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Their Names Deserve to Be Heard


In recent weeks, we've seen hundreds of thousands of Australians take to the streets in the Black Lives Matter rallies, calling on a reduction in the high incarceration rates of First Nations people and an end to Black deaths in custody. Almost 100,000 people across Australian cities and towns have taken their passion, their purpose and their beliefs to the streets in a global movement proclaiming that things must not remain the same, that things have to change.

In the Federal Parliament, where I am a Senator representing the Northern Territory, I felt this movement of change too. When the Senate supported a motion supporting the rallies, the passion, the calls to reduce the high incarceration rates of First Nations people and to stop the deaths in custody across our country, it was saying: 'We know that that is a great weakness in our country. We know that that is a great weakness in our system of governance.’ No government, no political party, is immune from the fact that there is systemic failure, that a population of people who are not even quite three per cent in this country can experience such severe suffering.

On Wednesday, I stood in the Senate to give a statement on the Black Lives Matter movement and what it means for Australia. I thought about talking about the statistics: the fact that more than 400 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have died in custody since the end of the royal commission in 1991; that First Nations people are the most incarcerated in the world; or that despite comprising 2% of the general adult population, First Nations people are 28% of the prison population. In the end, I stood up and read the names and circumstances of the 31 First Nations deaths in custody between 2017 and March 2019.

Some you might have heard of, like Kumunjayi Walker, who died after he was shot at Yuendumu when two police officers went to his house to arrest him for breaches of his suspended sentence. Or Ms Day, who died 17 days after falling in the cells of Castlemaine police station after being arrested for public drunkenness. Others might be new to you, like the 17-year-old boy who drowned in Perth's Swan River while running from police after reports of boys jumping fences.

I read these names because, behind the statistics are people with families, friends and stories; and it is important to me that we put that fact on the parliamentary record. I read these names in order to pay respects to the families seeking justice for their loved ones and who want to know what happened. And read these names to remind the parliament that these are the people that hundreds of thousands of Australians walked the streets for. These are the people who are at the centre of this movement, this wave of change that is upon us. And their names deserve to be heard.

Malarndirri McCarthy is an ALP Senator representing the Northern Territory. Twitter Facebook


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