Article by Karen Michelmore for NITV The Point
NITV’s The Point gathered experts from community organisations and peak advocacy groups to ask their questions to the major political parties in a prime time election special.
Real-time reporting for all deaths in custody, a First Nations domestic violence strategy, and increasing the age of criminal responsibility would be priorities in a Labor government if elected on Saturday, Indigenous Affairs spokeswoman Linda Burney says.
Linda Burney made the promises during an hour-long election forum, hosted by NITV’s The Point program, before a studio audience of First Nations experts, community groups and advocates.
The Green’s Indigenous Affairs spokeswoman Senator Lidia Thorpe was also on the panel and promised, if The Greens hold the balance of power in a new government, victims of the collapse of Youpla would be compensated, an Ombudsman for police created, and a million new homes would be built to help fix the housing crisis.
The Coalition declined the invitation to attend in person or remotely.
Issues of importance to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander voters have been largely invisible in the six-week election campaign.
Here are what Labor’s Linda Burney and The Greens’ Lidia Thorpe told the forum.
Deaths in Custody
Dhadjowa Foundation chairman Jungaji Brady, who lost his aunty two years ago in a prison watchhouse, said deaths in custody was an epidemic.
Labor’s Linda Burney said the recommendations of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths In Custody had been “cherry picked at best” in terms of its implementation.
Labor would invest $79 million into communities for justice reinvestment, and $13 million into Aboriginal legal services to help families to better participate in coronial investigations.
There would also be real-time reporting of all deaths in custody.
“We want to see a unit set up within the federal attorney general’s department to oversee real reporting times of all deaths in custody,” Ms Burney told the panel.
The Greens’ Lidia Thorpe said the government needed to invest in communities instead of prisons, with independent oversight of the police.
“We need a Police Ombudsman that can actually have some power,” Ms Thorpe said.
“And we also need to implement OPCAT which is the Optional Protocol against the Convention Against Torture, because there’s a lot of people our people being tortured in prisons and that will allow another mechanism to go into the prison and see what’s going on.”
Amanda Cameron from Mob Strong said the organisation had fielded hundreds of calls from people impacted by the collapse of funeral insurer Youpla.
She said 32,000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people had lost their funeral benefits.
Labor’s Linda Burney said she had raised the issue with Treasurer Josh Frydenberg, and also with Labor’s Superannuation spokesman Stephen Jones.
“It is an attack on culture,” she said.
“It is reprehensible behavior, and it is something that has got to be resolved.”
Lidia Thorpe from The Greens said the party had committed $20 million to help compensate victims of the collapse.
“This can happen quite easily with a stroke of the pen – $20 million,” she said.
“We’ve already called on the government and we will support those families all the way to access those funds.”
New figures show one in three houses in remote Aboriginal communities are not up to an acceptable standard.
Labor’s Linda Burney said fixing Aboriginal housing is a key priority.
“If we don’t fix up housing, forget the rest,” she said.
“If you haven’t got a decent roof over your head with running water and a safe place to be then health, education, employment, wellbeing, children’s safety, domestic violence, all of those issues suffer.“
She said Labor would renegotiate the Northern Territory housing agreement, and commit $200 million to upgrading outstations in the Northern Territory. A further $200 million would be spent on repairs and maintenance on housing across Australia.
Meanwhile, Lidia Thorpe said The Greens would build a million new homes and provide $7 billion in capital grants over 10 years to improve existing public housing.
“We need to stop government selling off public housing, and we need to invest in fixing what we already have, but also building more,” she said.
Cultural Heritage Protection
It’s been two years since Rio Tinto’s destruction of ancient rock shelters at Juukan Gorge in the Pilbara focused the international spotlight on cultural heritage protection.
Labor’s Linda Burney said new laws would need to set minimum standards on cultural heritage protection.
“States and territories have an enormous role to play in terms of cultural heritage protection, but it is our view that there should be a standalone piece of cultural heritage legislation that would have minimum standards in relation to the responsibility of state and territory governments,” she said.
Lidia Thorpe said The Greens was committed to implementing the recommendations of the parliamentary inquiry in the Juukan Gorge destruction.
“We also commit to strengthening those cultural heritage laws. They’re outdated and it’s it they favor the mining companies and not the people.”
Shirleen Campbell from Tangentyere Women’s Safety Group said the NT had some of the highest rates of family and domestic violence in Australia, but current funding models aren’t working. She said a needs-based system was needed instead of a population-based model.
Labor’s Linda Burney agreed.
“There needs to be a very close look at the funding model,” she said.
She said both Labor and The Greens were committed to having a standalone First Nations domestic violence strategy.
Ms Burney also wanted a greater focus on the role of men, and on the permanent injuries First Nations women are left with.
Lidia Thorpe said The Greens had committed $12 billion over 12 years to the issue of family violence, as well as ensuring women are “self-determining the plan ourselves”.
“We need action, not words. We need money in these communities, for our people to self determine their own destiny,” she said.
“We have the solutions. We just need the resources to do it, not the rhetoric.”
Uluru Statement from the Heart
Linda Burney said Labor embraces the Uluru Statement in full, including a referendum in its first term, if elected.
“I have absolutely no doubt that the Australian people were well ahead of some politicians on this issue, and the sense of fairness, the sense of the elegance and the generosity of the Uluru invitation is not lost on the Australian people,” she said.
“We’re also committed to the Makarrata Commission to oversee a national process of treaty making and agreement-making as well as a national process of truth telling.”
Lidia Thorpe said The Greens wanted to see the detail of any referendum proposal first.
“We want to make sure that whatever goes forward, that we have full, free prior consent and that we go to our First Nations Greens around the country and ensure that they are happy with the question and the process.
“We’re not going to stand in the way of progress.
“Our commitment, however, is $250 million towards a process of truth-telling, and justice and treaty-making.
“We see the priority at the moment is this country doesn’t know the true history of itself. So we see that as a priority.”
Raise the Age
Linda Burney said Labor would raise the age of criminal responsibility above 10, but would not commit to an age yet.
“If Labor is afforded government will provide federal leadership to states and territories on this issue,” she said.
Lidia Thorpe said The Greens were 100 per cent behind raising the age of criminal responsibility.
“When we are in balance of power, we will push the next government to make it happen, not talk about it anymore,” she said.
“It needs to happen in the next parliament. It’s urgent.”