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Monday, 21 May 2018
Page: 4043

Mr SNOWDON (Lingiari) (12:59): I thank the member for Fisher for putting this motion on the agenda and providing us with the opportunity to have a discussion about mental health issues. I want to acknowledge the contribution of the member for Calare. Coming from a regional part of Australia, I want to concentrate particularly on the impact of mental health on rural and remote parts of this country, and note the very important work that the RFDS does in the provision of mental health services to many people in isolated communities. One of the key issues for people who live in the bush—I'm talking about remote areas, not just regional areas close to capital cities—is access to services and access to professional assistance. The RFDS has been very important with that, as are Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services right across this country and primary health services in the Northern Territory in particular.

What I want to concentrate on this afternoon are the impacts of mental health on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities—across this country, but, most particularly, in the Northern Territory—and highlight the intergenerational impacts of mental health, the relationship between mental health and the justice system, and the importance of understanding the need to address mental health issues in community: specifically, where possible, within families and with the involvement of community controlled health organisations such as Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services.

A particular illness that I want to talk about is foetal alcohol spectrum disorder. At least one in three people in detention in Western Australia suffer from FASD. That comes from a report done by the Telethon Kids Institute in that state, as recently reported in the media:

Lead researcher Carol Bower said preliminary findings suggested 30 to 40 per cent of the young people detained at Banksia Hill had FASD.

"Often these young people have trouble relating cause and effect," Professor Bower said.

So, they've got this illness typified by:

Low birth weight, major organ damage

Small head circumference, small eyes, thin upper lip and diminished groove between nose and upper lip

Failure to thrive, feeding problems, sensitivity to noise, touch and/or light and developmental delays

Learning difficulties, memory problems, difficulties with social relationships, impulsiveness


It can cause brain damage, delayed development and behavioural and learning problems, but is often not diagnosed at birth and only recognised later in life.

The initial impact is in utero and then it has repercussions right throughout the life of a person.

It's only over recent years that we're understanding the prevalence of this dreadful disorder across regional and rural and remote Australia. What it highlights—and the work done by the Telethon Kids Institute highlights—is the need for us to be aware of the relationship between mental health and the justice system and to provide a capacity for work to be done in the justice system that provides people with access to the care they properly need. For this purpose, we need to open up the world of medicine and health care in the justice system, to make sure the needs of people are being properly met. At the moment, they are not. That's a particularly important issue which we need to confront.

The prevention of this particular disease relates to the situation prior to pregnancy and ensuring that young women—and their male partners, but young women in particular—don't drink during pregnancy. If that happens, then we'll prevent FASD. But it is not the only mental health disorder which we need to be aware of. There are a range of them across the community. And we need to understand the need for the NDIS to be able to pick up and deal with severe mental health issues and ill health across Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

Currently, there are significant barriers. The language of disability is a barrier for Aboriginal people in some regions. There's also a need for translation services to be provided. These are significant questions. Many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people fear engaging with government services and asking for support because of distrust about government programs stemming from past poor treatment. There is a lack of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander support units within the NDIA. There is a real need for us to get our heads around the extent of this problem, provide the resources necessary to address it and understand the intergenerational impacts of it upon the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community.