Hawke Centre speech, University of Adelaide – “How would you like to be me? Forum”
Sorry Day speech, Perth
Indigenous disadvantage spending – SBS News
Disturbing rate of imprisonment – ABC 7:30 Report
Homeland communities speech – Canberra
Generations yet to be born will be lost to the prison system & to suicide
December 30th, 2015
Generations of children are growing up without any parenting, set adrift by the impoverishment that led their parents to low level offending, by a shallow system bent on retribution. Many Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander children are growing up with at least one parent in jail. These children are hit by the trauma, but their trauma is multiple, composite and often escalates to complex trauma. They are intersected by disadvantage, dysfunction and this translates toxically as racism.
American researchers lament the plight of African American children with a parent in jail. Nearly one per cent of the American population is incarcerated, with the poor filling the prisons. America is a nation with a ruthless bent to lock away its poorest. It is estimated that one in fifteen African American children have a parent lost in the penal estate. However Australia per capita is wealthier than America. Australia in general is nowhere near as punishing of its poorest with the exception of the descendants of its First Peoples, the cultures of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islanders. From a racialised lens, Western Australia jails its Aboriginal adult males at the world’s highest rate. One in 13 of the State’s Aboriginal adult males are in prison. Western Australia, the Northern Territory and South Australia have abominable jail rates when stood alone to Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander peoples.
What does this mean to the children? It means they are without a parent while at the same time dealing with the drudgery of poverty. It means many of them will finish up without an education, finish up in prison. Many will die young – substance abusing, suicide. It is obvious that there is an elevated risk of high levels of psychological distresses, acute depression, suicidal ideation if someone’s mum or dad, or both, are in prison.
The most recent Australian Bureau of Statistic’s Census reported that only 14 per cent of prison entrants had completed a Year 12 education. Only 40 per cent had got past Year 9. This speaks volumes. What are our governments doing about this? Next-to-nothing… The Arnhem community of Gunbalanya scored its first two female high school graduates in December 2013. The Northern Territory competes with the Americans on the jail rates – both have incarcerated nearly one per cent of their populations. But with the Northern Territory, 86 per cent of the prison population is comprised by Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander peoples. The Juvenile Detention population is 98 per cent Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander youth. The generational poverty can be significantly reduced if prisons are transformed – to bastions of education, opportunity, hope.
For now prisons are dungeons.
Between one in six to one in ten Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander people living today have been to jail. This horrific statistical narrative has decimated Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander society. Continually, they’ve got to dip into ‘resilience’ to carry on but the narratives of premature deaths, suicides are telling a different tale. Families are devastated, psychosocially, psychologically, psychiatrically. It does not pay to be Aboriginal in this nation, one that does not understand its common humanity. It is estimated that one in 15 African American children have a parent in prison. I estimate that at least one in 8 to one in 10 Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander children have a parent in prison. As the incarceration rates of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander peoples increase – without fail every year for the last two decades – so too have the child removals, so too have the rates of shattered families and the collective culmination of high levels of psychological distresses in communities, particularly in the remote (homelands). Concomitantly, tragically, so too have the child and youth suicides. In the last ten weeks I have responded to a dozen young suicides – in the approach to the Christmas stretch there are elevated risks for struggling families, for families who have lost a loved one recently, for families with a loved one in jail. It breaks my heart; young people taking their lives in the lead up to Christmas or in the lead up to a birthday. In one community three young souls were buried next to each other, in a row; three funerals in five days. I attended. The youth suicides continue.
Generations of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander youth will continue to be lost unless we address racialised inequalities. Generations of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander youth will continue to be lost unless we transform prisons. Firstly, the majority of poverty related crimes, the low level offenders, should not be in jail. But if jails must be persisted with then we need to transform them to bastions of healing, psychosocial rebuilding, to mentoring people through to positive pathways, to education, to opportunities. It is not hard at all. It is only the will to do this that need be sought. I know first-hand that you can turn around lives, change lives, improve the lot of others. I have visited prisons, talked to prisoners, brought many of them into university education and other opportunities. None of those whom graduated from university went back to jail. We need to ensure a fair society, not this degradingly unequal, classist and racist society.
Generations yet to be born face being lost to everyone unless we do in the now what should long ago have been done. Prisons should not continue as dungeons of despair, as chambers of torture. Communities cannot be allowed to continue in racialised poverties. Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander communities must be provided with the full suite of services and opportunities equivalent to non-Aboriginal communities. True multiculturalism means that everyone should be allowed opportunity and the inalienable natural right to navigate their cultural settings without impost.
