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Wik debate risks Aboriginal mental health



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THE ROYAL

A U S T R A L I A N A N D N E W Z E A L A N D

C O L L E G E O F P S Y C H I A T R I S T S

ACN 0 0 0 4 3 9 0 4 7

Issued 4 December 1997

MEDIA RELEASE

Wilt Debate Risks Aboriginal Mental Health

The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists today expressed deep concern that

we will be putting at risk further decline in the mental health of Indigenous Australians unless the

Wik legislation being debated in the Parliament provides adequate recognition o f the rights of

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to access their traditional land.

College President Dr Janice Wilson, said, “Social and psychiatric problems make a large

contribution to the ill health of indigenous Australians. These problems are made much worse by

the breakdown of indigenous culture and community cohesion.

“And recognition of the ancient connection between Aboriginal people and their land, their rights of

access to the land and the right to use and protect their land are crucial to the maintenance of

Aboriginal culture and community cohesion. Disruptions of these lights will lead to an inevitable

decline in health for Aboriginal people,” she said.

Tliis was recognised in the Prime Minister’s televised Address to the Nation in which Mr Howard is

quoted as saying, . .The Aboriginal and Torres StraiUslander people of Australia have been very

badly treated in the past and we must continue our efforts to improve their health, their housing,

their employment and their educational opportunities. And in doing that we should always

remember that the Aboriginal people of Australia have a very special affinity with their land.”

It is pleasing that the Prime Minister has made the connection between the health status of

Aboriginal Australians and their special affinity with the land, Dr Wilson observed, but the College

is concerned about the impact o f the "Ten Point Plan", as represented in the Wik legislation now

before the Senate, where much of the debate is about the right of Aboriginal Australians to have

access to and use land for traditional purposes,

“It is the College's view,” said Dr Wilson, “that restoring and preserving cultural connections and

secure identity for Aboriginal Australians arc essential to improvement in their health status. Rights

associated with Native Title are central to the process of preserving and restoring Aboriginal culture

and to the very important process o f reconciliation. Any legislation which does not adequately

recognise such rights will have a negative effect on health, as implied in the Prime Minister's own

statement.”

The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists called on Senators and Members o f

the House of Representatives to take into account that the. Wik debate is not only about economic

efficiency and property rights. The Wik legislation has health implications which will be a matter o f

life and death for many Aborigines.

END

CONTACT:

Dr N e il P h illip s Thu 4 Dec: Orange, NSW phone: 02 6360 7700

Fri 5 Dec: Bathurst, NSW phone: 02 6331 5533

mobile: 014 970 377

Professor Ernest Hunter (Cairns) phone: 070 503 670 (B)

phone: 070 577 512 (H)

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