Equality and justice should not be distant goals in some distant future

05 June 2020


SUBJECT: Aboriginal deaths in custody

MALARNDIRRI MCCARTHY: Good morning, Its good to be on Larrakia country and acknowledge that today is the 28th anniversary of the Mabo decision of the High Court and certainly the end of Reconciliation Week as well and its incredibly unfortunate to see whats happening in the United States and certainly its touched the lives of many First Nations people here in Australia and I think it says a lot about what we have to look at in terms of our country and our relationships with First Nations people certainly in the justice system and certainly in the system of the removal of children from their families.

REPORTER: We have seen some protests in other parts of the country. Do you feel like it will get the attention that it needs to be able to make that change or is this, unfortunately another thing that could get missed along the way?

MCCARTHY: There is certainly a lot of emotion around what people are witnessing on their screens in terms of the United States and it does bring home for First Nations people who are grappling with the sense of injustice. Weve seen so many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people whove lost their lives in custody and still there are many whose cases are before the courts, and the question has to be asked what are we doing in this country? Wwhat are we doing to improve the lives for First Nations people and improve the relationship between Black and white Australians in terms of equality and justice?

REPORTER: What about in the Territory, Malarndirri? 41 Indigenous people have died in custody between 1978 and 2018 here. More than half of these were between 2010 and [inaudible]. Are the NTs justice system failing our Indigenous people?

MCCARTHY: Look, I despair when I think of the incarceration rates of First Nations people right across the country. Here in the Northern Territory, we certainly have way too high an incarceration rate of First Nations people when you compare the population of First Nations people here in the Northern Territory. There is clearly something fundamentally wrong right across Australia in terms of relationships with First Nations people. I remember covering the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody as a journalist and still despair that even the 30 recommendations that have not been implemented as a result of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody. We still see decisions being made more broadly across Australia in terms of the removal of funding to assist legal services, Aboriginal legal services, family violence legal services, to work with First Nations families.

REPORTER: You mentioned in your post about Kumanjayi Walker, what was the comparison there?

MCCARTHY: Look its important that we recognise there are outstanding issues of injustice across Australia. And one of the comments that Ive made in relation to that is that even here in the Northern Territory, we have families who are still grieving and who are still wanting answers and that particular case of Mr Walker is before the courts. And clearly those families have come out this week and expressed their solidarity with the families in the United States in terms of what theyre witnessing there.

REPORTER: How do you feel like the relationship is between Northern Territory police and First Nations people?

MCCARTHY: Look there is no doubt that it is an enormous challenge for police officers right across Australia. Here in the Northern Territory, there have been solid moves to try to increase Indigenous employment in the police force and I know that Commissioner Chalker has done his best and continues to do his best to make sure that relationships between the Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal community are always looked at very closely. But its an everyday thing. We cant just let it sit on the shelf and think thats done and dusted. Relationships like any relationships anywhere has to always be worked on, has to always be important and at the forefront of improving what could sometimes be weak spots in those relationships, and we certainly need to keep working on that wherever we are.

REPORTER: Do you believe there is still racism, or at least is there a bias in the [inaudible]?

MCCARTHY: Look, theres no doubt that in terms of systemic racism, whether its in Northern Territory or more broadly across Australia, it is quite profound. You only have to look at the statistics of the incarceration of First Nations people in our jails, in the health system even in terms of sickness, and the rates of children who are being removed from their families, there are concerns about that kind of systemic racism. Lets not be blind to the fact that that overrepresentation can be reflected as a racist approach to First Nations people. But having said that, there are many, many programs which are trying to overcome that. There are so many Australians we only have to look at 20 years ago when over 200 300,000 Australians walked across the Sydney Harbour Bridge wanting to improve the relationship with First Nations Australia and we have to harness that goodness and that energy and keep going, especially, most especially, when we see relationships falling down. Thats when we need to call on all Australians to step up and say you know what, this is not the kind of country we want, we want a better place, we need to have a batter place. Equality and justice should not be distant goals in some distant future. Equality and justice need to be today.

REPORTER: Malarndirri, what was your personal reaction when you saw that police officer kneeling on George Floyds neck?

MCCARTHY: Look I think like most people whove witnessed that video, its deeply disturbing, its horrific, its quite traumatic and it certainly conjures up images of other events in lives, certainly for my life or other peoples lives and its the kind of behaviour that we never want to see between one human being to another.

REPORTER: Theres been a lot of discussion in the Northern Territory for many years around mandatory sentencing and the Northern Territory Labor Government had committed prior to this term to review it and look at changing it but not much has happened and Natasha has again committed to doing that if re-elected. Should there have been more work on that front?

MCCARTHY: Look what we need to see more in our legal system, whether its in the Northern Territory or more broadly across Australia, we need to have First Nations people at the table. We need to have our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander legal services very much involved and their wisdom and advice in how to deal with this listened to and acted upon.