Mayor Elvie Sandow, Council CEO Chatur Zala and Member for Wide Bay Llew O’Brien at Friday’s meeting at the Cherbourg Council Chamber (Photo: CASC)

October 4, 2021

Four Federal MPs were told they must “do something” to address the tragic suicide rate in Cherbourg at a crisis meeting held in the Cherbourg Council Chambers on Friday.

Member for Wide Bay Llew O’Brien – who organised the hook-up – was present in person while Assistant Minister for Mental Health and Suicide Prevention David Coleman, Minister for Regional Health David Gillespie and Minister for Indigenous Australians Ken Wyatt AM joined via videolink.

The MPs were addressed by Cherbourg Mayor Elvie Sandow and fellow councillors who emphasised that tragedies continued to occur despite multiple agencies being funded to assist the community.

Mr O’Brien said Cherbourg was a small community which desperately needed help.

“We have a community where it is becoming part of the culture that people are taking their own lives,” he said.

“Elvie gave me an account of an adolescent that was playing and took a doll and buried it in the sandpit because all they’re seeing every week here is more people being buried who have either taken their own life or have lost their life due to poor health.”

Mayor Sandow told the MPs that Cherbourg was in “dire straits”.

She said 67 groups were being funded to provide mental health services in the community.

“We find a lot of it is duplication and a lot of it is that they are not delivering on the ground,” she said.

“They want to come out and do things after the fact. It’s just not good enough.”

Minister Wyatt said that was an extraordinary number of services being funded.

“I see this in a number of communities where there are a lot of external organisations funded who are not looking at local solutions,” he said.

He said an audit of what was working best, what the community was having a say in, and the gaps of delivery on the ground, needed to be done.

Youth also had to be involved in the solutions, which is how suicide roundtables in the Kimberley and Darwin had worked.

“There are now solutions being worked out (in Darwin and the Kimberley) by the young people,” Minister Wyatt said.

Cr Fred Cobbo said the help that was supposed to be happening in Cherbourg was not happening.

“We are running out of excuses to mothers burying their sons and people growing up without an older brother and older sister,” he said.

“So something is broken. We don’t care who broke it, what are we going to do about fixing it?

“We have got to start somewhere and got to do something.”

Cr Cobbo said the money was not going to where it was needed the most.

“Local Government is reaching out to Federal Government and saying there’s a problem here. And when Federal funding is going through State and not hitting the ground where it needs to be spent, the people in the community suffer,” he said.

Speaking later, Mr O’Brien said the responsibility to provide services to Cherbourg was spread across both the Federal and State governments.

“There is already a tremendous amount of money being spent on services being provided to Cherbourg but obviously that money and those services aren’t finding the right people at the right time, because in a community of just on 1500 people, we’re seeing a suicide on average about once a month or even more,” Mr O’Brien said.

He said the audit of the current services would be conducted.

“We need to speak to our State colleagues and those who are involved in this at a State level but we need to find out who’s doing what. Until we know who’s doing what, where the money’s going and where it needs to go, we’re just treading water,” Mr O’Brien said.

Mayor Elvie said she believed the meeting had gone well.

“I feel we are going to get some answers and we are going to get things happening on the ground now,” she said.

“What we want at the end of the day is accountability.”

Mayor Sandow said the community was constantly in mourning, and this was affecting the children as well as the adults.

She said more employment in the Cherbourg community would also give people something to look forward to, something to live for.

“As long as I am the Mayor, I am going to keep pushing until we get changes, and these things happening on the ground,” Mayor Sandow said.

* * *

If you or someone you know needs help, call:

Cherbourg Council CEO Chatur Zala, Member for Wide Bay Llew O’Brien, Community Development manager Sean Nicholson, Mayor Elvie Sandow, Deputy Mayor Tom Langton and Cr Fred Cobbo (Photo: CASC)
Assistant Minister for Mental Health and Suicide Prevention David Coleman, Minister for Regional Health David Gillespie and Minister for Indigenous Australians Ken Wyatt AM joined via video (Photo: CASC)

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