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Extensive and acute poverty is usually borne of ‘racial’ divides, a theme the world over. Here in Australia, the First Peoples have it worst. If we get the justice right for First People we get it right for everyone. Migrant cultures are hit by poverty and pressures disproportionately higher than the rest of the Australian population but even so it is nothing like the chronic poverty and marginalisation faced by a third of this continent’s First People. But the poverty faced by First Peoples is not the same right across the nation. The further west one journeys across the continent the worse it gets for First Peoples – and the further west the worse the racism.
But the Chair of the Indigenous Advisory Council, Warren Mundine was quoted in The Australian by journalist, Patricia Karvelas, “Not even the poorest people in Australia live anywhere near extreme poverty.”
I could not believe that Mr Mundine would make that claim when I know he has seen the acute poverty. He was arguing that the real poverty was welfare dependence. Well, this is not true, there is no “welfare dependency” but there is a third-world-akin poverty which many people are languishing within. Mr Mundine said to Ms Karvelas, that the ‘welfare dependency’ that he perceives “is nothing more than State-sponsored poverty.” I would have argued that the third-world-akin poverty is State-sponsored.
Today, Mr Mundine and I took to Twitter, alongside quite a few others. Our tweeting escalated, drawing in many. We engaged on his claims that in effect there is no semblance in Australia of third-world-akin poverty.
Celeste Liddle tweeted, “I’ve never read such goona in my life.”
Amy McQuire tweeted, “He lives in a different world.”
Michael Gravener tweeted, “Did WM really say that?”
And so it went.
Mr Mundine tweeted, “I grew up in poverty. But ‘extreme’ poverty ($1.25 per day) doesn’t exist in Oz.”
Then he tweeted, “It’s obvious none of you have a clue what extreme poverty is.”
Then I tweeted.
“Seriously, are you writing this to me? Warren, let us do a public panel.”
Third-world-akin poverty in Australia is not about $1.25 per day. We are the second wealthiest nation per capita, with the highest median wages in the world, and therefore we have cost of living pressures that the marginalised cannot by any means cope with. But shanty-living in Australia is the equivalent of what you would find anywhere in the world. I tweeted a suite of statistics and images that I believe demonstrate significant ‘extreme poverty’ in this otherwise wealthy Australia.
My tweets included, “Warren, will you come to the shanty towns with me?”
“60 reported suicides per year in the NT & Kimberley.”
“Where do the imprisonment and suicide rates come from?”
“The more west we journey, the worse the racism.”
Mr Mundine responded, “You think if I see the poverty in Aboriginal communities then I’d agree with you? I’ve seen it. It’s why I hold the views I do.”
I responded, “I know you have seen it.”
“Warren, you have a power & leverage few have, you can push for changes others cannot, real changes and without assimilation.”
And on it went.
There should be no denying the discriminating extreme poverty in this nation. It is borne exclusively of racism. How do we know this? Look at the move-on notices by police to First Peoples in every State and Territory. In one 12-month period in Western Australia, 10,000 move-on notices were handed out to First People, who are less than 80,000 of the State’s population. Compare the arrest and imprisonment rates. Compare the homelessness rates. Compare the poverty indicators and measures. Look at the life expectancy, premature death and suicide rates. Without fail the more west we go, the worse it gets. We finish up in Western Australia where it is worse than anywhere else. The Northern Territory follows, then South Australia.
How do we know Western Australia is the backwater of racism? We only have to look at what legislation and policies have been implemented in each State and Territory. We only have to look at how each State and Territory disburses its wealth. When it comes to First People, Western Australia, the Northern Territory and South Australia have no choice but either to lie or to hang their heads in shame.
The number of people in Western Australian jails for unpaid fines soared 600 per cent in the past five years, with the brunt borne by First People. But in New South Wales this practice was outlawed in 1988. Twenty-six years after the NSW Government’s decision to stop jailing people for fine defaults, which should really be a civil matter rather than a criminal issue, Western Australia, the nation’s wealthiest jurisdiction, continues to jail fine defaulters. Fine defaults are obviously predominately the result of poverty but Western Australia is going after the poor like no other State or Territory in this nation. The most marginalised are First People. The majority of Western Australia’s impoverished are First People. So yep, well once again proportion to total population it is majorly First People finishing up in Western Australian jails. Criminalised for the most minor of offences, many are broken by the vicious prison experience. Suddenly they are ‘criminals’ and many find themselves reoffending, going back to prison on serious offences.
