SUNRISE: We've had over 430 deaths in custody since 1991, and there's been no convictions, no arrests, no steps forward

08 June 2020


SUBJECT: anti-racism protests

NATALIE BARR, SUNRISE: For more, I'm joined by Indigenous advocate Warren Mundine, and Labor Senator Malarndirri McCarthy. Morning to you both. Finance minister Mathias Cormann has criticized the protests. He says they're selfish, they're reckless, they're endangering the community. Warren, what do you think of that?

WARREN MUNDINE: Well look, that's not the substance of the protest. The protest was very important, highlighting a massive issue that needs to be dealt with. My concern, of course, and I do agree with the doctor and that, is about every medical officer, every medical professional in Australia has raised this issue about the COVID-19 getting into Aboriginal communities and causing, causing a massive, destructive spread for our communities. Look, they could have had the protests, you look at what we did for ANZAC Day about how that - although it wasn't a protest, it was a celebration and memorial service is how we did that. And I think it made it more part of what everyday Australian life's about. This is what they should have looked at in regards to this area, because I do have some massive concerns in regards to the spreading of that virus.

BARR: So we just heard just in the process, she didn't agree with the protests. Are you saying the protest shouldn't have gone ahead?

MUNDINE: Not in the way that it happened. If they wanted to have a protest, I think the organisers, even the appeals court, I thought were crazy in regard to this. They needed to do a really. If you protest, if you want to do a protest, that's fine. But they, but they needed to do it in a proper way that made it safe and that that there is no chance of a second wave or a spreading in the Indigenous community of this virus.

BARR: Yeah. Malarndirri, we had in our three biggest cities, in Brisbane and Melbourne and in Sydney, 60,000 people, so a lot of support. But you've got our medicos saying this could promote a second wave of the disease that we have spent months trying to prevent. What do you think?

MALARNDIRRI MCCARTHY: Well Nat, if I could just pick up on your first question there about irresponsibility, can I just say that what's irresponsible here is that for nearly 30 years, we've had over 430 deaths in custody, and there's been no convictions, no arrests, no steps forward. And so let's remember that in each state and territory with these rallies, those organisers did their best to work with governments and with police, and did their best on the day to make sure even in Queensland, for example, where police liaison officers were handing out masks and hand sanitizers. We know there is a deep cry in this country for the grief that people feel with the loss of loved ones. And there is systemic racism in this country that needs to be dealt with. And clearly, concerns about COVID are very real. But let's not forget, we've lost more people in the last 30 years in deaths in custody, then we have in our current situation.

BARR: Yes, since 1991, I think it's 434 deaths isn't it? That's since the Royal Commission. So do you feel that since the George Floyd protests have really swept the world, you are thinking now is our chance to make people listen?

MCCARTHY: Well, let's have a look around the world, Nat, with any change, it's always difficult. And crises usually brings change whether we like it or not. And what's happening in our country began firstly, I think with the drought, there was changes there, then we had the bush fires, the challenges there. Now we've got COVID-19. So there's natural unrest, and a desire for change. And what First Nations people are asking is for voices to be heard at the table in every area. We've seen the Prime Minister, pull together a national cabinet and say, hey, let's deal together with COVID-19. Well, my challenge to the Prime Minister is pull together a national cabinet to deal with black deaths in custody and the high rates of incarceration, because we can do it. Our country can be a better part of itself. And let's be the better part of ourselves by making sure we can handle this really well.

BARR: But Warren Mundine, will this backfire? You've got people saying, only, you know, last week I had my uncle's funeral, my father's funeral, we could only have 10 people there and that really cut up our family and then I look out there on the weekend and you've got 20,000 people side by side.

MUNDINE: Side by side is the problem. That is, that is, is really, quite frankly, I think was stupidity to get out there and do those demonstrations the way they were conducted. Because it you know, we know this is a very, the spread of this disease very quickly. We've been fighting for many years now, I mean many months now in regard to getting the low figures that we have, and the government and the people of Australia have worked really close together to ensure that it doesn't spread. We saw what happened with the Ruby Princess when you've got 2000 people who were an infection spread and that it had, that was the main spread in New South Wales for the disease, we know that the health issues for Indigenous people are paramount and every person, every medical person I know, every doctor I know. And even the ones I don't know have come out and said, this was, this is dangerous, this could, if it spreads in the Aboriginal community, Indigenous communities, this could kill more people than we have currently at the moment. Now I'm not sitting here saying they didn't have to right the protest. I'm not saying that, that they needed to do that. But there's ways and means of actually doing it and they should have been more clever about it. I think there was a failure of, of leadership in regard to the people organised it. And it's a failure of leadership by the politicians. And I thought the appeals court decision was was was quite crazy and as you'd know, Australians, we've locked ourselves away as Australians, and lost jobs and lost businesses to make sure we've got control of this. We're going to have a mental health spike and suicide spike which is coming up. Professor Ian Hickey at the Sydney University there has done the research on it and that, we're going to have huge problem to control this virus. This was dangerous.

BARR: Yeah. And now we've got the New South Wales Government trying to stop further protests, Malarndirri and Warren, thank you for your time this morning on Sunrise.