Australia not only dished up the White Australia Policy, the Yellow Peril threat and ratcheted up xenophobia and misoxeny, but contributed its own brand of apartheid with missions and reserves, curfews and segregation. Many reckon apartheid is a past wrong that’s dusted but the gaols tell a different story. Australian gaols scream of racialised imprisonment far worse than anywhere else in the world. And it’s getting worse; catastrophic currents. White Australians are incarcerated at the nation’s lowest rate. Migrant Australians and Australians born of non-White backgrounds are incarcerated at higher rates. But Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders are incarcerated at both the highest rates in the nation and the world. By 2025, more than one in two of the Australian prison population will be comprised of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders despite that overall they will comprise less than 3 per cent the total national population.
Where parity between peoples is denied, where we fail to be partial to the marginalised, to the victims of historical oppression then that is still oppression. If a nation lives the effects of apartheid long after apartheid is dead then apartheid is alive.
During the last half century, affirmative action opportunities have been availed to an increasing number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders who were able to grasp these opportunities. But what of the one in two who are damaged by the trans-generational effects of oppression that standalone they cannot grasp these opportunities? There was once the Black and White divide but today there is an increasingly entrenching Black and Black divide, of the haves and have-nots. For the critically vulnerable, the 40 per cent of Black brothers and sisters who live below the poverty line, there is little hope for the majority. The pathways to remedies, to social redress are not being invested in. With the passing of each decade the promises on the horizon only decades ago become dimly distant till they are realised as treacherously betrayed. As each decade passes, while many are lauded for their lofty rise, for just as many there is a return to ghettoes and shanties Australians hoped would be retired into the past, into only “the memory of wounds”.
If you are born Black in Western Australia you have a two in three chance of living your whole life in poverty. If you’re born Black in the Northern Territory it’s a four in five chance that you will live poor your whole life.
It’s apartheid to this day. If it isn’t apartheid then what is it? If it isn’t racism then what is it? The more west and north we journey across this continent the worse the hits on the First Peoples – the higher their homelessness rates, the higher the arrest and incarceration rates, the worse and more extensive the poverty, the less life years lived, the higher the suicide toll.
In 2014, in Western Australia, the median age of death for Aboriginal males was 49.9 years.
Australia’s mass incarceration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders when viewed from a racialised lens reports as the world’s highest – yes, higher than the African American incarceration rate. We can disaggregate all we like and we will not find a more incarcerated peoples anywhere else in the world. It’s higher rates of incarceration today than in any year of apartheid South Africa.
I have written before of how much worse it is for the First Peoples of this continent the more west and north we journey. It becomes so diabolical, abominable the more west and north we journey as if an imaginary Mason-Dixie line ferociously burns. I have often argued that Australia has its own Mason-Dixie line – and this hard fast line are the borders of the Northern Territory and Western Australia with the rest of Australia. As bad as the disparities are on the eastern seaboard it is incomparable to the racism of the west. Western Australia and the Northern Territory reflect unjustifiable rabid disparities, inequalities, divides, racism. These two regions compete with each other as the mother of jailers of Aboriginal peoples.
At least one in 6 of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders living in Western Australia and in the Northern Territory have been to prison. One in 13 of Western Australia’s Aboriginal adult males are incarcerated.
Nationally, one in 8 of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders have been to prison. This is racialised imprisonment. This alone indicts Australia. More Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders are incarcerated today than were when John Pat was bashed to death by an inebriated copper on September 28, 1983 in Roebourne. On that day Roebourne became to Western Australia what two decades earlier Birmingham had become to Alabama.
The national non-Indigenous incarceration rate is about 150 Australians per 100,000 population but standalone to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander it’s nearly 2,400 incarcerated per 100,000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders.
The Black incarceration rate in apartheid South Africa was less than 1,000 incarcerated per 100,000 Black people but it is more than two and a half times the incarceration rate for Australia’s Black brothers and sisters. The Black incarceration rate in Western Australia is more than 4,000 per 100,000. It’s 3,000 Black incarcerated per 100,000 in the Northern Territory.
What sort of nation is this? It is an oppressive nation, a punitive nation and a racist nation. Nearly 100 per cent of Black brothers and sisters who are incarcerated have not completed Year 12. Nearly three quarters did not get past Year 10.
Australia has a higher rate of gaoling Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders than the United States does of African-American brothers and sisters, of Latino brothers and sisters, of the descendants of the United States’ First Peoples.
The US Bureau of Justice reports American Blacks as its most incarcerated at over 2,200 per 100,000. Australian Blacks are incarcerated at over 2,400 per 100,000. The Australian incarceration rate of Black people increases every year. Canada’s Aboriginal people are incarcerated at nearly 1,500 per 100,000, and the United States incarcerates its First Peoples at 900 per 100,000. Maoris are incarcerated at 1,100 per 100,000. Why is it so bad for Blacks in Australia? How is it possible that they are incarcerated at higher rates than Black Americans, than Brown Americans, than the First ‘Americans’, than Canada’s First Peoples and New Zealand’s Maoris? How is it possible that Australia imprisons Blacks today at higher rates than South Africa did of Blacks in the decades of apartheid?
It is horrid that I find myself disaggregating in racialised terms but if we do not then we discriminate, we leave people behind and they become invisible.
Australia is shameless. It is the mother of all jailers but remains hostile in its denial that this is racialised imprisonment and racism.
Australia claims that more than 700,000 Australians are Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders. Nearly 100,000 have been to prison. By 2030, this toll will double, at least.
Australia, a bloody disgrace to this day.