Senate debates

Wednesday, 11 August 2021

Questions without Notice: Take Note of Answers

Indigenous Australians

3:30 pm

Photo of Rachel SiewertRachel Siewert (WA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

On behalf of Senator Thorpe, I move:

That the Senate take note of the answer given by the Minister for Finance (Senator Birmingham) to a question without notice asked by Senator Thorpe today relating to imprisonment rates for Indigenous Australians.

Photo of Lidia ThorpeLidia Thorpe (Victoria, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

[by video link] I rise to take note of the minister's answers to my questions on the Closing the Gap agreement. It's probably better to say that I rise to take note of the minister's failure to provide an answer. Every year, every time, the government stands up to apologise for its failures, promising to do better next time, and then fails again.

There's no bigger proof of this government's failures and complete lack of ambition than the justice targets in the Closing the Gap report. The target to reduce overimprisonment of our young people by 30 per cent in 10 years and of our adults by 15 per cent in 10 years is a joke. It means that we won't achieve parity on imprisonment rates until 2093—yes, 2093. We need to see change in our lifetime, surely? Our communities urgently want stronger, more ambitious justice targets to end overimprisonment of our people. It's an urgent matter for us. I know it's not an urgent matter for you fellas in there, but we're dying waiting. We want ambitious targets, rather than the unacceptable proposal of achieving parity in 72 years. Going by our average lifetime, not even my 13-year-old daughter will see that.

Strong, ambitious justice targets will save lives. In the 30 years since the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, 500 of us have died at the hands of the criminal, racist legal system. Going by that indicator alone, we can expect well over 1,000 deaths in custody by 2093. So lots to look forward to, right? There's lots to be happy about as a blackfella in this country today! What the minister was saying in this chamber earlier is that the Morrison government is okay with that number: 'Let's have a shandy. Let's all go to our privileged places and feel good about that.' Well, we don't. We're dying on your watch. Our communities cannot mourn more deaths in custody. We must see changes in our lifetime. We demand it. We demand solutions to all of these problems that we did not create. Remember, we didn't create this. Blackfellas aren't the issue in this country. The government is the issue in this country, not us. We're not an issue. Don't call them 'black issues' or 'Indigenous issues'. We're not the issue.

We need to be in the driver's seat. We need to determine our own destiny. We are hurt by the Morrison government imposing top-down policies like the mission managers did in the old days, making decisions for us and thinking that they know best. 'We'll steal the children, because they'll be better off in a white family.' We know what that's like. We're sick of that. We don't want to live like that no more. Our people have been managing our own affairs for thousands of years. We must be in charge of our destiny again. It's called self-determination. When decisions are in our hands, our solutions work and we take care of our communities. Blackfellas' culture is about caring for everyone. No-one will miss out.

We modelled this in setting up the nation's first Aboriginal legal services and Aboriginal health services. My grandmother was part of setting up the first Aboriginal health service in Victoria in the late sixties. That's self-determination. And do you know why? It was because the white doctors and white services wouldn't even let us in the door to seek health care, so we had to do it ourselves. And it worked because it was community controlled and it was self-determined.

We need a treaty. We need to sit down and negotiate how we can bring this nation forward. The only way we're going to truly mature as a nation and bring everybody together—Libs, Labs, everybody—is to negotiate a treaty. We're one of only a few Commonwealth countries in the world that don't have a treaty with their First Peoples. Come on! Let's move together, let's heal together and let's negotiate a treaty together. Let's negotiate the settlement of this country. It has never been settled and we have not ceded our sovereignty.

Question agreed to.