Being offended by Bill Leak’s cartoon misses the point, says Marcia Langton

Marcia Langton (left) and Josephine Cashman’s (second left) gave a keynote address at the Press Club in Canberra about the alarming statistics of indigenous domestic violence. Photo: Alex EllinghausenFormer Arnhem Land senior solicitor Josephine Cashman has slammed the outward looking nature of Australia’s bureaucrats and urged policy makers work to ensure Aboriginal lives matter by prioritising the issue of domestic violence in indigenous communities.
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Cashman, who is now a member of the Prime Minister’s Indigenous Advisory Council, was joined by University of Melbourne professor Marcia Langton and Alice Springs-based councillor and Warlpiri woman Jacinta Price at the Press Club in Canberra on Thursday where the trio discussed the alarming rates of domestic and family violence faced by indigenous women and children.

Off the back of new data from the Productivity Commission that highlights women and children in remote communities are 31 times more likely to be hospitalised due to violent family assaults, the trio rubbished Malcolm Turnbull’s national action plan and called for a Royal Commission into the issue.

They also called on the government to take urgent measures to address the worsening statistics for indigenous incarceration, suicide and violence if securing a seat on the United Nations Human Rights Council was a priority.

Considering it usually takes something like a 4 Corners special, a la Don Dale, to jolt officials into action, here are the alarming take outs from their presentation:

Forget the Bill Leak cartoon

“Thousands of people claimed that this was a racist stereotype and that they were offended by it. Well, it’s not satire and it’s quite ugly, and it’s not helpful, but let’s look beyond that. Aboriginal social media activists took to Twitter under the hashtag #IndigenousDads posting family snapshots of indigenous fathers and their children. By my count there were about 70 living fathers, many other happy snaps showed adult children with their deceased fathers. But where are the other indigenous dads? As much as their love for their fathers is honorable and admirable, it must be said that these lucky children of decent Aboriginal men missed the point,” Langton said.

“According to ABS figures, there are an estimated 744,956 indigenous Australians, representing three per cent of the total Australian population. So where are the other 200,000 or so indigenous fathers and what are they like?” she said.

From information Langton received this week from the Brisbane Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Community Health Service: 10,000 of them are serving prison sentences for sexual assault and a range of other crimes.As at June 30 last year, 30,000 of their children have been neglected or removed from their families.

“Almost 17,000 were under care and protection orders. A further 15,500 were in out of home care. In 2014-15, indigenous children were seven times as likely to be receiving child protection services than non-indigenous children,” she added.

“That’s the highest level of reporting of the need for child protection … these figures are on the low side because of the fear gripping the indigenous community that prevents them from reporting assault, rape, neglect and other crimes.”

There is a new, dangerous Aboriginal culture emerging

Langton spoke of “a new version of Aboriginal culture that keeps a few elements of the older culture and adds a new set of dangerous elements”, elements that expose women and children to assault yet forbid them from speaking out about it.

She believes legislators have “drunk the Kool Aid” and are too afraid to interfere with the “culture” of communities, a culture that now involves high levels of violence and abuse.

From this comes a “culture of silence” as explained by Cashman, which “allows criminals to gain power over communities and to establish unfettered access to children through fear, which perpetrates a misguided tolerance of criminal behaviour.”

In situations where domestic incidents are reported, victims are called “dog and snitch” for collaborating with white authorities and those who report violence and rape often find that the police responses range from slow to non-existent, she said.

Follow DFAT’s lead

In Julie Bishop’s department of foreign affairs and trade, gender equality is at the core of most aid programs, thanks in part to the Women in Leadership strategy that guides all work carried out overseas.

At least 80 per cent of DFAT’s aid program investors must demonstrate progress in addressing gender equity.

Cashman, in her role with the Indigenous Advisory Council, once suggested writing these types of provisions into Indigenous Affairs programs and linking them to funding agreements with Aboriginal organisations, but was howled down by an unnamed senior government official.

“I advised him that I thought they should be linked to a minimum number of women on their boards and compulsory training on minimum standards of behaviour for community control recommendations. So I made this recommendation. He said that would not work because it’s not ‘cultural’,” she said.

“I wonder whose culture he was referring to because this dismissal of my suggestion does nothing but perpetrate a culture of thuggery and silence that offenders use to groom their victims to ensure that they’re not brought to justice.”

The trio also encouraged officials to look to Charlie King’s program in the Northern Territory – the worst affected area for family violence. The No More campaign has seen the domestic violence rates in some communities decrease by 70 per cent since its inception in 2006.

Despite Langton, Cashman and Price copping frequent criticism for their work and views – “insults are hurled at us for deserting our ‘brothers'” – they have pledged to continue making changes for indigenous women and children and encourage all Australians to do so, too.

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