TV

Charlie Pickering Turned The Adam Goodes Debate Into A Crucial PSA About Indigenous Incarceration Last Night

"We don’t want to have to say sorry again.”

Yesterday marked the end of National Reconciliation Week — a time to celebrate Indigenous culture and commemorate both the 1967 referendum which removed explicit discrimination against Indigenous people from the Australian constitution, and the landmark Mabo decision: the first legal declaration of native title.

With a huge number of events taking place all over the country, NRW encouraged all Australians to “share culture, connect with community, stop racism [and] celebrate Indigenous success at every opportunity”. Instead, much of the week was overshadowed by a ridiculous furore in which a great number of high-profile white Australians attacked a hugely successful Indigenous sportsperson for sharing a ritual from his culture.

So, you know, there’s definitely some room for improvement.

Rightfully dismayed at all this and concerned about the issues which weren’t being discussed, Charlie Pickering chose to tackle the issue in a slightly different way last night on The Weekly. “Eight seconds of Adam Goodes’ war dance has received wall to wall coverage,” he said. “But when it comes to issues of actual consequence like Indigenous disadvantage, this week we may have completely ignored the pointy end of the invisible spear.”

What followed was a thorough and revealing discussion about Australia’s increasing rates of Indigenous incarceration; an issue so fraught and complex that it rarely gets the media attention it deserves:

With the majority of his monologue informed by an Amnesty International report that was released on Tuesday, Pickering drew attention to the fact Indigenous people are on average 24 times more likely to be jailed than their non-Indigenous peers, and the situation is worse in the Northern Territory. There, 86 percent of inmates are Indigenous and the proportion of people in jail compared to the general population is third highest in the world; a stat that doesn’t look set to improve any time soon, as new laws mean people can now be incarcerated with no paperwork.

“The causes are many — chronic poverty, lack of education, disruption of families — but all of this has been aggravated by the way our justice system treats young Indigenous people,” Pickering said. “Indigenous Australians are being jailed in record numbers, often with no paperwork and for the smallest of offences and too many are dying in custody. Now, when you have a problem this big it feels like there’s nothing you can do about it, but there are things that can be done.”

Despite this being an enormous social and economic problem costing the government millions per year, programs that seek to curb it are not being adequately funded. Specifically, Pickering brings up the Custody Notificaton Service — a 24-hour phone line in NSW and the ACT that gives legal advice and ensures the safety of Indigenous people in police custody. Though the service only costs $500,000 to run per year and has been incredibly successful, it was announced this week that its funding will be cut at the end of the month.

Worse still: this isn’t an isolated problem. As The Age reported earlier this year, “the indigenous custody rate has more than doubled in the past decade” and “federal governments contributions to legal aid commissions have fallen every year since 1997 from about 50 percent to a third of all funding”. The attorneys-general from nearly every state government have repeatedly written to George Brandis pleading for the federal government to take responsibility for this and reinstate some of the crucial funding, but with further cuts coming in the 2015 budget things are looking bleak as ever.

“Just yesterday, Amnesty revealed that we’re at risk of losing a generation of Indigenous Australians to incarceration,” Pickering said, to close out his monologue. “We lost a generation before. And if Eddie McGuire taught us anything this week … it’s that it’s much better to have a warning before something happens, than to have to offer an apology after. Amnesty has warned us; not that something’s about to happen but that something’s happening now. And we don’t want to have to say sorry again.”