Black Lives Matter in Australia | Featuring John Paul Janke

Q&A
Scene of a protest, sign in foreground says "No Justice, no peace"

Owning our past to create a more equitable future

The momentum generated by the US Black Lives Matter movement has seen Australian organisations question their own systemic inequalities. However, many feel they lack the capability to channel this energy into achieving real change respectfully, inclusively and confidently.

DCA CEO Lisa Annese spoke with John Paul Janke, proud Wuthathi man from Cape York and Murray Island in the Torres Strait, highly experienced journalist and media professional, and member of DCA’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander External Advisory Panel, about what is needed to recognise Australia’s ongoing racial injustices and shift the dial to create a future that includes Australia’s First Nations people.

Though the world has reacted with outrage to this latest case of police perpetrated racial violence, John Paul laments that it has taken the death of an African American man, George Floyd, for Australians to start to recognise our own shameful record of bias and discrimination within the justice system.
 
Currently, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples make up 27% of the prison population and only 3% of the general population; and there have been at least 432 Aboriginal deaths in custody recorded since the 1991 Royal Commission, leaving victims’ families to endure the unspeakable pain of losing loved ones in entirely preventable circumstances, with no justice or redress available.
 
Despite decades of calls for change, many are hoping that the time is finally now for a reckoning on these tragic statistics. While John Paul has been encouraged by the expressions of solidarity shown by non-Indigenous Australians, he reiterates that genuine progress requires true self-determination by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to enable closing gaps not only of incarceration rates, but also in health, housing, and education.

Says John Paul, “Overall, black people – we are tired of marching, we're tired of having to take to the streets and ask for change. And in fact, change will probably only happen when we're involved in the day to day decisions at the most senior levels that affect us. I read somewhere recently that to make lasting change, we ultimately have to get off the streets and into the rooms where those decision-makers operate."

For that to happen, John Paul believes that organisations can play a leading role by making genuine diversity and inclusion a reality. However, he cautions that ownership needs to be the responsibility of the entire workforce, not just that of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander or other culturally diverse employees.  Activism fatigue and the need to repeatedly justify and explain are compounded when there is a lack of understanding and acceptance around the devastating impacts of colonisation.

Acknowledgement of historical truths, explains John Paul, is vital to us realising our true potential as a unified nation, “We have to understand that how after two centuries of dispossession, of dispersal and discrimination, and even the denial of fundamental rights, how that has impacted our communities but overall, we have to believe that Aboriginal people are not the problem. In fact, they are the solution.”
 
According to John Paul, the most important action we can take right now is to read, understand and support the Uluru Statement from the Heart to help secure constitutional recognition for First Nations Australians.

“Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people want to celebrate this country. We want to be part of this country. And I think that if we can move past that we can all share this great history and great rewards that this country has to offer."

Watch the full interview below

Read transcript

Transcript

John Paul Janke (00:00):

So I think personally, it's, it's, it's just an opportunity to say, look while we are shocked at what we're seeing in the States, we need to remember that those things have been happening in our country and happening for quite a long time.

John Paul Janke (00:25):

I think there's a, there's a couple of layers here. I think we've been quite sort of shocked at the scenes that we've seen in the US and I'll explain why we're shocked probably a bit later, but, but overall I think it's, it's made myself and others reiterate to as many people as we can that the things that we are seeing in the US, as shocked as they are also happened here in Australia. So I think personally, it's, it's just an opportunity to say, look, while we are shocked at what we're seeing in the States, we need to remember that those things have been happening in our country and happening for quite a long time. I think one of the things that's made me realise is that we need to talk more about deaths in custody here in Australia and injustice.

John Paul Janke (01:11):

You know, we need to, we need to talk about how the racial and prejudicial views within our justice system, how they unfairly impact on Indigenous Australians. I think it's been an opportunity overall for us to mobilize and to build on many years of activism and work in highlighting and addressing those systemic racism. And in particular, when we're talking about racism and systemic racism, we're talking about the incarceration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and the overrepresentation of them in our justice system. For many, it's probably been an opportunity to highlight the ongoing frustration at the lack of progress that we've made. You know, a lot of the stuff that we're talking about now, we were talking about 30 years ago. 30 years ago, they released the Royal commission, the findings of the Royal commission into Aboriginal deaths in custody and we committed to change.

John Paul Janke (02:06):

And sadly, we don't seem to have made, those changes. I'm alarmed that after 25 years of being in the public sector and leaving the public sector, that we still don't see Indigenous people and Indigenous voices at the very high end of those departments or those agencies, we don't see them in those key positions where they are able to make change. So I see that there are systemic problems because 25 years ago, we had Indigenous CEO's. We had Indigenous senior executive leaders. You know, we had those who were coming through the public sector, but we don't see them in those positions today, as we probably should have seen. So I think that we can only keep announcing strategies to enhance senior leadership in the public sector for so long. I think now is the real time for action. I think with a lot of, with a lot of things to do with Indigenous policy we, we evaluated, we made recommendations.

John Paul Janke (03:02):

We had reports and we committed in some capacity to make change and either that change hasn't led to significant change or the funda.., or to address the fundamental issues that we want it to. And I think in one way, we've probably relaxed our ambitions of making that real change. So hopefully the Black Lives Matter movement and the other sort of calls for change that that is bringing about really makes us stop and think about how, how are we probably missed the opportunity to address those changes and implement them into our day to day business and how we've, how we've done that as a nation. So hopefully now is the time for real action. But for me, the Black Lives Matter movement in States echoes what we've been calling for for a long time here in this country. You know, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people make up 27% of the prison population here in this country.

