• Labor Senators Pat Dodson and Malarndirri McCarthy with Liberal Senator Amanda Stoker. (AAP)Source: AAP
Senator Dodson expresses his frustration at the lack of accountability from the federal government following a parliamentary session that includes a Liberal Senator remarking that All Lives Matter.
Jodan Perry

26 Mar 2021 - 4:05 PM  UPDATED 26 Mar 2021 - 4:05 PM

First Nations Labor Senators have blasted the federal government for refusing to accept responsibility for the growing number of Aboriginal deaths in custody, following a fiery Senate Estimates session on Friday.

Yawuru man Pat Dodson said he is sick of being "fobbed around" every time he raises a question regarding the issue.

"Aboriginal people are frustrated to the back teeth about the number of deaths that are occurring, and it appears as if nothing is happening and no one’s concerned,“ he said.

“We've been shifted from the Attorney-General to the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs unit, back to Mr Dutton's unit. No one knows what's going on and there's very little organised analysis of why people are dying in custody.”

The federal government is failing to take a leadership role and the crisis is at tipping point Mr Dodson said.

“Now we're standing on the brink, potentially, of another royal commission inquiring into the same sorts of things: the underlying issue that gives rise to custodies and the reasons for custodies,” he said.

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In less than a month, there’s been four known deaths in custody. The most recent was 37-year-old Barkindji man Anzac Sullivan who died following a police pursuit in the New South Wales mining town of Broken Hill last week.

Almost 500 First Nations people have died in custody since the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Death's in Custody (RCIADIC) handed down 339 recommendations in 1991.

Mr Dodson also questioned the National Indigenous Australians Agency’s (NIAA) Debbie Mitchell in regards to who is responsible for updating the government in relation to such matters.

Ms Mitchell said NIAA is informed by the Australian Institute of Criminology, which sits under Peter Dutton’s Home Affairs portfolio.

“We rely on the official data from the AIC and we monitor the media as well - and so we are aware of the figures.” she said.

A federal government review in 2018 found that more than 60 per cent of RCIADIC recommendations have been fully implemented, but a report led by leading Indigenous academics and endorsed by 33 relevant experts found it "misrepresents government responses" to the findings.

Mr Dodson raised these points and questioned the government responses in parliament.

In reply, Liberal Senator Amanda Stoker said she could “understand the outrage”.

“The upset is real because the lives of every person, through our justice system are important, no matter what the colour of their skin is, they are living human beings, they are Australians and they matter,” she said.

'A silly statement'

Mr Dodson and fellow Labor Senator Malandirri McCarthy held a brief press conference after the session, taking aim at the comments by Senator Stoker.

He described Ms Stoker's remark that all lives matter as "a silly statement".

"Of course they matter, anyone who dies in custody matters. We're talking about the First Nations people who have been incarcerated at a far higher rate,” said Mr Dodson.

On the 30th anniversary of the release of the RCIADIC final report more than a dozen Aboriginal families who have lost loved ones to deaths in custody have petitioned to meet with Prime Minister Scott Morrison.

The PM has, so far, declined the meeting.

Senator McCarthy said the government has ‘got form’ in not listening to anyone on such issues.

“We've seen (that) in this past two weeks, with hundreds of thousands of Australians taking to the streets about the questions we need to ask in terms of the treatment of women and safety of women," she said.

“Last year we saw hundreds of thousands of Australians take to the streets in terms of Black Lives Matter and the focus on Aboriginal deaths in custody, and yet the government refused to meet people then.”


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