While gradual steps are being taken to end the racist attitudes prevalent in Australia, more still needs to be done, writes Dermot Daley.
FOR TOO LONG, we have been ignoring the ugly racism that condemns our First Nations people to the lowest rung on the social ladder. Ever since James Cook set foot on Australian soil at Botany Bay in April 1770, the Aborigines have been overrun by successive waves of invaders.
From Cook to disenfranchised convicts; the First Fleet free settlers abandoning the chaos of the Industrial Age; impoverished English and Irish workers escaping famine; adventurers looking for gold; those displaced from devastated villages in Europe after the two World Wars; Vietnamese fleeing real repercussions of the imaginary domino effect; the young men of the Middle East escaping destiny as cannon fodder in a war of idealism manufactured by multinational corporations and now to modern-day Chinese and Indians stretching outside the most populous countries on Earth.
All of these immigrants (except for humanitarian refugees arriving by boat after a prescribed date) have taken it as their right to be granted basic freedoms denied to the Aborigines who, by and large, appear doomed by law to the bottom of the pecking order.
We can address this if we want; if we demand it of our lawmakers.
We witnessed and loved the firefighters for their professionalism and their selflessness during the extreme fires in the summer of 2019/20; we witnessed and loved the frontline healthcare professionals for their commitment to duty when they faced the risk brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic and we witnessed and loved the dedication and resourcefulness of teachers when social containment to address the pandemic threatened the development of our next generation.
And just as we acknowledge this, we can expect equivalent professionalism of our law enforcers, our police. We can expect that they act without fear or favour to honour the law they have sworn to uphold. When a police officer ignores a person’s plea for their life, or when an armed officer of the law trips and throws an unarmed adolescent to the ground, it is the duty of any other police officer in attendance to intervene and restrain the offending officer.
We can demand that our federal lawmakers and our politicians step up to fully ensure that such practices cease by enacting a proper, formal “recognition and reconciliation” treaty with the Indigenous people of Australia.
It has been refreshing to see the spirit of co-operation between Liberal and Labor and between federal and state when managing the very real threat of major loss of life that may have occurred if the COVID-19 coronavirus had swept through Australia unchecked.
We witnessed the prime minister adopting a fiscal policy aimed at protecting the strategic health of the community, in a similar strategy to that adopted by his political opponents when Australia was faced with the Global Financial Crash of 2008.
This time there was no politicking, just the sensible will to steer the nation through the crisis.
In the Black Lives Matter protests of June 2020, the point was driven home that there have been more than 430 deaths of Aborigines in custody since the Coronial Inquest of 1991, and that not one of these deaths has resulted in a perpetrator being held to account.
I am ashamed to see that Australia is still such a racist state. We can do so much better.
There are some reactionaries in this society who maintain that these victims contributed to their demise through anti-social behaviours such as public drunkenness or drug intoxication or unpaid parking fines or petty theft. They do not want to consider that these behaviours are likely to be a manifestation of entrenched transgenerational alienation and dispossession and abuse.
There has been much written about the sociology of racism by better-qualified commentators than I, but it seems that the largely unheard and invisible mothers and grandmothers of those who die in such ignominious circumstances are also victims and this is not getting the attention it deserves.
Watching Q&A on the ABC on 8 June, the global outrage at the murder of George Floyd in Minnesota and his resonating appeal of “I can’t breathe” was addressed. I was disappointed to note that neither the host nor any of the panel saw to acknowledge that the mother of David Dungay, present in the restricted audience as a star questioner, was dramatically forced to relive the pain of hearing on TV the very same words as those uttered by her son as he was dying in the hands of warders in Long Bay Gaol five years ago.
Not only are young men being murdered without consequence, but mothers of Black men in western countries are fearful that their beautiful, playful sons will grow into men and then be picked off the street by police just for being Black and, in the hands of those police officers whose job is to serve and protect, be reshaped into angry men who have no power other than to turn on other disempowered people, at times the next generation of wives and mothers.
Australia can forge a treaty to end this now. Those representatives who came together at Uluru in 2017 to create the Statement from the Heart seem to be eminently qualified to set the terms for a fair and formal treaty to be ratified by the Australian Parliament. It's time to wake up.
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