I reported in this article that one in every 13 of Western Australia’s Aboriginal adults are in jail. Well, I have been to communities in Western Australia and the Northern Territory where the sorry narrative is even worse. I have been to communities where one in six, one in seven, one in eight of all the males aged 20 to 40 are in jail. In small remote homeland communities of say 300, 400, 500 residents the impacts are visibly pronounced. The communities mourn, grieve the loss of fathers to the prison system. The spouses, the children grieve. Many fathers never return, some die in jail or soon after their release. Others come back in a worse state than when they were carted off to prison. Families and communities are further traumatised. The children are tormented. The next generation destined to more suffering. The unborn generations will feel the loss. It is not just that those left behind become economically poorer, worse is that they become emotionally poorer.
Being without a father in a toxically racist society intersected by disadvantage is often an overwhelming problem but to cripplingly compound problems more mothers too are finishing in prison. The grandmothers and grandfathers do what they can but the burden is growing. Then there is the rise of families with two, three and four family members in prison or who have done prison time. This is doing in all hope. The grief is too much and far too many turn to demons, alcohol and drugs.
Children need their father and mother. The system has to be reset to assist their parents. And everything possible needs to be done to score the children an education, a quality one. Education has proven again and again to radically reduce offending.
Declaration of impartiality conflict – Gerry Georgatos is a suicide prevention researcher and participatory in several national suicide prevention projects.
Lifeline’s 24-hour hotline, 13 11 14
Crisis Support and Suicide Prevention Beyond Blue – 1300 22 4636
Related articles by Gerry Georgatos
Australia’s overall prison rate of 151 prisoners per 100,000 population ranks 98th of the world’s 222 ranked nations. Australia is an affluent nation, the world’s 12th largest economy. However standalone Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islanders and compare their prison rate against the world’s national prison rates and they would have the world’s highest, just higher than the Seychelles which incarcerates at 799 per 100,000. The United States of America is second ranked at 698 per 100,000. However in Western Australia, First Nations peoples are incarcerated at more than 3,700 per 100,000. In Western Australia, one in 13 of all Aboriginal adult males is in prison.
No less than one in 10 and up to one in 6 Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islanders living has been to jail.
Forgiveness is not an act of mercy but of empathy, compassion, of virtue. According to vast bodies of research forgiveness has many benefits, outstripping negatives and risks. Forgiveness strengthens families, communities, societies. The most significant finding is the obvious, that forgiveness makes us happier. Forgiveness improves the health of people and communities. Forgiveness sustains relationships. Forgiveness builds and rebuilds lives. Forgiveness connects people, and what better medium for this than through kindness.
We should be abominated by a society that incarcerates the poorest of the poor, the sickest of the unwell, that effectively punishes minorities because assimilation wants them to give up their cultural being. We should be abominated by this nation where at least one in 10 and up to one in 6 of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islanders living have been to jail. This horrific statistical narrative should have long ago galvanised the nation to redress the intolerable racialised inequalities, the economic inequalities, the discrimination.
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) 86 per cent of prisoners did not complete Year 12. More than 30 per cent did not get past Year 9.
The total number of suicides among Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander children, for all children in fact, appears low. The registered suicides are probably two to four times higher depending on the State and Territory jurisdiction. In some States and Territories the coroner is unlikely to provide a determination of ‘suicide’ to a child aged 13 years and less because of the presumption that children below that age are not capable of ‘forming’ an adequate understanding of ‘suicide’. Therefore some coroners provide an ‘undetermined intent’ finding or an ‘external cause’ finding.
Stop examining the oppressed, instead examine the oppressor – this will do in racism & marginalisation
July 15th, 2015
Oppression is the historical signature piece of the Australia we have known since the late 18th century, since the arrival of the tall ships. However oppression remains contemporaneous. The viciously cruel rod of oppression has delivered narratives of human misery and suffering, the moral abomination of racism. For more than a century there has been an increasing examination of the oppressed but very little examination of the oppressor. The often exploitative preoccupation to study and examine the oppressed while refusing to examine and bring to account the oppressor ensures oppression continues.
Last year, on a national television program one of this continent’s most revered and wisdom laden statespersons, Arrernte Amatjere Elder, Rosalie Kunoth-Monks most eloquently stated what should have been heard long ago by the Australian nation – “I am not the problem.”
The problem is never the oppressed despite what many racists would like us to think, despite what far too many in the media write, despite what some historians want us to think, despite the prejudices and stereotypes the majority of parliamentarians wallow within, despite the industry of researchers and so-called experts, of whom many are shameless profiteers. The problem is always the oppressor. The problem cannot be and should never be the victim.
The victim may need healing, trauma counselling, support and reparations but the actual examining of why and how any problem has occurred must focus on the perpetrator, on the oppressor.
This is why two of my Masters and my doctoral research focused on racism. This is why I am a prolific writer about systemic issues, about the oppressor, about the racism. I am often hounded by the naysayers but I will never diminish the oppressed by writing predominately about them, for they are not the problem, they are not at fault and they are not the cesspool of wrongs that delivered the injustices, the damage and the trauma.
