither safe nor secure. During Mental Health Week last week I noted that access to affordable housing and having a safe, stable roof over a person’s head is suicide prevention and that improving the mental wellbeing of our community and addressing the homelessness crisis cannot be separated. However, homelessness and insecure housing continue to be the reality for tens of thousands of Western Australians. Aboriginal-led solutions and improving services in regional and remote areas is essential suicide prevention work. Addressing poverty is suicide prevention work. Reforming First Nations child protection is suicide prevention work. Supporting kids to be engaged in school is suicide prevention work. These are all areas with systemic failings.
As I have said many times in this place, suicide is preventable, and losing 11-year-olds to suicide is tragic, utterly devastating and absolutely unacceptable. I think this is a heartbreaking case and my heart goes out to the child’s family and loved ones. I extend my personal sympathy as they grieve their immeasurable loss. I urge the government to ensure that the trauma experienced by this family stops here and that this child’s family and loved ones are properly supported, with a secure home and access to culturally safe postvention supports for as long as they need them. I urge the government to act with some urgency to address all the systemic failings that have underpinned this girl’s death. We know the systemic failures. They have been reported over and over again. We do not need more reports or inquiries. We just need to implement the recommendations—please.
HON CHARLES SMITH (East Metropolitan) [5.35 pm]: I want to make some further comments on the death of this young lady. The Ugle name is well known to me from my policing career. I am aware of the extended family and its issues. I am sick and tired of the mainstream media blaming police when things like this go wrong. This is not the fault of the police; it is the fault of decades of poor public policy in the criminal area. When the police arrest Aboriginal people, they are under immense pressure to get them out of the lock-up as soon as possible. What are the police supposed to do? Do they retain people in custody or get them out of the police station by giving them bail as soon as possible? This problem is caused by decades of pressure from politicians who do not get it. In addition, departments such as the Department of Child Protection and Family Support, as it was, has been a longstanding failure in looking after children. That department would have known about this child for years and it seems that nothing was done. I hope we find out why the department did not remove the child earlier if it was aware that this kind of abuse was going on. Why did the magistrate not intervene at the court hearing and deny bail? This man would have a criminal record as long as his arm, yet he was given bail by the magistrate. It is not just an issue with policing; it is the Bail Act itself. I have called for reform of the Bail Act to make it harder for some offenders to be granted bail. I hope that soon the department that deals with child protection gets an enormous increase in staff and funding because it damn well needs it. I have advised the minister that it is a failing agency. I fear that the new bill coming through will do nothing more to fix this problem, but I hope it does.