While researching for an article about Deaths in Custody, I stumbled across information about genocide, shocked barely scratches the surface of what I discovered. It lead me to find a link to the United Nations and their legal documentation covering what constitutes acts of genocide. Article II states the following:
“In the present Convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:
Killing members of the group;
Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.”
The founding of Australia was dark and unpleasant to say the least, but on 8th July 1949 Australia ratified the United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. The last official act of genocide against the Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islanders occurred in the 1930’s, however there are records of sanctioned acts occurring much later than the last official records reflect. Many of these were covered up for fear of punishment. Historians are researching historical records in an attempt to bring more of these to light, and improve the records of Australian history.
While the majority of Australians believe genocide is not something Australia would participate in today, there are those like me who feel we walk a very fine line when the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Nations are concerned even in 2021! Below I have broken down a list of the acts that fall under the definition of genocide, alongside a information regarding situations right here in Australia, that could by many, be considered genocidal.
A. Killing members of the group
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders die in custody at a much higher rate than other ethnic groups. We die 10 years earlier than others due to health issues which are a direct result of the circumstances of our communities.
Circumstances such as the poor quality housing conditions, Yuendumu situated in Arnhem Land in Yolgnu county occupy houses that were abandoned when the mine site was closed. These houses were built in the 1970’s and have received minimal upkeep since then. Residents of the area describe being able to feel electricity running through the walls.
The lack of houses for the population; within my own country of Alawa is a town called Nugkurr, populated by approximately 1000 people. This community does not have enough houses to provide for the people and squeeze two, three sometimes four bodies into single beds so everyone has a roof to sleep under. This overpopulation results in higher than normal health complications. Complications that Closing the Gap estimates will continue for another 50 years before they are adequately addressed.
1991 saw the release of the Aboriginal Deaths in Custody report, sadly Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People are still the highest represented demographic in the world, and still we die at the hands of the legal system at a higher rate than any other in this country; while investigations are conducted by internal forces resulting in no punishments as everything was above board. Even occasions when duty of care to check on individuals in lock up are not followed as seen over and over in the Aboriginal Deaths in custody in Australia.
In the 1950’s the Federal Government approved the British Government coming in and performing nuclear bombs. After more than 70 years the area is still highly radioactive, and there are many individuals who have experienced deteriorated health conditions as a result.
B. Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group
This section is a bit of a list in my humble opinion, unfortunately it’s a long one so I have reduced it to dot points instead of a paragraph for each.
Serious bodily harm is caused everyday by the living conditions forced upon our community members
Health impacts such as heart diseases caused by overpopulation.
Suicide rates are higher due to the circumstances of communities and traumas that have never been adequately addressed within our populations.
Uranium in the drinking water at Laramba left for the community to resolve - If this was in Sydney the local, state, and federal governments would be in an uproar flying into action.
Lack of fresh & healthy food at reasonable prices - again if the prices seen in rural areas were seen in Canberra an uproar would ensue & changes would result. Over the past decade 3 inquiries into the prices & conditions of foods available to remote Aboriginal populations has resulted in no changes.
Lack of health services in communities - our children are born with comorbidities yet the as per Closing the Gap these will not see any visible improvements for another 50 years.
Mental harm is caused in many areas of Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander lives
Destruction of Sacred Sites & cultural heritage.
Terror felt during the systematic racism across Australia
Intergenerational trauma has not been addressed
Fights for stolen wages are demeaning while cause for a great deal of anxiety & depression.
Impacts of the higher suicide rates
Denial of sovereignty
Denial of history ie slavery.
Native Titles have divided families & still doesn’t protect cultural heritage nor see improvements to communities. This divide is causing great harm to many family unity’s across the country.
Corporations are decided by the government to run communities, at times without clan members involved with the boards. Often these corporations work against the wishes of the communities.
Closure of communities resulting in dispossession of cultural connections causing depression.