I do not want, and have never wanted to hold the oppressors hostage to all their faults, of their oppressive and exploitative behaviours, of their racism, but rather in the name of humanity, in the name of everyone, to free them from their oppressive behaviours, from their ignorance and from their despatching of racism. There is a hostile denial in this nation by the majority of the population of the racism that stoutly continues to stain the national conscience dumbing down consciousness. Racism has many veils and layers and unless we move away from the obsession to only examine the oppressed hence we will continue to go nowhere fast – and the narratives of human misery and suffering will continue to be rolled out, ruining more families and communities, destroying more lives, taking more lives.
Australia has the widest divide between the descendants of its First Peoples and the rest of the population. Yet, Australia is the world’s 12th largest economy, one of the world’s wealthiest nations per capita and boasts the world’s highest median wages. So how is it that half of the Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander population while comprising so little of the Australian population lives impoverished, with the majority marginalised in third-world-akin shanties?
How is it possible that non-Aboriginal Australia enjoys social infrastructure that Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander homelands and their communities do not? The extreme poverty has been induced and it is perpetuated by one government after another. The racism is Australian made. This extreme poverty is racialised and this is an indisputable given. Racialisaton is racism.
How is it possible that in this affluent nation there is hidden one of the world’s highest suicide rates? One in twenty of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islanders die by suicide – this is the reported rate – a moral abomination. This racialised narrative is racism. The narrative of lives lost to suicide is worse than is being reported. I estimate that the real rate is one suicide in ten deaths, double the official rate. This is a humanitarian crisis, catastrophic, and yet it is not the pressing issue of our time despite it being highlighted by myself and others. The fact that it is not the issue of our time demonstrates the actuality to this day of the dominance of the oppressor, effectively uninterrupted.
The oppressor has been protected by casual references that they were the product of the stream of consciousness of their times, of a political climate, of intended well-meaning. These are hostile statements of defiance, of a refusal to be held to account. They are denied the opportunity to atone. Without atonement there are no ways forward and ignorance and racism will continue to keep us all hostage.
The majority of our parliamentarians have at least 100 years of familial history on this continent –and most are still kept hostage to origins-of-thinking a century old. Without an examination of the oppressor, instead of the oppressed, without a national conversation hence many premises and presumptions that should be done and dusted will continue perniciously into the ensuing generation.
The White Australia Policy may be gone as an official document but it still pervades. The Australian Constitution was penned alongside the White Australia Policy. The Australian Constitution sought to lift above all others a White Australia, a supremacist dominion and to keep downtrodden the First Peoples, to smash their Aboriginality. White Australia sought to keep out potential migrants who were not White. The non-White, the Black, the Brown, the Yellow person deemed inferior. The Australian Constitution is tainted and it cannot be fixed. It is a racist document –the most racist Constitution of any nation. It should be binned and a new one penned – not by an oppressor but by humanity.
Our parliaments remain the dominion of the oppressor, of a White Australia. When our parliaments finally reflect the demography of this nation so then we will journey to a more humane society.
Australia led the way with apartheid legislation and practices that South Africa learned and copied. There are laws, policies and practices to this day that racialise people, which negatively target people, which decimate people and ensuing generations. Many of these laws, policies and practices have led to land grabs, the degradation of communities, the legacy of extreme poverty, homelessness, the filling of jails and the horrific suicide rates. All of this, not just some of this, is a moral abomination.
Many good people sought to make a difference by focusing examination on the victim – the oppressed – but this has indeed now become an industry and which has blindsided hope. The examination has to shift to the oppressor but once again not to punish them, not to keep them hostage but to free us all into equality and the right to be as we so see fit.
Little else will work. Native title was tried as a compensatory mechanism and has culminated in the horrific debacle that fractures communities, spoils riches on the few and marginalises the majority. Native title is an example of what not to do – a free-for-all where the majority of benefactors are non-Aboriginal and who slew benefit away from the intended recipients. Native title is a trough of frenzied feeding by an endless queue of carpetbaggers, lawyers, anthropologists, every charlatan under the sun. It has been a significant betrayal of once huge expectations. In my many travels, I have found the filthiest of exploiters that I have ever known in the native title industry. I have often wondered have they no shame in effectively stealing from the poor, in reaping their spoils from the rights of the poor. In one form or another, in one guise or another, the oppression continues.
All lives matter but in an unequal society this will never be the case, will never be the legacy. Unequal societies flourish where those who perpetrate wrongs escape the light of day. We have to shift the focus of any examination of problems onto the oppressor, onto the perpetrator, onto the wrongdoer – and not continue to study alone the oppressed.
