Constitutional reform can combat brutality

The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner says a constitutionally-enshrined voice to parliament can address indigenous “powerlessness” that manifests itself in youth justice scandals.


In a speech on Friday to the Garma Festival by June Oscar, the first Aboriginal woman appointed to the role at the Australian Human Rights Commission, both sides of politics will be urged to back an indigenous advisory body.

Ms Oscar, who took up the role with the national human rights monitoring body in April, says such structural change may prevent the next generation from enduring the “brutality, injustice (and) intolerance” that indigenous children face today.

Ms Oscar cites last week’s nationwide protests following the acquittal of a man who ran over Aboriginal boy Elijah Doughty in Western Australia, and the tear-gassing of former Northern Territory juvenile inmate Dylan Voller.

“Our kids know the odds that they are up against. They know the stories of young Elijah from Kalgoorlie and Dylan Voller,” Ms Oscar says.

“We feel the same immense pain and loss of what happens to our people each time they die in custody, are locked up for unpaid fines, and each time that the justice served up by our system seems so grossly inadequate.”

She laments the establishment of “yet another inquiry” in response to the Don Dale Detention Centre abuses, saying little progress has stemmed from royal commissions into black deaths in custody and the stolen generation.

“The fact that we sit here decades later with little learned and little changed is a hard fact for our peoples to swallow,” Ms Oscar says.

Ongoing deaths, mistreatment and government inaction only feed an existing discontent, while NT indigenous communities are still reeling from the intervention which began a decade ago, she says.

However bold constitutional reform could prevent such discriminatory government policies from occurring again, while laying a path to reconciliation.

“An indigenous voice means government walking the talk on indigenous disadvantage,” Ms Oscar says.

“The ground has shifted, and our politicians must shift too.”

Last week Ms Oscar led 19 other senior Aboriginal figures in backing the final report recommendations of the Referendum Council, including Professor Tom Calma, Noel Pearson, Pat Anderson, Roy Ah-See, Thomas Mayor and Jackie Huggins.