I I write this article after a week of isolation with Covid, two years of pandemic, nine years of coalition government and more than 250 years of First Nations colonization, dispossession and resistance. Like many of you, I’m tired. But I am also hopeful and determined that now is the time for change.
This election was to be the election against violence against women.
Last year we saw thousands of women take to the lawns of Parliament to protest against sexual assaults and demand real action. Then Prime Minister Scott Morrison refused to meet them on the lawns and hear their concerns, offering instead to meet the organizers privately and saying he shared the marchers’ concerns. In September, we met for the former government’s National Security Summit. Again, our message was clear: we need real action, with real solutions – designed for us and by us.
We launched our national roadmap, Pathways to Safety, and campaigned for the systemic reform we need to end violence against First Nations women. This means governments freeing First Nations women from punitive and ineffective bail laws, reforming a cruel child welfare system that tears families apart, ending the housing affordability crisis, and fixing a system social safety net that pushes women into poverty instead of providing them with a safety net when they need help.
Our calls were largely ignored by the previous government. Our demands are not new, but this Albanian government is. We are ready to engage and build a better future for First Nations women – if the political will is there.
There is reason to hope
An unprecedented number of blak politicians have been elected to the federal parliament. The first Aboriginal woman, Linda Burney, has been appointed Minister for Indigenous Australians. And Labor has pledged $3 million to our top domestic violence prevention and legal services body, the Forum, to carry out its crucial national advocacy.
The Labor government has pledged to end the punitive and discriminatory cashless debit card and has made (albeit insufficient) commitments to invest in more affordable housing in remote communities in the Northern Territory. They promised to pass the baton so that we can design our own First Nations national security plan – for and by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women.
It is a source of hope, but we are far from being able to celebrate.
First Nations women are the fastest growing criminalized population in the country. Children are being taken from families at the highest rates in recent history. First Nations women experience family violence at rates that are grossly disproportionate to the rest of the population. Decades of top-down and paternalistic government decisions have made things worse, not better, for First Nations women, children and communities.
Despite seemingly endless reports, royal commissions and research on and by our communities, previous governments have continued to ignore what we know works: our solutions, designed and implemented for us and by us.
We are the experts and we have the solutions
The First Nations women screamed until we were hoarse. We protested and rallied, we became academics and lawyers, presented our solutions time and time again to previous governments, but they refused to hear us.
I hope politicians have learned something from this election: people fight back when they are ignored and silenced.
The fact that we now have 10 First Nations members in the federal parliament, and more in state and territory governments, means that we inspire the trust of the communities in which we live. The growing public attention and outcry over the unbearable reality of Blak’s deaths in custody makes me cautiously believe that attitudes are changing.
Now we need to see real structural power returned to us and our communities. Women must have access to basic human dignities, such as a safe place to live, and enough money to feed their families and live above the poverty line. We will not fight violence in our communities as long as governments spend money building more police and jail cells, but refuse to fund our community-based early intervention and prevention services, mental health support and drug and alcohol services.
First Nations families will continue to suffer as governments threaten to kidnap children instead of providing safe housing and culturally safe family support. And children will be denied their right to reach their full potential as long as outdated laws criminalize them at age 10 and the education system fails to tell the truth about the history, culture and resilience of the First Peoples of this country.
There is a lot of work to do. But I know we can do it because our communities already have the solutions. What we need now is the political will to return the power governments have taken from us and put us in the driver’s seat.