The oppressed are blameless.
Let the oppressor understand what they are doing or in the least bring them to the light of day so it all stops.
A moral abomination – a narrative that is racialised, of human suffering and misery
June 19th, 2015
Aboriginal and/or Torres youth are 26 times more likely to be in detention than non-Aboriginal youth. By 2025 they will be 40 times more likely to be in detention. From a racialised lens they are already being jailed in juvenile detention at the world’s highest rate.
The statistics would higher but in Queensland, if you are 17 years old, the criminal justice system considers you an adult.
One in every 28 Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander boys have been in juvenile detention and one every 113 girls has been in juvenile detention.
There are more than 10,000 adult Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islanders in Australian prisons. That translates to one in 35 of all Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islanders in prison. From a racialised lens I have estimated that this is the highest jailing rate in the world. I also estimate that 1 in 20 of all Aboriginal and/or Torres Islanders have spent time in jail. It is a moral abomination that this horrific racialised narrative is occurring in one of the world’s wealthiest nations, the world’s 12th largest economy.
Australia has the world’s highest median wages, but of the all the high income nations with relatively recent colonial oppressor history, Australia has the widest divides in all the measurable indicators between its First Peoples and the rest of the population.
This is a moral abomination.
Such horrific tales of racialisation are without any need for further explanation racism.
With the mother of all jailers of First Peoples, Western Australia jails Aboriginal and/or Torres adult males at the world’s highest rate – 1 in 13 of Western Australia’s Aboriginal adult males are in prison.
From a racialised lens Western Australia incarcerates Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander youth at the world’s highest rate. They are jailed in juvenile detention at 53 times the rate of non-Aboriginal youth.
What is so deplorably wrong with Western Australia that its statistical narrative impugns the State as a backwater of racism. When a narrative is so chronically and acute racially disparate then it is not rocket science that racism has its filthy footprint all over the place. Racism has many veils and layers. What is disturbing is that the narrative of human suffering and misery, all the measurable indicators are getting worse, each year. In any number of ways, Western Australia is to Australia what in the 1960s Alabama was to the United States. The Western Australian narrative includes that of the First Peoples jailed at the world’s highest rates, of Aboriginal youth jailed at the world’s highest rates, First Peoples dying of suicide at among the world’s highest rates, of extreme poverty and third-world-akin shanty town existences racialised only to the State’s First Peoples.
It is a moral abomination that one in twenty of Australia’s Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islanders will die by suicide.
It is a moral abomination that Australia jails Aboriginal youth at the world’s highest rate.
It is a moral abomination that Australian governments have degraded Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander Homelands to dustbowls, to third-world-akin poverty.
It is a moral abomination that those with voice in the highest corridors of power in this nation – whether they are Black, White, non-White, do not speak the truth when it matters and where the ways forward can be borne – in those the corridors of power and in the public domain.
80 per cent of Western Australia’s juvenile detention is comprised of Aboriginal youth – by 2025 it will be around 95 per cent.
The Northern Territory has already tragically achieved this.
98 per cent of the juvenile detention population in the Northern Territory is comprised of Aboriginal youth.
Poverty is the predominant driver of the increasing incarceration rates and in Western Australia and the Northern Territory as in northern South Australia the extreme poverty has been reserved for Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islanders. In Western Australia the response to poverty related offending is mandatory sentencing. More than 80 per cent of people sentenced under mandatory sentencing laws are Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islanders. Instead of doing something about the extreme poverty, they lock up offenders but the cesspool of poverty giving rise to the poverty-related offending continues. The self-responsibility mantra can only go so far in adjusting behaviours. What will radically reduce arrest and jail rates, community distress and suicide rates is the improving of the social health and infrastructure of a community – you know, to an equivalency of that of a non-Aboriginal community or town. The problem is inequality, and when it is racialised it is without any doubt racism.
Adelaide based Narungga Elder, Tauto Sansbury has spent a significant portion of his life helping youth. In addition to his lived experiences and his career work in health and also at the coalface, he has qualifications in Juvenile Justice and in Community Development.
“The solutions are not in programs alone. The problem is the extreme poverty dumped on our people.”
“Too many of our people are extremely poor.”
“Native Title has failed us, governments have failed us and then they make it worse for us. Those who speak on our behalf do a poor job, too frightened to speak to the issues because they may well be out of job.”
“We can help some people with programs but that type of help takes time, patience with each individual while the poverty that has been made for our people will in the meantime churn out crowds of troubled people with no sense of hope . They were born into unfair conditions, into inequality,” said Mr Sansbury.
“If we want a fair and equal society let us have it for everyone. Let us fix the poverty without a day’s further delay. But if we do not speak to what the problems are then they are not going to be fixed.”
“Our youth are entitled to genuine hope.”