Tuesday, 30 November 2021
OX () (): I rise today to inform the Senate about an issue that devastates the lives of those that are broken by it—that is, missing and murdered First Nations women in Australia. During my first speech back in October, I announced I would shine the light on a very dark place and call for a national inquiry into the missing and murdered First Nations Australian women. I am humbled and honoured that my colleagues in this place supported me in establishing that inquiry last week. I hope this inquiry will address the conscious and unconscious bias that exists so that we can save lives and see justice.
While many of you may have only considered this issue since last week, this has been 20 years in the making for me to be here. As a former police officer in Kalgoorlie, I saw firsthand how differently these cases were handled between First Nations and non-First Nations people and how they were resourced and investigated. It is also very personal for me. My cousin was murdered many years ago and, for our family, there were many issues we experienced in the legal system that did not provide justice for us and for the loss of her life.
About two years ago, I worked with then ABC journalist Sarah Collard, who is now reporting for SBS in this building, on a piece around 76 women who we knew of who had been murdered or had gone missing. The common theme for many of the families left behind is: why do they go unnoticed; why are these cases continually unsolved; and why don't they take these cases seriously?
This inquiry would be similar to the one that the first nations Canadian brothers and sisters have that is into the unacceptable rates of deaths of women. On my trip to Canada in 2018, I met with the Native Women's Association in Ottawa. During this meeting, first nations women told me of the 582 cases, mostly via media articles, that they provided to their federal government to trigger their inquiry. I heard from them directly the stories of families running fundraising activities to raise money for boats. Yes, that's right, for boats. The boats were used to go into the rivers to search for these women—and, yes, you heard me right. The families were doing this, because absolutely no-one was looking for these women. One of the key issues raised in the Canadian inquiry was the response and investigation by police into these cases, with some appalling examples of the justification not to conduct inquiries and investigations into the same level of other missing and murdered Canadian people.
Here in Australia, we don't even know the real figures. The families hold the names, the faces, the stories and the heartbreak. But we as a collective community have no idea exactly how many First Nations women across Australia are missing and murdered. In order for us to understand the causes, triggers and contexts, we have to first understand who, where, when, what and why. The data that is collected is ad hoc, disjointed, and provides no coherent story of why these cases are not investigated with the same level of attention and detail by police into the circumstances of how these women died or where they went to. These circumstances provide healing and true justice and a level of detail that the communities and the families deserve.
I wish to thank my Greens colleagues for their support in establishing this vital inquiry, particularly my friend and colleague Senator Lidia Thorpe, who told her own personal story in this place and co-signed the motion alongside me. I also want to acknowledge Senators Ruston, McCarthy, McAllister, Payne, Dodson and Lambie for also co-signing this motion. It shows that we can come together in this place and make real change on issues that deserve our compassionate attention to give families left behind a voice that will be heard. This is the first step in a long road for First Nations people, and I'm very proud to be here at the beginning to save lives.