NSW State Coroner Teresa O’Sullivan has called self-determination of First Nations people the “unfinished business” from the Royal Commission.
The top coroner has released a call to action ahead of the 30th Anniversary of the final report into the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody.
Ms O’Sullivan stated that First Nations people continue to be “overrepresented in every category of death dealt with by the Coroner’s Court”.
Indigenous deaths in custody could not be separate from “the over-representation of First Nations people within the criminal justice system, nor can we separate it from the colonial history of this nation”, she said.
Self-determination of First Nations people
The key theme from the final report delivered 30 years ago was self-determination for Indigenous Australians.
According to the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC): “Self determination is an ‘ongoing process of choice’ to ensure that Indigenous communities are able to meet their social, cultural and economic needs. It is not about creating a separate Indigenous ‘state’.”
“Without self-determination, it is not possible for Indigenous Australians to fully overcome the legacy of colonisation and dispossession,” AHRC continues.
The final report of the Royal Commission put forward the right for First Nations people to exercise “maximum control over their own lives and that of their communities”.
“Self-determination for First Nations people is still lacking in this country. This unfinished business cannot be separated from anything else that is done to try to prevent the deaths of First Nations people in custody,” O’Sullivan stated.
“Promises written in the sand”
Wiradjuri woman, lawyer and Ph.D. candidate Taylah Gray criticised the inaction of the Government, Police and other bodies on meaningful change emerging from the final report.
“What good is a Royal Commission if it’s just promises written in the sand?” Ms Gray told the Sydney Morning Herald. “First and foremost, stop locking black people up.
“We are not an inherently criminal people. We have been trying to survive ever since colonisers set foot on this land and declared that their sovereignty sits above ours.”
She went on to say, “We have the oldest jurisprudence in the world; the oldest legal system in the world, which has been perfected over time. We have two concurrent jurisdictions that run side by side, and the only difference is one is acknowledged and the other one is not.”
Ms Gray noted many options to work towards self-determination and to rehabilitate the broken system. This includes the Walama Court, limiting police powers, and introduction of a treaty.
“I know other First Nations mob have different views, but my sight is set on treaty first,” Ms Gray said.
First Nations people require a treaty first, according to Ms Gray, and require many treaties to reflect the diversity of First Nations people.
“We still have unfinished business here on this land. If we can’t address the dispossession and come up with a treaty then we’re never going to get better,” Ms Gray said. “We want this country to love us the way we love it.