• Dr Hannah McGlade called out the "racist" behaviour of the state government. (Sarah Collard)Source: Sarah Collard
The new Executive Officer of the peak body for Aboriginal Legal services shares her vision for the next 12 months of campaigning.
Rachael Hocking

20 Mar 2021 - 12:26 AM  UPDATED 20 Mar 2021 - 1:54 PM

Human rights lawyer Dr Hannah McGlade has been fighting for Aboriginal justice for a long time.

“Three decades now,” she tells NITV News.

That work, she says, is intrinsically tied to the strength of the families and communities she works alongside: the women and children survivors of family violence, the families of those who have died in custody, those incarcerated and children removed.

“We have to bear witness to these, these deaths at the hands of the state. And call for accountability in their names,” she says.

Her appointment as the new Executive Officer of the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services (NATSILS) marks another significant moment: she joins the organisation just one month from the 30th anniversary of the Royal Commission into Black Deaths in Custody.

Reflecting on the legacy of the landmark RCIDIC report, Dr McGlade echoes what many in frontline organisations believe.  

“Nothing’s really changing too much,” she says.

“I was a young person just in my teens marching for a Royal Commission into Deaths in Custody because there were so many deaths happening,” she says.

“And 30 years later we know that key recommendations of the commission still haven't been implemented in Australia.

“Basic recommendations like hanging points should be removed. We're not addressing the issue of racial profiling and mass incarceration and mandatory detention laws.”

Dr McGlade’s comments are sobering: they follow another three Aboriginal deaths in custody in the past month.  

This week she has been attending the coronial inquest into the deaths in custody of 16-year-old Christopher Drage and 17-year-old Trisjack Simpson, who died in Perth’s Swan River while fleeing police.

She says there needs to be a dramatic shift in the way young Aboriginal people are painted as “potential offenders”.

“These are issues that require more response than cultural awareness training by Blackboard, which is an online tool,” she says.

“We really have to start tackling systemic and structural racism and bias in the justice system.

“West Australia has the highest rate of youth incarceration in Australia, double that of the national average: Aboriginal youth are 50 times more likely than a non-Aboriginal youth to be incarcerated… just a staggering level of over representation.”

'We are tired of this double standard and hypocrisy'

Dr McGlade’s fight in the last decade has focused on the rights of First Nations women, child removal and children rights, prisoner mistreatment and Aboriginal health justice. 

She was an outspoken advocate for Jody Gore, who was convicted of killing her abusive partner and released early following a grassroots community campaign.

She recently co-authored an open letter calling out the “racist colonial narrative” inherent in the conversation surrounding the sexual assault crisis in Parliament House.

“We the undersigned are concerned to see that disclosures of sexual violence by white women in Australia gain national attention and responsiveness, including from bodies such as Our Watch, whereas sexual violence against Indigenous women and girls is being normalised and rendered invisible,” she wrote, alongside Professor Bronwyn Carlson and Dr Marlene Longbottom.

“We are tired of this double standard and hypocrisy that infers and perpetuates the life and value of a white woman is greater than that of Indigenous women.”

Dr McGlade’s work has been driven by community-led solutions. She tells NITV News she has since met with Our Watch and they have been responsive to their calls.

“We're now discussing the important need for a national body of Aboriginal women leaders with men to work on violence against Aboriginal women and children in this country,” she says.

For the next 12 months Dr McGlade will build on the work of her predecessor, human rights lawyer Roxanne Moore. She will be working alongside a historic appointment Ms Moore’s team publicly fundraised to make a reality: the country’s first ‘Stop Black Deaths in Custody’ campaigner.

“We will be working with the actual families to publicly raise awareness and to help us in our objective to reform the criminal justice system, to impress upon the government and the Attorney General's why this is important.,” she says.

“We want black lives matter in Australia and we need this campaign, vitally.

“We have to have hope that we're going to see justice reforms that can ensure that these issues are actually addressed. So I'll keep working to that and I'm happy to be doing that with NATSILS.”

For sexual assault, domestic and family violence counselling service call: 1800 RESPECT or 1800 737 732

Aboriginal Women's Legal Centre Contact Line: 1800 639 784

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