• Labor Senator Malarndirri McCarthy. (AAP)Source: AAP
Strong Aboriginal women demand governments address Aboriginal deaths in custody as Finance Minister Mathias Cormann labels BLM protests as "self-indulgent" and "incredibly selfish".
Keira Jenkins, Shahni Wellington

8 Jun 2020 - 5:01 PM  UPDATED 8 Jun 2020 - 5:01 PM

After receiving a Queen's Birthday Honour on Monday, Professor Marcia Langton used the award to draw greater attention to the issue of Aboriginal deaths in custody in Australia.

Prof Langton said it was nice to be recognised for her contribution to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people's education but added that Australia still had a "long way to go" to address the issue of Aboriginal deaths in custody.

"Deaths in custody continue to occur," she said.

"Recently here in Victoria, Tanya Day got the train down from Shepparton: she was arrested, treated appallingly, died in the cell and the coroner's report referred the matter to the public prosecutor, and we're all waiting to find out if the police officer will be charged.

"The coroner found that police officer to be an unreliable witness and I'll translate that for the ordinary public - he lied, and they all do and that's why there have been no convictions of any police officer ever, for killing or assaulting Aboriginal people.

"There is no acknowledgement of this problem by the politicians and no effort to retrain the police force to stop them from killing us.

"I would have thought it was pretty straightforward. Do not kill Aborigines. How hard is that?"

Calls for a national cabinet

Labor Senator Malarndirri McCarthy on Monday also spoke out about Aboriginal deaths in custody, calling for a co-ordinated response to Aboriginal deaths in custody.

Senator McCarthy called for states and territories to form a co-ordinated response to Indigenous incarceration and deaths in custody through the new National Cabinet.

Ms McCarthy challenged the Morrison government to treat the on-going crisis with the same urgency as the coronavirus pandemic. 

"That's the challenge for you now. COVID-19 has shown – through the leadership of each of the premiers and chief ministers and the Prime Minister– that when they come together they can do something - and this country screams out for the cries of those families who've lost over 430 people in jail, in the custody system," said Ms McCarthy.

Ms McCarthy's comments followed the Finance Minister, Mathias Cormann, earlier taking aim at protesters across the country for standing in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement.

Mr Cormann labelled the actions of demonstrators over the weekend as "incredibly selfish," "self-indulgent," "reckless" and "irresponsible."

Senator McCarthy rejected Mr Cormann's view, saying it was time for him and the federal government to hear the concerns at the centre of the Black Lives Matter movement.

"I think what's reckless is Matthias Cormann's inability to see the pain and suffering of First Nations people. Close to 100,000 Australians came together, and not just First Nations people," she said.

"I mean, these were Australians from all walks of life, who really believe that our country's not doing enough in terms of Aboriginal deaths in custody and in terms of the high incarceration rates of First Nations people and our young people... And so the passion is there by the Australian people. But the passion is completely absent by this government.

"They're crying out for something to be done, and I'm saying to the Prime Minister, to Mathias Cormann – have a heart, listen to the cries of the people. And you can do something about this."

The shadow minister for Aboriginal affairs, Linda Burney, also responded to Senator Cormann's comments as "tone deaf" and "politically expedient".

"Mathias Cormann should know better than to describe these protests yesterday, this cry from the heart of many thousands of people across the world and in Australia, as self-indulgent and reckless," she said.

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