Triple J Hack: Our justice system needs a lot of work

11 June 2020


SUBJECT: Black Deaths in Custody

AVANI DIAS, TRIPLE J: We've asked the Indigenous Affairs minister, Ken Wyatt, to come on the show. He hasn't gotten back to us. Labor Senator for the NT, Malarndirri McCarthy is a Garrawa-Yanyuwa woman. She was at one of the protests on the weekend. Thank you for joining us on Hack.

MALARNDIRRI MCCARTHY: Thanks, Avani. And hello to your listeners.

DIAS: So you're at home self isolating after going to the protests on the weekend. Why did you go?

MCCARTHY: Well, I went because I certainly believe in the deep feeling of injustice that occurred in the United States with Mr Floyd and the overflow of emotion in relation to that. When we think of the issues for First Nations people in Australia, I was only a young journalist when we covered the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in custody. And I can recall on so many occasions some of those stories. And when we see tens of thousands of people marching in Australia, we know that that concern around injustice and inequality is very real today, as it was back then.

DIAS: Senator, you've lived and worked in the anti your whole life. You're now a politician, obviously. But as you say, you were previously a journalist. You grew up in the Aboriginal community of Borroloola as well. Do you think our justice system protects all Australians?

MCCARTHY: Our justice system needs a lot of work, Avani. You only have to speak to the lawyers, legal aid, especially Aboriginal and Family Legal Aid, who try and support people through the justice system. Where we need to focus on I think in terms of governments right across the country is the proactive end. You know, the birth, the growth of children, the homes, the entrenched poverty, ensuring there's jobs. This is the front end that we should be focussing on. So we don't have the high incarceration rates that we see of certainly First Nations people in our country.

DIAS: Senator, something we keep hearing from listeners on Triple J is that if you don't break the law, you won't get arrested and end up in these situations. What do you say to people who think that?

MCCARTHY: I would say to those people, when you look at the story of wonderful women like Ms Dhu who died in a Western Australian jail because she was in there because she had an unpaid parking fine. Like, seriously, you know, how many people in this country don't pay their fines, whether it's a car park parked, car parking fine, a Telstra phone bill? You know, we fall behind in our power and water. I mean these, in many instances are the reasons, you know. In certainly in Victoria, we saw the case of Ms Day in terms of having had a bit too much to drink. Like, seriously, how many Australians in this country go out on a Friday or Saturday night and probably have more than their fair share? They don't expect to end up in a jail and nor do they not expect to wake up the next day either.

DIAS: Senator, this feels like a critical point. Never before have we seen so many Australians focussed on this issue. We've spoken and heard from academics who have found that not everyone has trust to call the police in an emergency either. Should we be taking money away from those systems and reinvesting them in things that are community led to ensure that all Australians are protected?

MCCARTHY: Look, I certainly feel there's two things that need to occur. One is that in relation to First Nations people, our voices need to be there at every point. Every spectrum, whether it's at the legal services, the health services, the political services, so that they can be a solution to many of these very simple problems. In terms of the broader Australian community, the same thing. There should be access to understanding if you're from a different culture and non-English speaking background. This is where the assistance needs to come in so that people know their rights.

DIAS: Senator, today in Question Time, your party, the Labor Party asked the Indigenous Affairs Minister, Ken Wyatt, about creating new Close the Gap targets on Indigenous incarceration rates. Is that enough to fix this very clear problem?

MCCARTHY: It's an important step, Avani. It's something that Labor has been pushing for quite some time to include the justice targets to the current seven targets, you know, child mortality, early childhood school attendance, literacy, numeracy and employment and life expectancy and year twelve attainment. So having the justice targets has always been an important aspect. But I've gone further and said that we need to see the national cabinet deal with these issues where hundreds and thousands or tens of thousands of Australians have passionately march the streets asking for the incarceration rates to be reduced for justice in terms of those deaths ---

DIAS: Senator, to jump in, then what exactly do you want to be done here? Because I spoke to you in February when the Closing the Gap report was passed down that found for 12 years in a row there was a failure to meet most of those targets to improve the lives of young Indigenous people. So what exactly do you want done here to fix this problem?

MCCARTHY: What we've seen certainly with COVID 19, Avani, is that our country can rise above politics, our country can rise above the jurisdictional ---

DIAS: So what exactly do they want done in that forum, though? Because it's all well and good to talk about these issues, they've been talked about for many years. We've had a royal commission into them and we haven't seen any changes in that regard. Academics and people in this space have been saying that for a long time. So what is the model that you want to see applied here to improve the lives of young indigenous people so there aren't more deaths in custody?

MCCARTHY: Use the model that you've used for health right now with COVID 19. Get the justice ministers at the table as you have the health ministers, as you have the chief medical officers get the solicitor generals of each state and territory and look at every single jail, look at every single incarceration and work out constructively together how you going to reduce it?

DIAS: Senator, before we let you go. We've spoken to the families of people who have died in custody. One of them is Dunghutti man, David Dungay Junior. And his family has described this moment as one they have to grab on to. They've seen this as a turning point to see some sort of change. What needs to happen now to ensure that there's actual progress in this space?

MCCARTHY: Well people have to keep strong. People have to stay at it. Those marches, Avani, have moved our country, in my view, and certainly gave heart to First Nations people in this country to the depth that I haven't seen in such a long time. And it gave hope, absolute hope. And I would like to think that they those people out there who did that, that they don't give up.

DIAS: All right. Malarndirri McCarthy, thank you for joining us on Hack.

MCCARTHY: Thank you, Avani.