John Paul Janke (03:57):

And we're only 3% of the population. 27% of the prison population are Indigenous. So I think, you know like the US we've had those turning points for change, and we've called for those changes over many decades, but it seems that sadly, when it comes to the death of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people that there kind of seems to be a national silence about it. You know, you can think of the recent cases of horrific deaths in custody, where Aboriginal people have sought some justice. And I think of something that Indigenous journalist Amy McGuire recently, wrote in the Saturday extra where she said, you know, there can not be 400 deaths in custody and no justice, and there cannot be 432 victims and no perpetrators. I'm actually really encouraged by the response of non-Indigenous Australians. You know, those who are also outraged at injustice and those who have joined in the marches and joined in the protests and the campaigns to address the incarceration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. But not only that, what their marching and their protesting and their calling for is justice for the families.

John Paul Janke (05:06):

You know, there are families out there who are still seeking justice on the death of a loved one in custody. And I think all Australians should be ashamed and outraged that has happened. And it seems to have taken, it seems to have shaken a lot of people into taking action and to ask questions, to challenge probably what they've previously been told and what they've learned. And I think that's a really good thing. For me, all Australians actually should be outraged when there's death in custody, you know, whether it was Miss Dhu or Mr Ward, in WA, Cameron Doomadgee in Palm Island in 2004. And more recently we've had David Dungay in Long Bay jail in New South Wales, and of course, up at Yuendumu, Kumanjayi Walker. So I think all Australians should be seeking justice, not only you know, because that's what I think is right or what I think, you know, that's something they should do, but think of the families, the families there are seeking justice for a loved one, and we should all be doing that. I think we need to address systemic change.

John Paul Janke (06:10):

And that's something that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities have, well they've been calling out for decades for that change, you know, after decades of consultations, of reports and even advice to governments and bureaucracies of all persuasions Indigenous people have always said that they have the right to self-determination. And it's true self-determination. When you think back 30 years ago to the 1991 Royal Commission into Aboriginal deaths in custody, at the very forefront of that report, it argued that Aboriginal people must be consulted as a matter of urgency on law and in fact, all policy decisions that were made about their lives. And in fact, they, the Royal Commission report was very blunt and it said that it was beyond policy makers and bureaucrats to solve this problem. So it was saying that Aboriginal people need to be determining their own future and part of the solution. And in fact, many Aboriginal leaders, have probably stated over the last couple of years, that it's not only on incarceration rates, where we failed, but it's across the range of the Close The Gap targets like health, housing and education. You know, these are a result of the lack of true consultation and self-determination. So I think to me, overall black people we're tired of marching, you know, we're tired of having to take to the streets and ask for change. And in fact, change will probably only happen when we're involved into

John Paul Janke (07:41):

the day to day decisions at the, most senior levels that affect us. And I read somewhere recently that to, to make lasting change, we ultimately have to get off the streets and into the rooms where those decision makers operate. And that's so true, you know, we're sick of marching. We want real change. And I think we need to be in those rooms where those decisions are made. I'm going to give you three and I'm going to sneak in a fourth, which I've reminded myself to talk about. Look, I think first we have to acknowledge the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander history of this country and the experience in this country. And we have to understand that how after two centuries of that dispossession, of dispersal and discrimination and even the denial of fundamental rights, how that has impacted our communities, I, mean, overall, we have to believe that Aboriginal and Torres Strait and the people are not the problem.

John Paul Janke (08:37):

In fact, they are the solution. We are not the problem. We are the solution. And I think finally, for people to take some practical steps it's to support the Uluru Statement of the Heart, the Uluru Statement of the Heart comes out of decades of consultation with Aboriginal Torres Strait Islander people. And it empowers Aboriginal people to finally have a say, through a constituted voice, to government to parliament in fact, not just to the bureaucracy, but to parliament. It talks about truth-telling, you know, we need to tell the true history of this country. And you know, we need to go forward. I think the Uluru Statement says that. So, I encourage all Australians to get behind the Uluru Statement from the Heart. You know, I think again, the first thing is that organisations can support the Uluru Statement of the Heart and support the, the recommendations in those, understand those and actually encourage your staff and your organization to support that and show your support.

John Paul Janke (09:42):

Now, the more organizations we get supporting the Uluru Statement of the Heart, the more that Australians will talk about it, the more that Australians will want significant change in this country. But I think for organizations and corporates, you've got to be an employer of choice. You've got to employ people from culturally diverse backgrounds, and you've got to employ those people in senior positions and in positions of leadership within your organization. And I think more importantly, you've got to make everyone within your organization responsible for creating that culturally safe and inclusive workplace, not just the Indigenous employee, not just the, not just the employee that might be from a non-English speaking background. You make everyone responsible for creating that space. 'Cause in the end, it's going to be everyone who owns it. And everyone who makes your workplace the most culturally diverse workplace, you can have.

 

Where to next?

Comments

Thank you for pulling these resources together
Posted by: samantha hudson on
It's a pleasure!
Posted by: Cpetterson on
Absolutely love it. What a powerful statement by John Paul - yes yes yes!
Posted by: PizzaShapes on

Join the conversation

* Required information