06 | 28
2011

The racism within: when the law fails Indigenous Australians, should they claim asylum?

Categories: Discrimination/Racism, Indigenous People, Law, Racism, Rule of Law

by: Bakchos
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Blak and Black has been following the program “Go back where you came from” on SBS.

Anyone in Australia watching the trending topics on Twitter tonight and eagerly last week would have been hard pressed to miss the hashtag #gobacksbs. Having missed the first program on Monday due to another commitment, I caught up the next two nights, joining in the Twitter exchanges online. Human rights, is a highly emotive topic; there were few dry eyes in the virtual house; those that were dry could only be described as heartless.

Starting in the homes of refugees who have resettled in Australia, the six participants progressed through a refugee emigration process, only in reverse. In 25 days, they moved from Australian suburbia to a Malaysian detention centre, UN refugee camp in the Congo or Jordan and finally, back to the hells of the Democratic Republic of Congo or Iraq. All bar one participant, Raquel, went all the way back. This pale skinned, dark haired, blue-eyed girl who was a self professed racist, who did not like the colour of black people’s skin, showed the greatest growth even if she was too fearful to go the Congo. Given that 1000 rapes occur per day there, I can’t condemn her. She showed amazing personal growth and empathy throughout the program.

Yet, for all the outcry about the return of illegal immigrants to Australia and the sudden outpouring of empathy due to Go Back Where You Came From, Australians still prefer to look beyond their own borders to the problems of others rather than face what stares them in the face in their own backyard. To claim Aboriginal heritage in Australia can be as much curse as a source of ancestral pride. Subjected to unequal treatment since the arrival of the First Fleet, Indigenous Australians are still derided and objectified in contemporary discussions. The tourist dollar courts Aboriginal Australia and the miners want to harvest on Native Title. We want to provide them with jobs and education, but still the criminal justice system refuses to offer them the same protections and rights as the majority of the silent population.

Australia’s Aborigines make up a ridiculously disproportionate volume of the jail statistics.

Incarceration rates for women generally have increased more rapidly than for men and the increase in imprisonment of Indigenous women has been much greater over the period compared with non-Indigenous women. The Indigenous female imprisonment rate has increased by 34 % between 2002 and 2006 while the imprisonment rate for Indigenous men has increased by 22%.

Indigenous women are also 23 times more likely to be imprisoned than non-Indigenous women while Indigenous men are 16 times more likely to be imprisoned than non-Indigenous men.

(A statistical overview of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in Australia. HREOC, 2008)

If you are the most senior Aboriginal bank executive in Australia, if you have worked and studied to achieve in a modern westernised Australia, it comes to nought when the police refuse to take a statement, let alone investigate a sexual assault made against you in broad daylight, witnessed by three independent non-Indigenous people. If the Federal Government is unable or unwilling to direct its own law enforcement agencies to investigate such an assault, how can it be expected to protect the women in the Northern Territory if the very same agency is to be the enforcer?

When the very agency that is supposed to protect all Australians is also the one that threatens the life of a three year old child of an Indigenous man, refuses to investigate corruption in the ACT Department of Treasury and ignores the manipulation of documents in the racist attack on the former Commissioner for ACT Revenue, how can they be trusted to protect the rest of the Indigenous citizens of this country?

When an entire organization turns a blind eye to these types of injustices, it can only be considered institutionalised racism. It’s the sort of thing that leads to the manipulation of evidence, stacking of court cases and the breakdown of the rule of law. It is the sort of thing that, over time, erodes our freedoms until such time as the majority realise that they are living in the overbearing shadow of Big Brother and by then, it may be too late to reverse the situation. The situation faced by the Indigenous people from whom Bakchos collects his statements are suffering discrimination that, in a country such as Syria, Iraq, the Congo or Timor would be considered an abuse of human rights. For some of these people, their personal situation is perhaps even as dire and as open to ongoing abuse as that of the asylum seekers and refugees who clamour to find safe havens in places such as Australia.

I want to be able to ask Raquel if her change of opinion about African blacks extends to Australia’s Aborigines? If the blacks she was to talk with were her own countrymen, who were to tell her of how their families were broken up by the policies that created the Stolen Generations, how the police treat their complaints with contempt (Bowraville: Unfinished Business, Four Corners) or are the perpetrators of the abuse themselves (Corruption and Racism in the Australian Federal Police and the death of Australia’s democracy), what would she think about the human rights issues within the borders of her own country? If her bikie boyfriend was to be targeted for membership of the so-called “Outlaw” bikie rules on a ride across one of the states, would she empathise a little more with the marginalised in our own country? I hope that she has learned enough to realise when confronted by her own black compatriots, that the issues are not that dissimilar.

How many of the rest of middle class Australia are willing to look so closely at the treatment of the Indigenous people in their own backyards?

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