We have much work to do in the reconciliation of First Nations people to the broader Australian community. Aboriginal Deaths in Custody (including Murders) and Incarceration continue at an unacceptably high rate. Aboriginal men are 16 times more likely to be in custody than Non- Aboriginal men, and die in custody at that 16 times higher rate (ABS statistics reported in the Guardian 11/6/20).
Since the Aboriginal Deaths in Custody Royal Commission in 1991, the rate of incarceration of Aboriginal males has actually doubled - from 14.3 per cent of the prison population in 1991 to 28.6 per cent in March 2020. And as a proportion of Aboriginal Australian males it is an appalling 4.7 per cent. Yes, one out one out of every 20 Aboriginal males is today in custody. Its 0.3 per cent for the Non-Aboriginal male population or one in 330. Are we saying Aboriginal men are 16 times worse people than Non-Aboriginals? Of course they aren't. Then this is a failing on our part - our democratic system that represents us, our values and our wishes. The system that we oversee, our country, is unjust to Aboriginal people.
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How do we respond to this injustice? When politics fails, as it has, we need to make our voice heard; we gather together and call on our government to act (not talk). The legal profession has been calling for reform for decades. Presently the criminal justice system focusses on force and punishment; we know that doesn't work to change behaviour and prevent re-offence. We don't hit our kids anymore because we know its wrong and doesn't work except to humiliate and crush the spirit of a child yet this is what we are doing in policing and justice especially to Aboriginal people. And we must prosecute, not cover-up, the assaults, negligence and murders of Aboriginal people in custody.
There needs to be immediate legislation that shifts a portion of police and corrective services funding directly into support services to end poverty and build community and personal resilience in Aboriginal (and Torres Strait Islander) communities. Legislation is needed that designs, builds and funds services such as trauma counselling and mentoring on the ground in communities - services staffed with love, not violence. There needs to be an infrastructure program and jobs program where Aboriginal people live. This funding needs to be not for five years or ten years, but indefinitely. These are the services and opportunities that we expect everywhere. We know full well that poverty, trauma and disadvantage leads to injustice, crime and incarceration.
At The Wingecarribee Reconciliation Group (WRG) we are calling for a voice for Aboriginal people in the affairs of this nation. We call for a path for righting - perhaps the greatest legal failing of Australia - the violation of the 1787 orders of His Majesty the King to make a treaty with the native population for the foundation of a settlement by Britain in New South Wales (Botany Bay). The New Zealand Maori have the Treaty of Waitangi (February 6, 1840); it's way past time for us to negotiate and enact a treaty with First Nations Australians collectively or with each and every nation (as they see fit). This will finally bring us into line with every other former British colony. Next there needs to be reparations - financial compensation for the land taken illegally, and the trauma, massacres, and forceable removal of Aboriginal people from their land, and families. This is not a hand-out, this a debt that is owed. If a Non-Aboriginal person is injured or traumatised unjustly by the state, we have the right to sue for compensation and damages. We need not ask, "How will you spend your compensation?" This is a racist question, not asked of those Australians awarded fair compensation and damages every day in Australian courts. Same compensation, same dignity, same respect.
But we also need to raise our voices to change attitudes among our own family and friends and in our community. Some people seek to shift responsibility for incarceration, poverty and discrimination onto Aboriginal people. In a study released this month by the Australian National University (ANU), conducted over 10 years, of 10,000 Australians, three out of four Non-Aboriginal Australians were found to have conscious or unconscious racist views towards Aboriginal Australians (ANU study published 9/6/20). I was shocked. But as my Aboriginal friends said, "You shouldn't be surprised Gus, this is what we experience every day." So its official - Australia is, by majority, a racist country. Now, what do we of conscience do? Nothing? Whisper "Tutt Tutt?" Abuse the TV?
No, we examine our own hearts, look in the mirror. We have the conversations, get the counselling we require to rid ourselves of this psychological baggage. We approach and reach out to Aboriginal folk. Post a BLM sign, show your support, proudly. And we get on the street - raise our voices in a beautiful song of determination to change ourselves, and to change our nation. "Nothing will come of nothing." If you want change you must do something. We will keep our social distances, behave responsibly, and I call on the police to do so also.
US Senator Bernie Sanders said today (June 17) "We need to keep going in every way: The marches, the protests, the legislation." Let's come together in love with our Aboriginal brothers and sisters, in solidarity, not Black, not White, together as One Mob.
See you at Bowral Library 1pm on Sunday, June 21. This is our Southern Highlands "Black Lives Matter" moment, make your voice count.
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