There are racial divides that despite all the projects working to bridge these divides, they are in fact widening. Economic inequalities are not being addressed and instead a tsunami of poverty related – extreme poverty – issues are flooding us with high mortality, homelessness and appalling incarceration and suicide rates. For every person that crosses the divide to the Elysian Fields, many fall forever into the chasm, into the Rubicon, while many remain lost on the poor side of the divide, marginalised in hopelessness.
Yet we keep on getting told that even if slowly everything is changing, that things are improving, that the gap is being closed. It is not true. Unless we start with the truth, from an informed context then we are delivering hidden poverty and underclasses.
This is not only so for Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islanders but for many cultural groups, for many migrant Australians who are spiralling into poverty-emblazoned underclasses, racialised. Nearly one-third of Australia’s homelessness are of people born overseas. However, those who have it worst, for those whom the statistical narrative is an abomination – morally and politically – are the descendants of the First Peoples of this continent. If the divides can be bridged for those whom have it worst, for who are hit the hardest, then we’ll begin to get it right for everyone.
Till such time, Australia will continue to be defined by the maltreatment and predicaments of those who have it worst. Of all the middle to high income nations with recent colonial oppressor histories, Australia has the widest divide of its measurable indicators between the descendants of its First Peoples and the rest of its population. However unlike poor and low-income nations Australia is an affluent nation with the world’s highest median wages, the 12th largest economy.
Let’s look at the Australian story through the facts alone.
- According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics one in 200 Australians is in some form of homelessness. But one quarter are Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islanders despite that overall Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander are only 3 in every 120 Australians.
- One in 24 Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islanders live in some form of homelessness.
- In Western Australia, one in 16 Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islanders live in some form of homelessness.
- In the Kimberley and in the Northern Territory, one in 8 Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islanders live in some form of homelessness.
- In Australia, nearly 20,000 children aged 12 years or less are homeless – the majority are Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander children.
- In the Northern Territory, 25 per cent of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander households – shanty-like dwellings – are home to 20 people.
- Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander youth are 26 times more likely to be in detention compared to non-Aboriginal youth.
- In Western Australia, the rate is 53 times.
- Nationally, one in 28 Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander boys spent time in juvenile detention while for girls the rate is one in 113.
- Today, there are 10,000 adult Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islanders in prisons – about one in 35 Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait islander adult males are in prison.
- A few years ago, I had estimated that one in 20 Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islanders living have been to prison but even this abominable statistic is worse than I first estimated. It is somewhere between up to one in 6 and no less than one in 10 Aboriginal and/Torres Strait Islanders living have been to jail. From a racialised lens this is the highest jailing rate in the world.
- The Northern Territory incarcerates nearly one per cent of its total population – one in 120 Northern Territorians – but 86 per cent of the Territory’s prison population is comprised of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islanders. The Northern Territory’s jailing rate is higher than the world’s leading national jailing rate, that of the United States of America.
- The Northern Territory’s juvenile detention population is comprised 98 per cent of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander youth.
- Western Australia is the mother of all jailers, with one in 13 of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander males in prison.
- Australia has the world’s highest median wages but if we standalone Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander median wages, with various adjustments, they are not in the world’s top 100. In recent years, Australia has ranked, 2nd, 3rd, 4th in the world on the United Nations Human Development Index – for public health and other social wealth factors – but when I disaggregated standalone to Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islanders the equivalent ranking on the global scale would be 132nd.
- One in 19 Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander deaths is by suicide. This horrific rate is an abomination – and likely the world’s highest from a racialised lens. However, the suicide rate is much higher – there are under-reporting issues – and I estimate it at around 1 in 12.
- Nationally, if you are an Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander aged 15 to 35 years, nearly one in 3 deaths in this age group will be a suicide. This abominable rate of suicide should have galvanised a national emergency – but no.
- The Kimberley and far north Queensland regions have among the world’s highest rates of suicide when disaggregated to Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander peoples.
- Nearly 90 per cent of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander suicides are of people aged 45 years and less.
- It is true that there is a higher incidence of domestic violence callouts, violence and sexual abuse among Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander people than the rest of the population but the cesspool of ingredients that give rise to this – extreme poverty, various traumas – are once again disproportionate. As controversial and upsetting as this is, the majority of perpetrators of sexual abuse have been victims themselves – there is no justifiable excuse that mitigates but causality must always be reflected upon and understood. Many were physically and sexually brutalised in the missions and reserves. I am working on various research in this area. The Royal Commission into Institutionalised Sexual Abuse has demonstrated the extensiveness of the brutality and horrific abuses in the missions and reserves. Many have since died unnatural deaths or suicided while a small percentage degenerate as perpetrators of violence, controlling behaviours, sexual abuse. There is much for Australia to be shamed about in the cesspool of atrocities it inflicted upon people during its apartheid practices – the breaking of the human spirit.
- Suicide takes more lives than all other forms of violence combined.
The tragedies that I describe are compounded by the political abomination of one Government after another pushing the bent for assimilation on remote living Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander living peoples. Scoring a good education is one thing, no issue with this but culture as central to identity cannot be eroded by external factors, it is brutally damaging. With any cultural group on this continent – migrants or otherwise – it is imperative to not inhibit the freedom to navigate their two cultural settings, their own and that of the dominant one.