Thousands gather at Parliament House to put Indigenous issues back on the agenda

Dominic Giannini 6 June 2020 13

Thousands gathered for the Black Lives Matter protest at Parliament House today (5 June). Photos: Michelle Kroll.

Thousands of protesters gathered at Garema Place in Canberra City this morning before marching across the Commonwealth Avenue bridge to Parliament House as Australia’s Black Lives Matter movement reinvigorates debate over Indigenous deaths in custody.

Protests and riots have paralysed the United States after the alleged murder of George Floyd at the hands of a police officer who knelt on his neck. And as the movement grows globally, parallels have been drawn in this country with the death of Indigenous man David Dungay, who repeatedly called out that he could not breathe while being restrained by prison guards in 2015.

Jodene Garstone, a proud Bardi woman from the Kimberley, said it was important to show unity when events like this take place.

“I think it is so important that every Aboriginal language group from around Australia gathers to unite as one because I know sometimes we can be a fractured people and it is so important during times like this we show unity,” she said.

Protesters were angry that of the 432 Indigenous deaths in custody since 1991, there have been no related convictions, prompting calls for greater police accountability and prosecutions for using excessive force used by officers.

“[I am out here] not only because of George Floyd, I have personally experienced police brutality,” protestor Joshua Aluko told Region Media.

“Even though it was not physical, but the truth is that if not by luck and for God I would not be alive today.

“That was when I came to Australia – my first time in Australia. When I saw [the protest] online I thought it is time to support, it is time to show empathy, it is time to make sure my voice is being heard because a lot of blacks are dying all over the world.”

Protestors drew attention to the Indigenous deaths in custody.

The protests in Canberra had the tentative support of ACT Policing who said they would not be focused on policing breaches of health directions and social distancing measures, allowing the protesters to congregate in the city and at Parliament House.

Although there was a police presence at today’s (5 June) protest, officers maintained their distance from protesters and kept a line on the Parliament House side of the road.

The attitudes of ACT Policing are in stark contrast to their NSW counterparts who are seeking an injunction in the state’s Supreme Court to stop protesters gathering in Sydney tomorrow.

Thousands of protestors gathered on the lawns of Parliament House.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison also called for protesters to not attend protests and undo the hard work Australians have done to flatten the coronavirus curve. Some protestors were wearing masks on Friday; however, the majority of those listening to speeches on the lawns of Parliament House were packed tightly around the speakers.

“Our message is very clear, that the health risks of gathering in such large numbers and the risks of people coming into close proximity are real,” Mr Morrison said.

“Let’s find a better way and another way to express these sentiments, rather than putting your own health at risk, the health of others at risk, the great gains we have been able to make as a country in recent months.

“I am not saying we do not have issues in this space that we need to deal with but the thing is we are dealing with it and we do not need to draw equivalence here … we should not be importing the things that are happening overseas to Australia.

“We should be Australians about this and deal with it our way, and we are.”

Attendees ‘taking a knee’.

However, the ACT Minister for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs Rachel Stephen-Smith directly contradicted the Prime Minister’s statement.

“Some have tried to brush this anguish and anger felt by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people away by saying we should not import things that are happening overseas here to Australia, but the reason that people are on the streets is because this is a true experience,” she said.

“Aboriginal people are the most incarcerated people on earth and this is a matter that we should all take incredibly seriously and rededicate ourselves to addressing in any way that we can.

“Particularly in Reconciliation Week, but all the time, we need to speak the truth not only of our history but of our present day.”

And reconciliation was exactly what some of the protestors were looking for.

“We have definitely got a long way to go, it is why I am here today,” said Justin Chapman who drove all the way from Merimbula to attend.

“[I’d like to see] equality and just being there for each other to show that we do care.”

