Monday, August 29, 2016

A Broken Window In A Kalgoorlie Courthouse

Aboriginal children on the roof of a police car during a protest

The details are sketchy. 

A fourteen year old Aboriginal child is dead.  His body is found lying in the bush.

A fifty five year old man is charged with manslaughter, and the details are cautiously outlined.  

The man who was arrested is the owner of a motorcycle, the same motorcycle which was allegedly stolen at the weekend.  The same motorcycle found by the body of the boy. 

The man is also the owner of a Nissan Navara utility.  The same car that left tyre tracks along the route that the teenager took from the road into the scrub. 

The police won’t say how the Nissan made contact with the motorcycle, other than to say that the man has been charged with manslaughter. 

That should be the story.  That a man in a big car allegedly ran down a child on a motorcycle in a vigilante attack.  

Instead, it is not.  And the outrage from the public is not about the death of the child, it is about the community response and crime in Kalgoorlie. 

The West Australian post a video to social media – not about the death of a child, but of a broken window at a courthouse.  There are angry comments from the community – again, not about the death of the child, but about the crime rates in the Kalgoorlie community.  And the responses from White Australia are stunning. 

The posts about the broken window are filled with outrage.  Who will pay for that?  One questioner asks angrily, as the protests start and the violence starts escalating.  Its evidence to them that this death was ‘waiting to happen’, and they happily ignore the part they may have played in that tragedy.  There’s a closed Facebook group called ‘Name, Shame and Crimes Kalgoorlie’ filled with comments (as recently as a few days ago) about ‘running them over’ and plans for revenge.  There’s a joke, casually made, asking how many bodies it would take to fill all the mine shafts.  The answer is ‘we’re one theft closer to finding out’. 

As we speak, there are protests, riots, clashes with police, violence.  In response, the Deputy Mayor of Kalgoorlie has made a worried plea to the indigenous community to ‘not take vigilante action’.   There is widespread censure of the attacks on police and on the courthouse by the griefstricken mob, and not a word about the irony of the use of the term ‘vigilante’.

‘Thief got what was coming to him’, says one poster.  Hahahaha standard with this filthy race and the only race to get away with it. Oh well time to give them more I suppose’ says another.  ‘WHITE LIVES MATTER TOO!!!!!!!!!!!’ shrieks another outraged white person.  ‘Your lot are not after justice, just an excuse to have a riot. Justice would be to allow the courts and polie to do their jobs. Justice will not be served until you all are charged and convicted for your role in the riots.’

There are calls to shoot the rioters and approval for the actions of the Navara owner.  Members of the Aboriginal community says that he hit the boy, ran him over and then left him to die alone. 

So much hatred.  And as the grieving, screaming mob tear up bricks and hurl them through windows, I wonder this. 

I wonder if any of them were related to Ms Dhu, an Aboriginal woman who was locked up for not paying $3,622 worth of fines and who died after being ‘dragged like a kangaroo’ into hospital.

I wonder how many people present knew Mr Ward, the Aboriginal man who was cooked to death in the back of an unairconditioned prison van in 2011 after being transported 400km to face a drink driving charge in a Kalgoorlie court. 

I wonder how many of the rioters knew any number of Aboriginal people who have been failed by systems in regional Western Australia, including Mr Phillips.  The children in his family played together with my children when they were young.  

I wonder what the response would have been if the child who had died had been white.  If the child had been run down by an Aboriginal man in a big car.  If it hadn’t been in Kalgoorlie. 

I wonder how many of them had experienced their own systemic oppression and entrenched racism at the hands of others, and how many came from families where children had been taken from their mothers.  How many live with ongoing intergenerational disadvantage.  How many were related to the child – his death is the third in his family in three weeks. 

How can you live with that kind of injustice and NOT riot?  It’s not just expressed outrage and grief, it’s a natural reaction to continued marginalisation, erasure, to racism, to the diminishing of human tragedy.  It’s a response to a world that prioritises expressions of community outrage to the story of the killing of a child.  A media storm that focuses on a broken courthouse window rather than a boy who is left to die on a muddy outback track. 

