The over-whelming outpouring of emotion in Australia at the tragic and very visible killing of George Floyd by the Minnesota Police is now being displayed in relation to the plight of black people – the Indigenous people of Australia.
Over 400 Aboriginal deaths in custody in the last ten years is the least of the racism we experience everyday in our own country. Over the last few weeks, we have tragically lost five young Aboriginal people by suicide in Victoria alone and barely a word has been heard about it.
These deaths are the bad enough but worse than this is the indifference. The indifference to our material poverty, our homelessness, the violence we experience and the removal of our children. The indifference to the daily racism we experience which is not necessarily the overt hate and violence but the insidious discrimination and the unsaid thoughts and the casual racist jokes or comments. Compounding indifference is the neglect that despite knowledge based on innumerable inquiries and reports little action is taken to stop this and turn it around.
There are other recent highly publicised instances of racism in this country: the incident of the NSW policeman assaulting the young Aboriginal teen - would it have made the news if it had not resonated with what is happening in the US? The destruction by Rio Tinto of 50,000 year old caves and sacred sites in WA.
Aboriginal people very well understand the feelings of intense frustration and anger that leads to the kind of reaction we see in the US.
Our Prime Minister and leaders of all States and Territories, need to show leadership at a time like this in the same way they have shown it with covid-19. Now is the time to say we have much more work to do about racism in this country and this is how we are going to do it side-by-side with Aboriginal people. We should not congratulate ourselves about how well we compare with the US in their time of turmoil.
Here in Australia our jails are filled with Indigenous people at rates higher than prior to the last Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody released its final report in 1991 almost 30 years ago. Yet there isn’t the same degree of widespread community anger and there is even less action by governments.
Over the last 10 years we have seen an 88% increase in the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people incarcerated, with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people now 13 times more likely to be imprisoned than non-Indigenous people.
The excuse that we do not know how and why these things happen does not wash any longer if it ever did. Even if the current crop of politicians weren’t around when the Royal Commission in 1991 reported, the Australian Law Reform Commission report on Indigenous Incarceration in 2018 is within the purview of the current Coalition Government and was crystal clear about what needs to be done. The current Attorney-General Christian Porter tabled the report in Parliament and has done nothing about it since.
Aboriginal deaths in custody is the extreme and tragic end of the spectrum of racial injustice we experience daily. From the cradle to the grave we bear the legacy of almost 300 years of racial violence and injustice which is now manifested by poor health, short life expectancy, high rates of mental illness, family violence, unemployment and underemployment. Many of our families have to put up with the intrusion of state authorities in their lives whether this be child protection workers or police.
VACCA says it is time to act here in Australia. It is time to act on the recommendations of the ALRC report into Indigenous Incarceration. It is time to over-turn the edifice of systemic racism by thoroughly examining how it works by talking to and involving us in the process.
In Victoria we must press on with a Treaty. Truth and justice is needed here in Australia. A treaty will empower Aboriginal communities to address racial injustice and bring about equality and a level playing field for us to move ahead.
We support the right of all people to protest and support those who chose to attend tomorrow’s action. We ask that whoever does attend take appropriate precautions. Restrain from normal shows of affection. Don’t go if you are not feeling well. Maintain hygiene with sanitisers or hand washing. Keep your distance from others.
This movement is marathon not a sprint and we know we will be called on and have opportunities to act in the near future.
For comment contact Nigel D’Souza 0400 978 015