• Social Justice Commissioner June Oscar. (AAP Image/Lukas Coch)
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner June Oscar says a constitutionally-enshrined voice to parliament can address Indigenous powerlessness during an education forum at the 2017 Garma festival.
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4 Aug 2017 - 12:30 PM  UPDATED 4 Aug 2017 - 12:52 PM

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner June Oscar says a constitutionally-enshrined voice to parliament can address Indigenous powerlessness in a speech today at the Garma Festival.

Ms Oscar says such a body can address many of the issues facing First Australians today, like youth justice scandals, and urged both sides of politics to back an Indigenous advisory body

“I am convinced that the current push for constitutional reform, of the desire to have an enshrined voice to the parliament, is the expression of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to address our powerlessness,” she said.   

She says the Uluru Statement is the latest in this long line of calls.  

“We humbly ask that our governments listen, respect and act on these requests. As has been captured time and time again but more recently in the united words of our people in the Redfern Statement – “we have the solutions.” 

In an address at Garma’s education forum on Friday, Ms Oscar said an Indigenous body would provide an opportunity to address the inadequate political systems and institutions at providing First Nations people with a voice.  

 

“An Indigenous body gives us an opportunity to address this flaw, and to elevate our voices in a country where we are a minority and occupy a space on the fringe of government policy. A voice gives us the ability to address Parliament directly through our connections to our communities and regions,” she said.  

Ms Oscar, the first Aboriginal woman appointed to the position of Social Justice Commissioner at the Australian Human Rights Commission in 30 years, said such structural change may prevent the next generation from enduring the "brutality, injustice (and) intolerance" that Indigenous children face today. 

Ms Oscar cited last week's nationwide protests following the acquittal of a man who ran over Aboriginal boy Elijah Doughty in Western Australia and the tear-gassing of former Northern Territory juvenile inmate Dylan Voller. 

"Our kids know the odds that they are up against. They know the stories of young Elijah from Kalgoorlie and Dylan Voller," Ms Oscar says. 

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"We feel the same immense pain and loss of what happens to our people each time they die in custody, are locked up for unpaid fines, and each time that the justice served up by our system seems so grossly inadequate."

Opening in her Bunuba language, Ms Oscar said the call for constitutional reform may be new but it is a call that has its origins well before the constitution was ever created.  

“Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have sought greater control over our destinies, for the ability to live freely and equally, and for greater recognition of our rights as the First Peoples of this land since the arrival of the British on our shores in 1788. This has been an unresolved source of friction,” she said.  

Ms Oscar, a proud woman from the remote community of Fitzroy Crossing in Western Australia’s Kimberley region, is a strong advocate for Indigenous languages, social justice and women’s issues, and has worked tirelessly to reduce Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD).  

She’s asking both sides of politics to listen.  

“More than this, an Indigenous voice means government walking the talk on Indigenous disadvantage. This country spends a lot of time and money on the question of ‘Indigenous Affairs’- much of it done without us,” she said.  

"The ground has shifted, and our politicians must shift too." 

NT schools 'failing' remote kids 

The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner June Oscar has slammed education policy in remote Northern Territory communities, which she says is failing children. 

She said it's unacceptable that Territory school attendance and achievement levels fall well below national standards. 

Ms Oscar, who took up the role with the national human rights monitoring body in April, demanded that western curriculums be enriched with Indigenous culture. 

She also stressed that many students will be stunted for life if early years learning efforts were not intensified further. 

"We cannot afford to be absorbed into the white population... in a world where 'success,' as defined by doing well in the mainstream, is fast becoming the norm," she said. 

"Efforts to improve the educational outcomes of our young people can't be at the expense of who we are." 

"We feel the same immense pain and loss of what happens to our people each time they die in custody, are locked up for unpaid fines, and each time that the justice served up by our system seems so grossly inadequate. 

- with AAP