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Build the movement to Stop Aboriginal Deaths in Custody
issue 8
January 2012
The Indigenous Social Justice Association – Melbourne (ISJA) declares 2012 as a year of escalated action to stop Aboriginal deaths in custody. Spokesperson Alison Thorne explains: “What will end the deaths is a vibrant mass movement, which holds the government, police and prison authorities to account.” She says that ISJA aims to draw new people into the movement and attract support from community organisations, including the all-important union movement.

The movement was at a high point a quarter of a century ago. Then, a national speaking tour of relatives who had lost a loved one in custody, organised by the Committee to Defend Black Rights, put the issue firmly onto the public agenda. On 10 August 1987, Prime Minister Hawke announced the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody to investigate the causes of Indigenous prison deaths between 1 January 1980 and 31 May 1989. This announcement was in response to growing public anger over the shocking, racist death toll.

The commission made 339 recommendations. Many of them, such as prison as the last resort, continue to gather dust. Thorne explained: “In recent times, we’ve been going backwards. Last year the Indigenous imprisonment rate rose for the 11th year in a row, and Aboriginal people are 14 times more likely to be incarcerated than non- indigenous Australians.”

ISJA will hold summer, autumn, winter and spring actions, each with a seasonal theme. Thorne said, “ISJA has chosen to highlight key anniversaries to emphasise how long this struggle has been going on and to point out the low points and the high points.” Summer low points include the deaths of Mr Ward and TJ Hickey. But, says Thorne, “There are high points, too, and these are because we have a movement. Institutions and individuals responsible for the death of Mr Ward have been fined $590,000 under West Australia’s workplace health and safety jurisdiction. February is the 5th anniversary of when Queensland cop, Chris Hurley, had to face the Supreme Court on manslaughter and assault charges. February 14 is the 2nd anniversary of Gail Hickey’s lodging a complaint to the UN Human Rights Committee, which it is now considering.”

Mark your diary! Get involved! Help put feet on the street!
Stop Aboriginal Deaths in Custody Summer Action: Remember Mr Ward, Mulrunji Doomadgee and TJ Hickey
Saturday, 11 February 2012, 11:00 am
Old GPO, corner Bourke and Elizabeth Street, Melbourne

Autumn Action: 12 May, Winter Action: 11 August, Spring Action: 10 November. All 11:00 am at the Old GPO. To be added to the ISJA – Melbourne elist, contact Alison Thorne at alison.thorne@ozemail.com.au