Friday, 12 June 2020
Indigenous Deaths in Custody
Each year in this House, we have a Closing the Gap statement. It shows that the life expectancy of Indigenous Australians is lower than the rest of the community. It shows that child mortality is higher. It shows educational outcomes are lower. It shows employment outcomes are lower. We still have a lot to do in our society to close that gap, and I am sure that everyone here in this parliament shares that sentiment. But what's been disappointing in the debate over the last couple of weeks is what we saw put to air on the ABC on Monday night, when they allowed to be broadcast to air, unchallenged, the accusation that 400 Indigenous Australians had been murdered—the word 'murdered' was used—by police in custody. This breeds division in our society. It breeds a culture of victimhood, which is totally the opposite thing that we need to do in this society if we want to close the gap.
The truth is that the percentage of Indigenous Australians dying in custody is actually 22 per cent less than non-Indigenous Australians. This is a fact that should be broadcast across every media outlet in the country. But, instead, we are hearing the exact opposite time after time after time. We must tell the truth about what is happening. Indigenous Australians are dying at a lower rate in our jails than non-Indigenous Australians. It is true that Indigenous Australians are incarcerated, but we must tell the truth about deaths in custody. Otherwise, we will not help close the gap. In fact, the royal commission back in 1991 said:
… the immediate causes of the deaths do not include foul play, in the sense of unlawful, deliberate killing of Aboriginal prisoners by police and prison officers. More than one-third of the deaths (37) were from disease; 30 were self-inflicted hangings; 23 were caused by other forms of external trauma, especially head injuries; and 9 were immediately associated with dangerous alcohol and other drug use. Indeed, heavy alcohol use was involved in some way in deaths in each of these categories.
It is important that we tell the truth, because we are seeing a lack of respect for police. We are seeing 2,500 New South Wales police officers injured in the line of duty. We must simply tell the truth, support our police where we can, and make sure that we do actually close the gap. (Time expired)