South-west Aboriginal leaders struggling for answers to ice scourge

ABORIGINAL community leaders say they are without answers to solve an ice epidemic “destroying families” in the south-west. 

A submission by the Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service (VALS) estimates 85 per cent of its south-west clients in towns such as Heywood are on the drug at the time they offend. 

The agency has lodged a detailed submission with the state government’s parliamentary inquiry into crystal methamphetamine ice, which will sit in Warrnambool on March 3. 

Framlingham’s Kirrae Health Service is also pushing for a round-table meeting of leading south-west agencies to stem the flow of ice into households. 

Heywood-based Winda Mara Corporation chief executive Michael Bell said young people between 15 and 24 were the main users, with families being torn apart by addiction. 

“It’s destroying families.  We’re constantly trying to make sure they’re safe. We’ve had the worst-case scenario over this way,” Mr Bell told The Standard. 

“Boredom is a big issue why people experiment with these types of drugs. Unemployment is a big issue but it’s also people who are employed.” 

Mr Bell said social isolation among users increased problems for Winda Mara and community leaders in reaching out. 

“We need good community engagement programs. We offer counselling services and try and connect back to cultural support offices.”

According to the VALS report, 95 per cent of those arrested while on the drug are males — mostly between the ages of 15 and 35. 

It says young adults at risk are vulnerable, with no support programs to step in after adolescence. 

“Our client service officer in the south-west reports that a youth program in Warrnambool keeps young people away from ice and other illicit drugs. When the young people outgrow these programs and there are no replacements, then the trouble begins,” the report says. 

The legal service recommends treating the crisis as a health issue. 

Kirrae Health Service chairman Brian Davis said the Framlingham group was at a loss as to how to prevent the drug spreading.

“It’s a health issue definitely, obviously legal implications follow. We don’t have any answers — where do you start?” Mr Davis said. 

Kirrae Health wants a round-table forum with Victoria Police and other services on tackling ice.

“We’ve been talking with police right up until Christmas and we’re hoping to get something going. We’ve had discussions with our group. We know the issue is rife and we want to do something about it,” he said.

Both Winda Mara and Kirrae Health hope to address the parliamentary inquiry when it meets in Warrnambool. 

The VALS report also recommends increasing recruitment of Aboriginal workers and more services targeted directly to Aboriginal people.

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