The Dharriwaa Elders Group and the Walgett Aboriginal Medical Service conducted two important meetings 11 November 2015 in Walgett.
The meetings were with Walgett Aboriginal individuals and families dealing with drugs and alcohol, social and emotional wellbeing issues, and afterwards, service providers. They were called by the two Walgett Aboriginal community-controlled organisations in response to concerns expressed in a letter to the NSW Minister for Justice and Attorney General sent March 2015 from the Dharriwaa Elders Group which has not been replied to. This letter noted the building of the $16 million Walgett police station and concerns that police are the first responders to Walgett families experiencing mental health crises - a task they are not adequately trained for. The Elders fear future police shootings and requested that resources be invested in prevention programs and mental health services and facilities - ie justice reinvestment.
DEG and WAMS invited two of the authors of the recently released UNSW report - "A predictable and preventable path: Aboriginal people with mental and cognitive disabilities in the criminal justice system" to the meetings. Elizabeth McEntyre graciously facilitated the meetings and Dr Ruth McCausland provided data evidence from the report to assist discussions. Both WAMS and DEG had supported this important research project which had been undertaken over 4 years across Australia. It provides valuable evidence that currently Aboriginal people with mental and cognitive disabilities are managed by the criminal justice system, and why local solutions that help these vulnerable people in our communities should be supported.
The community meeting quickly proposed a number of local solutions. They were discussed by the meeting held with service providers straight afterwards. DEG and WAMS now propose to develop a briefing document which will describe the new initiatives needed in Walgett to address the growing needs articulated by the community. The Chairperson of the Walgett Gamilaraay Aboriginal Community Working Party, Christine Corby OAM, will promote these proposals to governments and other supporters in order to agitate for their implementation.