HON ALISON XAMON (North Metropolitan) [9.48 pm]: I rise because I feel that I cannot not speak about the reckoning that is currently occurring in the United States and the global impact that we are starting to see. The murder of George Floyd has sparked an outpouring of outrage about the treatment of black Americans by police. In our own country, we are seeing that Australians are starting to speak out in solidarity, and in response to the situation within our own country and communities. I think it is important to note that people are very clearly saying that this is not only about standing in solidarity with the US and that Australia is very much a part of this. I know that some people think that it is not our fight, but I am afraid that I disagree. I think it has become an issue of global import that means it is necessary for people to start speaking out. In Australia, and Western Australia in particular, we incarcerate our First Nation people at the highest rate of anywhere in the world. That is just a shame for us; it is something that we should feel great shame over. Of course, Aboriginal people make up only three per cent of our population, yet they make up 38 per cent of people in our prisons. Aboriginal children and young people are 26 times more likely to be detained than cautioned, and they make up 70 per cent of the population of young people and children in our youth justice detention population. In WA, First Nation people are more than three times more likely to be picked up by police for speeding than by a camera, and Aboriginal women make up 64 per cent of those who are imprisoned for fine default.

An investigation was undertaken by The Guardian Australia, and we are now looking at 437 Aboriginal deaths in custody since the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody way back in 1991, when the final report was delivered. That number includes the death of a 40-year-old Aboriginal man in Acacia Prison only last week. I understand that also a woman from Bandyup Women’s Prison is in hospital tonight in critical care. No-one has ever been convicted of these 437 deaths. These are all pretty compelling reasons for people in Australia to be standing up and demanding change. The Guardian went on to analyse the publicly available information on those 437 deaths and found that agencies such as police watch houses, prisons and hospitals failed to follow all of their own procedures in 41 per cent of those cases. In 38 per cent of deaths, medical care was required at some point but it was never given. We also know that mental health and cognitive impairment were a factor in about 42 per cent of the deaths, but in only around half of those cases did the individuals in question even get anything close to the help they needed. These are clearly failings that urgently need to be addressed.

A recent study with 11 000 participants conducted by the Australian National University found that 75 per cent of Australians hold unconscious bias against Aboriginal people, and quite frankly I am surprised it is that low. I would have thought it would have been higher. Unconscious bias may not sound particularly heinous, but unconscious bias leads to widespread racism. We also know, thanks to recent findings in both the Victorian and New South Wales Coroners Courts, that unconscious bias can kill. There was a recent landmark decision from the inquest into the death of a Yorta Yorta woman, Tanya Day. Victoria’s coroner found that unconscious bias and racism played a part in her death, and Victoria Police did not treat Tanya humanely or even with dignity. Those findings are particularly disturbing when we realise how heartbreakingly similar they are to the New South Wales coroner’s findings last year into the death of Naomi Williams. Ms Williams was a pregnant 27-year-old Wiradjuri woman who died of sepsis in hospital in regional New South Wales in 2016. Ms Williams was a NAIDOC award-winning disability worker. She had attended the hospital 18 times in the seven months before her death complaining of pain, vomiting and nausea, and she had been discharged the last time just 15 hours before her death. The coroner found that a simple dose of antibiotics could have saved her life. Of course, we are all familiar with the systemic racism displayed in the treatment of Ms Dhu by both police and hospital staff, and I anticipate that in debate over the next couple of days, we will be revisiting the horror of the circumstances of her death.

There is clearly a lot going wrong in Australia, and we need to be absolutely aware of it. To address the wrongs, we first have to acknowledge and understand them. I encourage members to watch what I think was a very important performance by Meyne Wyatt on Q+A last night. It was a very powerful display of the impact of racism and unconscious bias on this man’s life, from his work as an Aboriginal actor to his friendships and even his day-to-day experiences just trying to get on with his life. I think it was a very important message.

I choose to see the reckoning currently happening within the USA, Australia and other countries as an opportunity. I think it is an opportunity to take what has been a history of despair and horror and, indeed, the justifiable anger we feel at the treatment of Aboriginal Western Australians, and channel them into a demand for change. I am acutely aware of my white privilege as I stand here, and I want to use that privilege to try to be the best ally I can be, to try to be a better ally. I choose to use it to raise issues such as our appalling rate of Aboriginal child suicide and the lack of health and mental health services within our prisons. I choose to use it to echo calls to raise the age of criminal responsibility and to call for the government to urgently address foetal alcohol spectrum disorder; to invest in supporting families to stay together and to keep kids out of child protection; to invest in justice reinvestment and diverting people from the criminal justice system; and to provide better, culturally safe, education, health and mental health care. I call on government to be better at listening to Aboriginal communities and working with them to support their self-determination.

I absolutely agree with the sentiment that if we choose not to be an active part of the solution, quite frankly, we are part of the problem and we must all play our part in the work to stop Aboriginal people dying in such appallingly disproportionate numbers because—I want to be very clear—black lives matter and Aboriginal lives matter.


Parliamentary Type: