• The Dreamtime Dancers interpreted the story of reconnecting to culture at the start of the event. Photo: Charandev Singh (Charandev Singh)Source: Charandev Singh
Candidates for the Melbourne electorate of Cooper hear from local minority groups on incarceration rates, domestic violence, housing, and environmental issues.
Madeline Hayman-Reber

10 May 2019 - 9:45 AM  UPDATED 10 May 2019 - 10:44 AM

Federal candidates in the Victorian electorate of Cooper heard from members of the Aboriginal community during a function put on by the Change the Record Coalition at the Aborigines Advancement League (AAL) on Wednesday night.

The event was held exclusively in the Cooper electorate due to the diversity of the communities residing within it, and began by allowing members of the community to speak on issues experienced by their minority groups both locally and federally.

There was a focus on issues such as an apparent lack of public housing, over-incarceration, child protection, family violence, and poverty, especially the Aboriginal community.

One speaker was Wurundjeri woman Jessica Peters, who currently works for both the Darebin Community Legal Centre, and Federation of Community Legal Centres and is part of the Free Our Sisters, Free Our Kids campaign.

Ms Peters received a standing ovation from attendees and candidates after sharing her experience as an Aboriginal woman who had been in both the care and justice systems.

"Together we can build a world without these dehumanising systems, where connection and healing are the main focus - not segregation, isolation, and punishment," she said.

"We can learn from the Aboriginal people and finally have our voices heard. If this is the vision you would like to see, now is your time to speak up and show your opinion."

Apryl Watson, the daughter of Yorta Yorta woman Aunty Tanya Day, was also spoke about her family's ongoing fight to abolish the law of public drunkenness in the state of Victoria, after her mother died in custody in 2017 following her arrest for being intoxicated on a train.

There were also speakers from Colour Code, Djirra, and the Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service, as well as performances by the Dreamtime Dancers, and Idil Ali and Yusuf Hadare.

All candidates were invited to the event and those who attended included current MP Ged Kearney, Greens candidate David Risstrom, Victorian Socialists candidate Nadine Richings, and Sarah Russell from Fiona Patten's Reason party.

Those absent included Independent Teresa Van Lieshout, United Australia Party candidate Brett Nangle, and Liberal candidate Andrew Bell.

Principal Adviser to Change the Record, Roxanne Moore, told NITV News that the event sent a clear message to candidates around the importance of listening to the voices and concerns of minority groups.

"It was deadly to see five of the candidates making time to do this, with apologies from others. The community was able to see the strength in our culture and resilience, from the powerful speakers and performers," Ms Moore said.

"It was important for us to show the connection between First Nations’ struggles and people of colour - our struggles are shared and we support each other as allies."

The Cooper electorate was formally known as the seat of Batman, named after the founder of Melbourne, John Batman, until last year when it was agreed that Batman played a significant part in the colonisation and genocide of the Palawa people of Tasmania.

The name was then changed to honour the Yorta Yorta activist, William Cooper, who founded the AAL and is viewed as one of the pioneers of Aboriginal self-determination and direct representation in parliament.

The seat of Cooper has been a Labor stronghold since 1974, but this election it is a marginal seat held by Labor by just 1.3 per cent over The Greens.

Petitions to abolish the law of public drunkenness in Victoria, and calling on the federal government not to punish people for crimes of poverty were circulated at the event.

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