The strength of the Warlpiri people and First Nations people right across this country is empowering

14 November 2019

Senator Malarndirri McCarthy talks to Avani Dias on Triple J Hack about the death in custody of Kumanjayi Walker in Yuendumu.

AVANI DIAS,TRIPLE J HACK: Senator thank you for coming on Hack. What do you make of this murder charge?

MCCARTHY: Well, can I just acknowledge that the Warlpiri families and the people of Central Australia have shown, I think, great restraint and dignity in an incredibly difficult and emotionally sensitive and sad time.

And I think it's important to recognise that and not only in Central Australia, but right across the country as people have gathered to show their empathy and their condolences for the family, but also to send strength and love in amidst what has been an awfully hurtful and hateful time. So the announcement last night, in particular in Alice Springs, I understand there was a gathering of people at a candlelight vigil when they heard the news. And I've certainly heard Warlpiri Elders say that they're relieved at the announcement of the charge. And like all things, when the court system steps into place, it is now a matter before the courts. And we have to hope that there is now a clear and transparent process that moves forward in the interests of fairness and justice.

DIAS: Do you believe that this investigation will be done independently because thats what the Yuendumu Community is really calling over the past week?

MCCARTHY: We know that the families of Yuendumu are asking for that, and that call has been reiterated at the highest of levels, and even the Chief Minister has expressed that personally to the families at Yuendumu. And we expect that that is going to take place.

DIAS: What are you doing to ensure that?

MCCARTHY: Well, at this particular point in time, there's Sorry Business underway. And we need to respect the fact that families are grieving very deeply and the fact that they've come out of Sorry Business, Avani. And with your experience in the Northern Territory that, if I can share with your listeners, is a really significant moment for First Nations people to actually leave Sorry Camp to come out and express so publicly as they did today in Alice Springs their hurt but their call for respect and their call for the fact that this was a mourning protest, a mourning protest where they can grieve publicly for someone they love very much. I think firstly, as all Australians, we need to take a deep breath and allow that Sorry Business ceremony to first continue in a very respectful, peaceful and obviously for the families very private way now.

DIAS: Youre listening to Hack on Triple J. were talking to Northern Territory Labor Senator Malarndirri McCarthy. Senator this death is just the latest which has cemented a lot of distrust between Aboriginal people and the police. Whats going wrong here?

MCCARTHY: Look, you're right, Avani, the distrust is clearly there and that's going to take a long time to rebuild. But I also take into account, if we talk more broadly that there are First Nations people who are in the police force, there are Aboriginal liaison officers and Aboriginal police officers who do their best. In fact, many of them who have also expressed their deep concern about this breakdown in relationship, where they, on a very personal level, try to change it from within. So what we have to do, I think, as policy makers is look at the wider circumstances that's occurring across remote and regional Australia. And that is the entrenched poverty and the inability to have jobs, the lack of housing and the roads and infrastructure that clearly needs to be focussed on, in particular in northern Australia.

DIAS: I want you to help us educate some people listening because weve been getting a lot of messages from Triple J listeners who have said if this person was white and they were shot dead by police it wouldnt get the same attention. As someone whos from the Territory--

MCCARTHY: Really? You're getting that feedback?

DIAS: We are getting that feedback and I want you to tell us why its different in this case

MCCARTHY: Well, it's certainly very different because it happens way too regularly. I mean, I was, you know, I reflect on my time as a journalist covering the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody. And that was in the 80s and 90s. There were more people dying in custody today than there were then with the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody. And I would say to those people out there who are questioning why there is such focus, I would ask them to look deeper and look at the fact that First Nations people in Australia feel voiceless. They feel disempowered. So when an event occurs where a home is no longer your home, where you can protect yourself in. And then there is the eventual loss of life as a result of the intrusion, and in this case I say the alleged intrusion of others, that is what the outcry. We have had too many deaths in custody and most recently still in WA, where they still have to bury a wonderful woman who unfortunately died in similar circumstances, an Aboriginal woman. It's happening way too regularly. And I say to those people who question this: take a good, hard look at the concerns that are being raised by First Nations people. And also remember this, too, Avani that the rallies that have taken place this week have been done so with the greatest of dignity and the strength of the Warlpiri people and the First Nations people right across this country has empowered the First Nations people to do that with dignity, with love, with respect and in peace.

DIAS: Malarndirri McCarthy thank you for joining us on Triple J.

MCCARTHY: Thank you Avani.


SUBJECT/S: Police shooting of young Aboriginal man in Yuendumu, Central Australia.