How about the trauma changes like the single word change in the anthem causes to our people? Many welcomed the new year with tears of pain, our voices once again overlooked. The anthem was written in 1878 when we were literally in chains, slaughtered by the dozens, or left to starve when our food had been eradicated and water sources poisoned. This for some are open wounds that have not closed and promoting small steps as good creates as much harm as the past has.
Australia Day - we call it Genocide Day & Invasion Day, we have voiced how much pain celebrating on this day causes us. And for a lifetime this pain has been ignored or ridiculed by the wider Australian population.
Australian Flag - representing the Union Jack on the Flag of Australia causes many in this country to feel sick to their stomach. That is the item that was pushed into our soil & proclaimed as British property. Our own flags are refused by governments which tells us we too have been refused as included in the term Australia.
C. Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part
Housing circumstances - as stated already in this article the housing conditions of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander are dire! They have been in need of immediate attention for more than my 37 years of life, but blind eyes have been turned away from them for my whole life! Last year the NT government were condemned by the current Indigenous Affairs Minister and some progress has been made. Many of us feel it is too little too late! Hundreds of our people have already had their health impacted by the poor conditions that the minimal work being undertake will not improve any time soon. Remember Closing the Gap won’t see any great changes for another fifty years!
Increased alcohol introduction - While in treaty talks the NT Government has rushed through changes to legislation that enabled Dan Murphy’s to open a store in Darwin. This store has the largest floor plan of any store in the country, it is also a stone's throw away from three dry communities who will be forced to deal with the impacts of increased alcohol supply. Darwin already has a higher than normal number of bottle shops for the size of the town, which is the reason the strict Drug and Alcohol laws exist, and even though those treaty talks are happening the NT Government has RUSHED changes to these laws to enable them to ‘increase the economy’. We think lives are more important than money.
Lack of food security in communities - as also stated above three inquiries in ten years have resulted in no change to the lack of food security in remote communities. I have spoken to many who have to decide if $10 a lettuce is something they can afford to budget for, only to get to the shops and find the only ‘fresh food’ is half rotted! Forcing individuals to make less than healthy choices in their weekly shopping.
Dismal health & the fact we die 10 years earlier - the average is that we die 10 years earlier, however the statistics for this figure sharply increase in areas like my own traditional lands; many countries in Arnhem Land die on average 20 years younger than other Australians.
Lack of assistance towards language and culture retention, Colonisation has wiped out so much our our history and knowledge. These days our Elders are crying out for assistance in retaining what we have left, minimal work has been done to ensure our cultures and way of life survive into the future.
D. Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group
I don’t believe this currently occurs, but one of my cousins has been told by doctors they want to perform a hysterectomy instead of a procedure that will stabilise her pelvic floor; they have told her they don’t want her to have any more children. I wonder if other women have been faced with similar circumstances.
E. Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.
Many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders have said for decades that the Stolen Generations never ended! Our children are still removed at higher rates than any other ethnic group. Times that family members have come forward to ask for the children of their family they have been denied with barely even an assessment to determine their suitability. These children are instead handed to other people who do not have the same cultural beliefs, language, or values.
In 2018 Channel 7 released a segment on the Sunrise show suggesting it was appropriate to begin another Stolen Generation, something they are proposed to apologise for in early January 2021. But that damage has already been done, that all white panel has already influenced the beliefs of the wider population; many who have never even met an Aboriginal Person in their life! Those beliefs will be passed onto their friends, family and indeed their children. This passing on of a misrepresented opinion of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders will only continue the racism and oppression we face as nations daily.
Australia’s history with genocide may not be as far behind us as many would choose to believe, the facts speak for themselves and if government departments really wanted to see these truths change; initiatives such as Closing the Gap would not consider fifty years a suitable timeframe to stop infants being born with comorbidities. If genocides are to stop in Australia the Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islanders need to be less represented in our prison systems - we are the highest imprisoned race in the entire world yet we make up 3.3% of the entire population of a single country.
Without systematic changes across the board, my opinion will always be that acts of genocide still occur in Australia on a daily basis.