ACTION NEEDED FOR FIRST AUSTRALIANS

Ms Bird (Cunningham) (10:35): I want to start my contribution today by echoing the words of the Speaker at the start of parliament and acknowledge the First Peoples of this nation. I extend that to the people of the Dharawal nation in my region. On our TVs and across social media, the words 'I can't breathe' and the video footage of an African American man held down on the street by a police officer, calling out for his mother and saying he can't breathe, have reverberated around the world. In our country, it brought back memories of David Dungay Junior, from the Kempsey area, who was three weeks away from release from Long Bay prison and was subject to restraint that caused him to cry out, 12 times, 'I can't breathe.'

People should not die in police or prison custody, which is why there are investigations when this happens. The reality is that far too many Indigenous Australians do die—over 430 since the royal commission into black deaths in custody in 1991. As in America, there is no justice provided for these deaths.

This is why people are angry and despairing. This is why we must come together, listen to our Indigenous people and take action.

I encourage people to look at the powerful contribution by Senator Patrick Dodson in the Senate this week. Patrick, of course, was the Indigenous commissioner on the royal commission. He calls us all to action on this shameful part of our history and our present, so we can eradicate it from our future. I ask everyone to find kindness, respect and compassion for our own Australians, our Indigenous Australians, who are not experiencing anything like equality in our country: not equal treatment or outcomes in the justice system, or in education, health, employment, housing. Since the Closing The Gap commitment, we have made far too little progress, if any, on too many of these matters.

I call on the Prime Minister to resist the lure of populism that might encourage people to find ways and words that divide us, and instead to lead, to listen to our Indigenous Australians, to engage the whole nation in committing to and taking action, and to lead us to a healing. The Prime Minister has said the subject of the protests is a legitimate one, and he is better placed than anyone to provide the leadership that is needed. I was disappointed by his comments yesterday questioning the motives and making comments about slavery in Australia. I hope that from today he steps up and provides the leadership that we need in the cause of unity and action on behalf of all Australians, and particularly our First Australians.

Watch Sharon’s speech here.