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Indigenous self-harm disturbing: Scullion

AAP logoAAP 16/11/2016 Lucy Hughes Jones

Minister for Indigenous Affairs Nigel Scullion concedes a damning new report examining the mental health plight of Aboriginal Australians is "disturbing".

The rates of psychological distress, imprisonment and substance abuse among indigenous Australians have worsened, according to the Productivity Commission's Overcoming Indigenous Disadvantage report released on Thursday.

The imprisonment rate has risen by 77 per cent over the past 15 years and the hospitalisation rate related to self-harm is up by 56 per cent over the past decade.

"The outcomes in mental health are disturbing," Mr Scullion said.

"Until recently, there has not been sufficient investment in evidence to drive indigenous-specific mental health and suicide prevention responses."

He also acknowledged that incarceration, domestic violence and substance abuse needed to be addressed.

"For too long, Canberra has been coming up with solutions that aren't underpinned by a strong understanding of what is happening out in communities," Mr Scullion said.

Productivity Commission deputy chair Karen Chester said the report also posed the question of whether the $30 billion invested by the government to overcome indigenous disadvantage was being spent properly.

"You want to know whether that money is being well spent, and well spent not just in terms of bang for (the) buck for taxpayers, but we're not short-changing indigenous Australians," she told ABC radio.

Of the thousand policies and programs, the commission could only identify 34 that had been robustly and transparently evaluated.

"At the end of the day, we can't feign surprise that we're not seeing improvement across all of these wellbeing indicators if we're not lifting the bonnet and evaluating if the policies and programs are working or not," Ms Chester said.

Northern Territory Chief Minister Michael Gunner said the report was a reminder that governments have an extremely long way to go in closing the gap.

"Of concern is lack of improvement in family violence in the Northern Territory," he said.

"The report notes that an Aboriginal woman in the Territory is 11.4 times more likely to be the victim of violence than a non-Aboriginal woman."

Mr Gunner, who is also the NT minister for Aboriginal affairs, added that mortality rates for children and education and employment outcomes have improved nationally in the decade to mid-2015.

"My government will work with Aboriginal Territorians to ensure we deliver real decision-making power back to the bush," Mr Gunner said.

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