Commissioner Milroy (Or: A First Australian Makes Good)

Australia’s first Indigenous female psychiatrist, Helen Milroy, has dedicated her career to advancing Indigenous health and child mental health. Professor Milroy (pictured below) is the Winthrop Professor and Director of the Centre for Aboriginal Medical and Dental Health at the University of Western Australia and for some years treated sexually abused children at Princess Margaret Hospital.

helen milroy

It is hard to fault Helen Milroy as a choice as a commissioner for the royal commission by PM Gillard. PM Gillard has also just appointed the first Indigenous female to the Senate, Nova Peris, even though it meant that the serving, non-Indigenous female senator has been dumped and local pre-selection rules over-ridden. With an election due this year, these are probably both good moves by the PM given criticisms of Labor’s Indigenous issues record, principally by the Greens.

Milroy is also “economical” in the sense that she can cover Indigenous, women’s, and mental health issues. Hopefully, the chief commissioner will take note of this when allocating priorities to individual commissioners.

The only problem likely to arise is with her role as an academic psychiatrist. This is because it is well known that there have been issues with sexual abuse of psychiatric patients, in particular young women with eating disorders and self-harm issues, according to local activists.

Perhaps, here, the positives of being knowledgeable about the science may be negated by an instinctive urge to defend her professional colleagues. This aspect with also resonate strongly with the other commissioners. No doubt, many people involved will monitor any perceived bias accordingly.

The issue of sexual abuse of young Indigenous people, particularly in the Northern Territory, has long been a contentious issue and was given by John Howard’s minister, Mal Brough, as one of the principal reasons for the Northern Territory intervention program. There may be a problem here in that much of the reported abuses have been within the social and family contexts and therefore outside the scope of the royal commission. This is likely to mean that many people will be dissatisfied with the commission’s final report.

TOMORROW : The cop

That’s all I can say

Lewis Blayse (né Lewin Blazevich)


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