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13 Responses to Thousands gather at Parliament House to put Indigenous issues back on the agenda
Capital Retro Capital Retro 8:54 pm 06 Jun 20

How about some perspective in the claims in this story from an Aboriginal academic, no less:

John Hutch John Hutch 7:23 pm 06 Jun 20

I thought that these protests were a disgraceful display of the left-wing mentality and agenda to maintain oppression and victimisation mentality of indigenous and minority groups for left-wing agenda. Maltreatment is not excusable, but my concern is that when both sides of politics are discriminatory away from the moderate centre, it does not help the case against racism, victimisation and oppression and has been exploited by the more extreme right. The protests have been imported from a foreign society and it was the left media that encouraged and exploited indigenous voices encouraging indigenous voices to be involved for neo-left wing discrimination agenda based purposes. Anyone involved should be ashamed of moving back the case against oppression and victimisation of indigenous and other minorities. It doesn’t help at all when both left and right of politics are discriminatory away from the centre.

Capital Retro Capital Retro 6:23 pm 06 Jun 20

“marginalisation by choice” being the PC term for “victim industry”?

Acton Acton 10:26 am 06 Jun 20

This is a symbolic protest on many levels. It is symbolic of the disregard for the health concerns of the wider community. It demonstrates the risky behaviour engaged in by the indigenous community that so often results in poor health and social outcomes. It puts at risk the vulnerable elders. In other states it shows disrespect for the law and the rules which the rest of society has been expected to respect. This protest symbolises marginalisation by choice, contemptuous of consequences.

chewy14 chewy14 8:46 pm 05 Jun 20

I really wish that people would stop quoting the 400+ number of deaths in custody as if it means anything or signifies some sort of systemic police brutality or injustice.

That number is all deaths, it includes deaths from natural causes, suicides, drug and alcohol related deaths etc, etc.

Its not even remotely relevant to the context that these protesters are using it in. Apparently data, statistics and evidence are not their strong point. The “vibe” is all that matters.

    I am a Rabbit™ I am a Rabbit™ 9:21 am 06 Jun 20

    ABS stats also show that individuals of Indigenous background are less likely to die in custody than non-indigenous individuals. The Guardian had to invent their own database of “deaths i n custody” because the official stats didn’t fit their narrative.

    Robert Robert 9:22 am 06 Jun 20

    Those numbers reflect the numbers of indigenous people in our jails. Surely we need to do something about aboriginal people being the most incarcerated in the world.

    chewy14 chewy14 9:50 am 06 Jun 20

    Yes we do. The first part of that would, however be to admit that Indigenous people commit crimes at rates many times that of people from other racial backgrounds.

    But this isn’t because Indigenous people are inherently more likely to be criminals or (as these protesters would likely claim) because of systemic racism against them.

    It’s far more entwined with social status, employment and educational outcomes. All of which will never improve to the levels of other Australians whilst we continue to treat Indigenous Australians as if they were fundamentally different to the rest of us.

    Capital Retro Capital Retro 9:56 am 06 Jun 20

    When you say “we”, who exactly do you mean? How about you lead by example and tell us what you would do because many before you have tried and failed.

    Spiral Spiral 3:32 pm 06 Jun 20

    Does anyone have accurate recent stats on how bad the problem really is: This article:

    Claims: >>An Australian Government publication, The Health of Australia’s Prisoners: 2015, states: “Indigenous Australians were no more likely to die in custody than non-Indigenous Australians” and “With just over one-quarter (27 per cent) of prisoners in custody being Indigenous, and 17 per cent of deaths in custody being Indigenous, Indigenous prisoners were under-represented.”<<

    That is 5 years ago. What do more recent figures show?

    Spiral Spiral 5:25 am 08 Jun 20

    The figures must be around.

    Many thousands of people went out to protest, surely the majority are well informed on the issue the are marching about.

    Spiral Spiral 8:17 am 08 Jun 20

    The best I can find is this report: which states that since around 2004, the probability of a person who is in custody dying is lower for indigenous people than for non-indigenous people.

    But there should be more recent data available somewhere.

    chewy14 chewy14 2:47 pm 08 Jun 20

    Spiral, there isn’t any more recent data, they usually release data on this type of stuff a few years behind.

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