AEU statement on Black Lives Matter
Sparked by the brutality of the alleged murder of African American man George Floyd at the hands of police in the US state of Minnesota, the most recent resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement in the US and across the world gives us all cause to pause and reflect on the nature and extent of racism in our societies and the very real impacts of racism on the lives of Indigenous peoples, people of colour and black people across the world.
In Australia, racism has serious negative impacts on the lives of all people of colour and in particular, upon the lives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. It is nothing short of a national tragedy that at least 432 Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander people have lost their lives in custody since the report of the Royal Commission in to Aboriginal Deaths in Custody (RCADIC) was released in 1991. It is unacceptable that these deaths have occurred in the context where, after almost 30 years according to a federal government commissioned evaluation, the majority of recommendations from the RCADIC have either only been partially implemented or not implemented at all. Further, the evaluation was limited to assessing government actions on implementing the recommendations, rather than overall outcomes.
The RCADIC concluded that high levels of paternalistic state control imposed on the lives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people had severe negative impacts on the lives of those who had died in custody. These included poor education, health and employment outcomes, child removal from families, poverty and substance abuse/misuse. Importantly, the Royal Commission noted that whilst there were exceptions to individual cases:
…one thing which was almost universal was that as well as having early contact with the criminal justice system (people) had repeated contact with it.
This latter point is one of great significance.
As education unionists with a deep commitment to social justice, we know how significant this latter point is. We know that the greatest antidote to the pipeline from primary school to prison – a trajectory that far too many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children follow today – is access to high-quality, culturally-safe, locally embedded early childhood education and care, preschool, primary and secondary education with wrap-around health and family-support services. We know that social justice and true, sustainable systemic reform is only achieved through long-term meaningful engagement, establishment of respectful relationships and equal partnerships with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.Crucially, the education-specific recommendations in the 1991 report of Royal Commission and the long-term goals of the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Education Policy (1989) continue to show us a way forward and must underpin our work.
In 2019, the AEU reaffirmed our commitment to working in partnership with the Yalukit Yulendj – the AEU’s national Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Education Committee – and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander members to implement the AEU’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Engagement Plan. At the federal level, the AEU has committed to the strategic focus of campaigning to increase the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander teachers, principals and education support workers across the public education workforce. We continue to call on governments at all levels tobuild on the recommendations from the More Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Teachers Initiative final report to develop a national Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Strait Islander education workforce strategy. Further, the AEU will continue to work with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander members, drawing on key findings from recent research on their perceptions and experiences of racism in the workplace, to ensure that all public education workplaces are culturally safe for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students, parents, workers and community members.