By Stephanie Bastiaan
Black Lives Matter and violence against women are two issues regularly at the forefront of the national debate.
When a white or migrant woman in Australia is murdered, there is public outrage, protests and vigils. The media coverage is extensive and usually follows the inquest and trial of the perpetrator. It's not uncommon for mainstream media outlets to follow up with feature-length articles on previous female victims and the legal system that failed them.
However, when it comes to Indigenous women, there is very little published beyond the basic facts. There are no vigils and no public outrage. It seems that black lives only matter when the perpetrator is white.
Two weeks ago, Jacinta Nampijinpa Price delivered one of the most powerful maiden speeches heard within the chambers of the Federal Parliament.
Passionate and articulate, she addressed many of the complex issues First Nations Australians living in remote Indigenous communities face. What stood out was her attention to the apathy of our political leaders, many parts of the media and the public regarding improving the safety and wellbeing of women and children living in Indigenous communities.
In December 2021, the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare delivered a report highlighting the disproportionate rates of domestic violence in Indigenous communities over an eight-year period. Despite being 3.3% of the population, the report found that 28% of First Nations Australians account for all hospitalisations, 20% being women. We can expect statistics to be even greater, given the report did not include Western Australia and the Northern Territory.
Of the 11 elected Indigenous members of parliament, Price is well placed to tackle these issues head-on. A proud Celtic and Warlpiri woman born in Darwin and raised in Alice Springs, Price has lived through what she described in her speech as the enduring nightmare and terror faced by First Nation Australians living in Indigenous communities. She has lost many family members to violence and escaped a violent domestic partner herself.
Price has spent the past decade advocating for deliverable outcomes for Indigenous Australians as an elected Councillor for Alice Springs and through her role as Indigenous program director at the Centre for Independent Studies.
She is now using her national platform as an elected Senator to bring an end to the platitudes and virtue signalling that dominate the public debate on Indigenous affairs.
In 2008, the Federal government introduced the Closing the Gap strategy to reduce the disadvantages faced by First Nations Australians and their communities, focusing on health, education and employment.
The key targets were to improve life expectancy, school attendance, numeracy and literacy, reduce unemployment and child mortality, and increase early childhood education and year 12 attainment. Billions of dollars later, the 2019 Australian Government Closing the Gap Report, found that only targets to boost early childhood education and year 12 attainment were on track to be met.
While the policy focus and public debate on Indigenous affairs continue to focus the blame on colonisation and systemic racism, the causation issues leading to violence, murder and incarceration are being ignored.
In her report, Worlds Apart: Remote Indigenous disadvantage in the context of wider Australia for the Centre for Independent Studies, Price highlights the need for a change in policy focus by providing targeted solutions based on evidence.
Rather than advocating for perpetrators in custody, Price believes the focus should be on supporting victims. Rather than changing our national holiday, Australia Day, she advocates that the expectations for quality education, economic independence, employment, living conditions and safety be applied to First Nations Australians as non-Indigenous Australians.
To reduce Indigenous incarceration, she wants to address the causational issues that lead to crime, including poor parenting, child abuse, neglect, low school attendance and unemployment.
There is much to appreciate in First Nations history and culture. They have over 300 languages, a deep reverence and respect for the land and a unique way of storytelling through art. Many have served in our nation's military, played for our nation's sports teams and served the Australian public at all levels of government.
In her speech, Price said, "we spend days and weeks each year recognising Aboriginal Australia in many ways, in symbolic gestures that fail to push the needle one micromillimetre toward improving the lives of the most marginalised in any genuine way." She has expressed similar sentiments regarding the proposed Indigenous Voice to Parliament.
When a group of Australians are marginalised, we must unite as a nation to address those issues rather than allowing self-interested career bureaucrats and professional lobbyists to hijack the political debate for power or money.
Jacinta Price is a fine example of leadership and action with the capacity to play a pivotal role in directing policy outcomes that will create a united Australia and improve the lives of those most marginalised and forgotten.
Stephanie Bastiaan is a Research Fellow with Women's Forum Australia.