Listen here – SBS Radio – World News Radio – “Unpaid fines leading Indigenous over representation”
In Western Australia, fine defaulters jailed have gone up from 194 in 2008 to 1,358 in 2013 – more than 600 per cent in five years. The jailing of First People in Western Australia increased from 101 to 590, but First People only comprise 2.6 per cent of the Western Australian population. But they comprise 46 per cent of the Western Australian prison population.
In Western Australia, First People are 22 times more likely to be jailed than the non-Aboriginal population. Whatever lens you look through, you can see it is a racialised issue. Or in a nutshell, rather than the reductionist ‘racialised’, it is racism.
Let us look at Western Australia’s jailing rates. How bad are they?
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics 2014, the Northern Territory had the highest jailing rate – 850 prisoners per 100,000 adult population. That is one of the world’s top ten jailing rates. Western Australia follows with 264 prisoners per 100,000 adult population. But the true picture is there to see if we disaggregate the data. I began this 10 years ago during the first of two separate Masters on various racialised issues.
According to the ABS, the highest jail rate of First Peoples for the June quarter 2014 was recorded in Western Australia – 3,661 First People per 100,000 per adult First People population. Yes, it is true! Is there anyone who would dare to suggest that this is not racialised imprisonment, that this is not racism? The Northern Territory jail rate of adult First People is 2,861 per 100,000, while South Australia’s is 2,388. Yes, the more west we journey across the continent the worse it gets for First Peoples.
The Western Australian jail rate of First People adult males often surpasses 4,000 prisoners per 100,000 First People population. The mother of all jailers, the United States, jails its adult male Black population at around 4,000 per 100,000. Australia’s national jailing trend does not come within cooee of the American national trend. So how is it that Australia’s First People are incarcerated at rates comparable with the United States, the toughest jailer on the planet? How is it that Western Australia competes and often beats the mother of all jailers, the United States, for the world title of the mother of all jailers of a minority, or of a particular ‘racial’ group?
One in 13 of Western Australia’s First People adult males are in jail.
View this – ABC 7:30 Report – “Aboriginal deaths in custody bring focus to disturbing rate of imprisonment”
One in 13 of adult males of First People languishing in jail equates to racism. Logically, therefore Western Australia’s existing laws have a racist bent when compared to the rest of the nation. Who is responsible for these laws? The parliamentarians are ultimately responsible. We can blame many, including the media, the State’s institutions, et cetera, but ultimately the buck stops with the parliamentarians – with the Government(s).
Seven per cent of Western Australia’s Kimberley region is homeless, nearly 100 per cent of that homelessness comprised of First People. How can this be possible in the nation’s richest State? Australia is the world’s 12th largest economy, 2nd wealthiest nation per capita, and boasts the world’s highest median wages. Western Australia is the richest jurisdiction of this very wealthy nation. But where is the fairness? I am not writing about classicism but of social inclusion. Racially, there are people missing out.
There is no excuse for the third-world-akin impoverishment of First Peoples in this vast continent that too few parliamentarians are prepared to sustain a dialogue about. Tens of thousands of First People languish in shanty-towns, in corrals of misery. The Northern Territory and Western Australia are littered with these corrals. But it is Governments that have cheated them. They deny them an equality of investment. Governments argue they are not sustainable, that they are too expensive to maintain – that they should be closed down and the residents relocate to the towns and cities. But it is the Governments who help along the miners cheat these communities of their due. We can keep on beating around the bush, but this is cheap racism. The cheating of these communities of their due is ugly racism.
We can smash in the shocker statistics, the exhaustive narratives, the images that prove the third-world akin-conditions far too many First People are corralled in but why should we have to? Let us not deny truth and hence never discuss what should be the ways forward.
Let us begin having a good look at ourselves, this nation and who we should be, that is who all of us should be.