Some have classified it as a national emergency – the Australian government is failing our Indigenous community.

A call to action or a call to more education? The Australian government is under pressure as seven First Nations people are reported to have died in police custody in the past two months alone, and at least 474 in the 30 years since the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody handed down its final report.

Despite the alarming figures, a new Hunter and Bligh survey suggests we’re still largely ignorant on the issue with more than half (52.2 per cent) of respondents saying they are unaware that there have been seven Aboriginal deaths in custody in the past two months.

Less than half of Australians (47.8 per cent) are aware that seven Aboriginal and Indigenous people have died in Australian police custody in the past two months.

And in-line with a general lack of awareness about the issue of Aboriginal deaths in custody, fewer than half of the respondents also knew that half of all children currently in detention are Indigenous – 49.3 per cent said they knew, and 50.7 per cent said they did not.

One respondent to our survey said: “The media needs to talk about it more. When the media talks about it, then we all talk about it. Without the coverage and it being made aware, nothing will be done about it.”

So is the Australian government failing our Aboriginal and Indigenous people? Nearly two-thirds (65 per cent) of Australians believe that it is. Collectively, 79 per cent of us also agree with Shadow Minister for Indigenous Australians, Linda Burney, when she said Aboriginal deaths in police custody should be considered a national emergency.

Do we need to make a commitment to implement the recommendations of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody (1987-1991)? Overall, 86.5 per cent of Australians say we do.

“I’m not Indigenous, but listening to Indigenous leaders would be a good start”, said one respondent. 

When asked what the best course of action is going forward, one Hunter and Bligh member said: “Police need more training to deal with these issues. The government needs to realise that the welfare of all Australians is there responsibility, not just the ones they feel can do them the most good. This issue is a blight on our country [and] we need to all realise it and work hard to change it.”

We acknowledge the traditional owners of country throughout Australia and recognise their continuing connection to land, waters and culture. We pay our respects to their elders past, present and emerging.

Data received by Hunter and Bligh and conducted by CoreData Research, a global specialist financial services research and strategy consultancy. The survey was conducted in April 2021 and received results from 1219 Australians.
Feature image: Photographed by sebastianbourges. Image supplied via Canva from Getty Images Pro.