Rehab plan fails to gain traction

Toby HusseyAlbany Advertiser
SAC's Asha Bhat and Oscar Colbung.
Camera IconSAC's Asha Bhat and Oscar Colbung. Credit: Laurie Benson/Picture: Laurie Benson, Laurie Benson Albany Advertiser

Plans for a residential drug rehab centre in Albany have stalled, with government ministers allegedly hesitant to back the $20 million proposal.

Southern Aboriginal Corporation chief executive Asha Bhat said three years of meeting with State and Federal ministers had generated little traction.

SAC has been developing its plan for an Albany-based 22-bed rehab for Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people since 2016.

Originally hoped to be built by 2021, under the plan the facility would eventually expand to host 44 beds and a detox centre.

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Since 2016, SAC representatives claim to have met or requested meetings with Federal Minister for Indigenous Affairs Nigel Scullion, Health Minister Greg Hunt, Indigenous Health Minister Ken Wyatt and the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet. However, Ms Bhat said little progress had been made.

Attempts to meet with State Health Minister Roger Cook had been overlooked, and State Indigenous Affairs Minister Ben Wyatt had shown “no interest” in the proposal, she said.

“It is hard to get any traction from the ministers,” Ms Bhat said. “(The) drug issue is epidemic in this region and we will continue to fight for this Noongar-led project to address the needs of the community.”


However, Ben Wyatt’s office pushed back against accusations he had not been interested in the plans.

A spokesman called the allegation “absolutely unfair”.

“The minister explained that the decision would be made by the Minister for Health and directed them towards the relevant minister,” he said.

“He also explained a number of other avenues which could be of benefit to them.

“In a comprehensive response the Minister showed a keen interest in the project.”


Ms Bhat said the closest residential rehab facilities to Albany — in Esperance and Perth — were too far away, and she claimed the rehab centre would cost about $20 million to build and operate for five years, but would create up to 100 jobs.

In 2018, regional WA was revealed to have Australia’s highest methamphetamine use rate, and a 2016 RuralHealthWest report claimed more than half of all Great Southern deaths of those under 75 could be avoided through better primary prevention and treatment.

That report said the avoidable mortality rate among Aboriginal people in this region was more than three times the non-Aboriginal rate, with the leading cause of death being alcohol-related.

Mr Cook was contacted for comment.

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