Image provided by the Australian Greens
By Jelena Kovacevic
I write this as a first-generation Australian who is increasingly concerned by the state of affairs in this country. There’s a lot of work to be done in addressing underlying prejudice in Australian society towards First Nation people. The Labor government’s ambitions in establishing an Indigenous Voice to Parliament have been hailed as a true opportunity for proper reconciliation with First Nations people; however, I am sceptical of the sincerity behind this motive, knowing that a concerted effort is required to undo prevalent racist attitudes in society.
A fifteen-year-old Noongar boy named Cassius Turvey was murdered in an unprovoked attack by a twenty-one-year-old man. Notice how I stipulated the race of the victim but not the attacker? This demonstrates the media’s bias in assuming that the common Australian is most likely to be white or, at the very least, non-Indigenous. But that’s a whole other story. Bear in mind that it also took several days after Cassius died in the emergency department of a hospital for news of his death to be released. We heard nothing of the attack when it first occurred despite how distressing it was. Much of Australia has been quiet on the matter, and the little information I have accessed has been from extremely aggrieved Indigenous accounts calling out the blatant white supremacy underlying this attack.
In searching for news about the attack, I came across several articles that said Cassius was at “the wrong time, wrong place” and that the attack was an accident. The WA Police Commissioner also cautioned people against making assumptions that the attack was racially motivated. Interestingly, a public outcry in the US occurred following the murder of George Floyd in 2020. It was known instantaneously that this was a murder of a Black man in a system that continuously fails the African American community and has contributed to their overrepresentation in the criminal justice system. It’s not just lawyers who know this; it’s pretty well known in American and Australian society that non-white people in the United States are “disadvantaged”. On the day of George Floyd’s murder, my Instagram had almost everyone sharing a photo of George Floyd’s face and criticising police brutality. The BLM movement spread so quickly. Being silent was embarrassing. So, why has that not transferred to the murder of Cassius and the ongoing prejudice that Indigenous people face?
I feel that, primarily, people feel more comfortable with criticising events that occur overseas. They know they don’t need to be well-informed on an issue to call out bad behaviour and prejudice. If something is wrong and it’s happening in another country, it is in our right to call out that country. That’s the Australian way – call out what is wrong. Well, I suppose a lot of people are aware that they’re still planning on having annual BBQs on January 26th, still holding a flag that bears the Union Jack and still respecting figures like Captain James Cook, who “endured rough seas on the way to a land that was already inhabited”. Within the school system, we were fed lies about this country. I believed it was my duty as a non-Anglo European to fit in with the white Australian culture. It is only now, as a university student, that I am undoing these harmful ideas about this country and realising that we are at fault for the disadvantages First Nations Australians face. The shame of this country is completely on show when we have a racist, anti-immigrant woman being paid to sit in parliament and feed the people lies. And when the Labor government is only now considering a separate body for First Nations people in parliament, even though New Zealand and Norway established forms of democratic representation for Indigenous peoples decades ago.
The murder of Cassius is not an isolated incident. Over 400 Indigenous people have died in custody at the hands of a policing system that fails them. Cassius deserves better, and it is our duty to speak up. We were united as a nation when Cleo went missing, and we can do it again if we make a concerted effort to speak up for all Australians.