There is more than a window that is broken here.   

'A woman measures her life's damage
my eyes are caves, chunks of etched rock
tied to the ghost of a black boy   
crying and frightened
her tow-headed children cluster   
like little mirrors of despair   
their father's hands upon them   
and soundlessly
a woman begins to weep.'

- Afterimages, by Audre Lord (on the murder of 14 year old Emmett Till)

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Census Fail Makes Disabled Australians Grin A Bit

Like other disabled Australians, the #censusfail furore is making me grin. 

Over the past month, the nation has been immersed in the type of outrage only afforded to the privileged.  Billboards encourage passersby to tell the government that they are atheist if they no longer subscribe to a religious belief.  Impassioned expressions of outrage about loss of privacy and the potential for the government to know your business are flooding social media.  And the news that the ABS Census website crashed last night, allegedly due to ‘overseas hackers’, has been greeted with delighted handclapping and a virulent spray of ‘I told you so’s’.  

Instead of talking about white people problems, we need a new hashtag, #ablepeopleproblems.

When it comes to the Census, many disabled people are not even counted. 

That big snapshot of what’s happening across Australia for communities of people tells government a lot.  It might inform community and program development when government realise that too few people in the CaLD community are using local services.  It could tell us important things about youth unemployment, direct understanding about the types of infrastructure we need in Australia in the future.  

It does this by asking us how old we are, how much we earn, where we live, who we worship, what language we speak, whether we rent or buy, whether we work, what our ancestry is comprised of.

But, unbelievably, it doesn’t ask Australians if they actually have a disability.  

As a disabled Australian who does not receive formal care and support, I’m not counted.  The Census questions around disability asks questions about whether we have a carer or whether we get help with daily activities.  For many of us who manage our own daily assistance, we’re actively counted out.

Able people’s problems.  While you’re protesting the intrusion on your privacy, we’re struggling to be recognised at all. 

I’m not suggesting that this is all pearl clutching.  Privacy concerns should be taken seriously.  There is a need to protect our information, especially if we are not clear about the ways in which government will use or protect it.  But consider this. 

Whilst social media explodes in Census website-crash outrage, problems with the new government run NDIS portal has halted millions in payments to service providers.   It’s been months now, but it’s caused barely a ripple in the media.  Social Services minister Christian Porter has announced that there will be a ‘review’.  

The portal that we’re talking about collects information that is far more sensitive than that collected by the Census.  It’s not just our names and addresses we are talking about – imagine uploading your whole life plan, bank account details, intimate and personal details of your goals, dreams, sexuality, plans for the future.  

Half of all disabled Australians live in poverty.  We rank 27 of 27 of all Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries for relative poverty risk, and 21st out of 29 OECD countries in employment rates for people with a disability.  Think about that.  Because they are only the people we are counting.

They're serious issues for disabled people and the wider community, but #portalfail or #povocrips are never going to be trending hashtags.  

Issues for disabled people aren’t considered in the same way as they are in mainstream, white, able Australia.  We can’t even be ticked off on a national checklist.  We’re as invisible as nineteen murdered crips in a Japanese care facility.  

We’ve just embarked on one of the greatest disability reforms of all time, the National Disability Insurance Scheme.  Part of that scheme is the Information,Linkages and Capacity program, which is supposed to target about 800,000 disabled people and their families and carers who are not eligible for the NDIS.  It’s supposed to enable greater access to the social and economic life of the community, and you’d think the government would want to know which of us were gaining access to education, employment, services and facilities.  

Instead, they’re collecting information about which God you worship and where your father was born. 

Craig Wallace wrote an article about this same issue in 2011, at the time of the last Census.  It was only six months after disabled people, families and providers began lobbying for the NDIS.  That campaign was named ‘Every Australian Counts’.  

I wish we did. 

Image description:  A form which reads 'It's time to complete your census questionnaire'.