‘Get a Fire in Your Belly’ for Indigenous Rights!

‘Get a fire in your belly’ was Jill Prior’s powerful message from the Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service when she recently provided a moving presentation at the Progressive Law Network’s Legal (r)Evolution conference. It has been 20 years since the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths In Custody made its 339 recommendations to essentially jam the revolving doors of our criminal justice system. Nevertheless, two decades of collated statistical data continues to indicate a single unsettling narrative; Indigenous disadvantage is notoriously entrenched in Australian society.

Since British settlement, there is no denying that by locking out Indigenous involvement from the development of policies and laws, and the subsequent locking up of Indigenous people in our prisons, our criminal justice system has played and continues to play a significant role in locking in repressive outcomes.

Current national statistics indicate that Indigenous people are 14 times more likely to be imprisoned than non-Indigenous people.[1] Between 2000 and 2008 the imprisonment rate for Indigenous women increased by 45 per cent, and by 26.6 per cent for Indigenous men.[2] The Victorian Indigenous population is currently 11.2 times more likely to be placed in adult and juvenile prisons than non-Indigenous Victorians.[3] Nationwide, Aboriginal deaths in custody occur at a disturbing rate. For example 28 per cent of the 54 deaths in custody in 2005 involved Indigenous detainees.[4]

The problem with quantitative data is that it reduces real life stories into mere numerical conclusions. Ms Prior endeavours to elucidate these statistics by sharing two unsavoury stories which ‘people don’t want to hear’. Her stories are an ‘abomination’ because they not only serve as a snapshot of Indigenous disadvantage, but serve as a mirror reflecting our inhumanity. Indeed, as stated by Justice Betty King from the Supreme Court of Victoria, ‘As a community, we should hang our heads in shame’.[5]

I implore everyone to share the videos below, ‘take an understanding, and get a fire in your belly’ for Indigenous rights!

Ali Besiroglu

[1] Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody 20 Years On: NATSILS Call For A Fair Go, National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services Forum 2011, <online> at 14 May 2011.
[2] Steering Committee for the Review of Government Service Provision,Overcoming Indigenous Disadvantage (2009), <online> at 14 May 2011.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Chris Cuneen, ‘Reflections on Criminal Justice Policy Since the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody’ (2008) <online> at 14 May 2011.
[5] R v Kulla Kulla [2010] VSC 60 (9 April 2010) at [51].