Is Indigenous custodial deaths still concerning Australia?

Lidia Thorpe, an independent senator, has indicated that she may “pull back” on her opposition to the voice if the government promises to implementing the findings of the royal inquiry on Aboriginal deaths in custody. She has also urged Anthony Albanese to make an announcement regarding action prior to the day of the referendum.

Thorpe stated last week to  Australia that she was “not necessarily campaigning” against the voice, but that she was hoping for a no outcome. She also stated that she agreed with the no campaign leader Warren Mundine’s assessment that treaties would be more likely in the event that the referendum is unsuccessful.

She further claimed that she told Albanese that her public stance on the referendum may be altered if the government committed to implementing the remaining recommendations of the 1991 deaths in custody inquiry and the Bringing Them Home report on the forced removal of children belonging from Indigenous families. Both reports were investigations into the forcible removal of children from their families.

“I’m still waiting for movement from the government on the royal commission recommendations,” Thorpe said, adding that she has been in “live discussions” with Albanese in the recent weeks. “I’m still waiting for the royal commission,” she added. “I’m still waiting for the government.”

“He needs to take action,” Albanese said. The heat is turning up.

I told you that you have three weeks to make an announcement that the recommendations are being adopted, and you can take it to the election if you want to. After that, I’d pull back. He is aware of that.”

The office of Mr. Albanese has been approached for a comment. The federal government has claimed that a significant number of the recommendations made by the royal inquiry in 1991 are either no longer relevant or cannot be implemented by the commonwealth.

Thorpe restated her allegations that the voice to parliament would be “powerless,” but she pressed the government to explain how it might give guidance on problems such as raising the age of criminal responsibility and removing Indigenous children from their families. She also brought up the topic of deaths that occurred while Indigenous people were in detention.

Linda Burney, the minister for Indigenous Australians, has stated that the voice’s primary duty will be to concentrate on housing, health care, employment opportunities, and education.

Thorpe stated that the Black Sovereignty Movement will be holding big rallies in major capital cities on October 7, one week before the referendum, in order to advocate for action over deaths that occurred while people were in detention.

“Time is of the essence here. She continued, “There’s a report that’s been sitting on [Albanese’s] shelf for the past 32 years.”

When Thorpe left the Green Party in February, one of the reasons she did so was because she was opposed to the party’s support for the voice. Prior to her departure, she made a commitment to advance the cause of a progressive Black Sovereign Movement, which included campaigning for treaty processes before a voice.

The woman who is Djab Wurrung, Gunnai, and Gunditjmara has emerged as the figurehead of a group that is calling itself the “progressive no” bloc. This group is of the opinion that the voice would not have sufficient authority.

In a speech she gave the previous month, she called for the referendum to be annulled and criticized the voice as a “powerless advisory body” and a “insult” to the intelligence of First Nations people. However, since the voice campaign began, she has kept a lower profile and has kept her criticisms of the voice to herself.

In response to a recommendation made by a royal commission, the federal government, in the month of June, announced the creation of a dashboard that will provide real-time reporting of deaths that occur in federal custody. During that time, the Attorney General, Mark Dreyfus, made a statement that “consistent with the central finding of the royal commission… the government is committed to reducing the over-incarceration of First Nations people.”

Thorpe acknowledged the change to the way reporting was done but stated that she was “really disappointed” that Labor had not made any further moves in government.

Senator Pat Dodson of the Labor Party, who served as a commissioner on the royal inquiry, stated in June that the change was “just one mark of the Albanese government’s commitment to monitor and uphold the recommendations of the royal commission,” which had presented its findings more than three decades earlier.

Dodson expressed his expectation that the voice will discuss issues such as “deaths in custody and other legacy matters from the royal commission and other inquiries like the Bringing Them Home report about the stolen generations.” Dodson made this statement one week ago.

Prof. Marcia Langton, a key yes campaigner who was also a co-commissioner of the Bringing Them Home inquiry, has urged on the government to set out a post-referendum plan on Indigenous policy. According to Professor Langton, this agenda must be based on “the recommendations of many inquiries and royal commissions.”

When asked about it at the National Press Club, Langton stated, “It must be as soon as possible.” If the administration does not feel inclined to lay out the agenda prior to the vote, then they should do so as soon as possible after the vote has been taken. That being the case, they ought to be ready to tell us what the future has in store for us right this minute.

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