opinion

Scott Morrison says Australia is "wonderful" compared to the US. The last 14 days prove otherwise.

WARNING: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander readers are advised that the following article contains names and descriptions of people who have died.

Just weeks ago, Scott Morrison called for an end to abuse being directed at Asian Australians amid the novel coronavirus pandemic. “I deplore that sort of behaviour,” he said. “It’s not on.”

Yet, this week, when questioned about the Black Lives Matter protests currently raging in the United States, he seemed far less willing to acknowledge Australia’s racist undercurrent.

The Quicky looks at Australia’s record on deaths in custody. (Post continues below.)

Referencing the death-in-custody of black man George Floyd, which served as the flashpoint for the rallies, the Prime Minister told radio station 2GB, “As upsetting and terrible that the murder that took place — and it is shocking… I just think to myself, how wonderful a country is Australia.”

It can be tempting to take that view; the ‘that kind of thing doesn’t happen here’ perspective.

It’s far more comfortable than facing up to our own shameful record on black deaths in custody — 432 cases since 2001, and zero convictions. That’s including the 2015 death of David Dungay, a Dunghutti man who, like George Floyd, died after being pinned facedown down by the authorities and desperately declaring, “I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe.”

Wonderful?

It’s far more comfortable than facing up to the fact that Australia has its own deep, painful problems with systematic racism. Even though people of colour share their lived experience of it daily, even though evidence of it is smacking us in the face.

Take this cartoon from The Australian newspaper this week in response to the US protests.

According to the artist, John Spooner, it seems black protestors are fighting for the right to burn buildings and slaughtering freedom in the process.

And here we were thinking they are fighting for freedom from racial injustice, for the right not to be killed by police a rate 2.5 times higher than white Americans.

Wonderful?

The media is certainly a major pillar propping up systematic racism in this country.

A fortnight ago, Nine News broadcast a “major investigation” into how the $30 million police brutality compensation payout given to Palm Island residents was being spent by them.

The payment was awarded by the courts in 2018 over the heavy-handed police tactics used against rioters who lashed out following the 2004 death of Mulrunji Doomadgee, an Aboriginal man who died at the Palm Island police station from internal injuries sustained after his arrest. The court found that Special Emergency Response police responding to the riots “broke into the houses of 18 families on Palm Island, with assault rifles raised, confronting unarmed men, women and children” — tactics that were deemed excessive and racially motivated.

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Yet rather than reflect on the legacy of the incident or probe police-community relations since, Nine News filed a paternalistic report that policed how the Aboriginal recipients of the class action had spent some of their “massive taxpayer-funded” cheques on “luxury items”. The Daily Mail parroted the segment with the headline: “Sports cars, motorbikes and luxury boats: How locals have blown much of the $30 million compensation given to them after the Palm Island riots on lavish goods.”

So… just to be clear, that was a “major investigation” into how a particular group of people spent money. Their own money.

Wonderful?

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And let’s consider the responses to the footage that emerged this week of an NSW Police Officer slamming an unarmed 16-year-old Aboriginal boy to the pavement by kicking his legs out from under him.

An investigation into the officer’s conduct is underway, but First Nations leaders say use of excessive force by police is a pervasive issue in the Aboriginal community.

Nathan Moran from the Metropolitan Local Aboriginal Land Council called the incident appalling.

“Twenty-nine years ago we had a Royal Commission that highlighted that this type of policing should not continue,” he told ABC. “To think that we’re in 2020 and it’s still happening tells me that we have a long way to go.”

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian used the same phrase — “long way to go” — when speaking about the incident on Wednesday, but the state’s Police Commissioner Mick Fuller took a different approach. While he stressed that “Not for one minute am I sitting here saying the officer’s actions were correct”, he then continued, “if the complaint is sustained against him, you would have to say he has had a bad day.”

The same morning, NSW Police Association secretary Pat Gooley said the constable involved had been “left to the wolves”: “People have pre-judged him and we’re not going to stand for it.”

George Newhouse, the lawyer engaged by the family of the unnamed teenager, rejected the Commissioner’s take: “This isn’t an incident that was caused by an officer having a bad day — it’s systemic.”

Wonderful?

Maybe for some.

If you have the means to do so, you can actively help the Black Lives Matter cause in Australia and the United States by donating to organisations working towards racial justice, such as the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Women’s Alliance and the Justice for David Dungay Fund to support the family of David Dungay Junior, an Aboriginal man who died in a Sydney jail. You can also donate to the Black Lives Matter Global Network here. If you can, consider regularly donating to Indigenous-run organisations and First Nations causes.
Other active ways to help include signing petitions, attending peaceful protests, listening to BIPOC, raising their voices, educating yourself on racism and privilege and ensuring we are all taking part in the conversation to dismantle systemic racism.

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