A high price to pay

June 23, 2007

The following is abridged from a speech given by Nathan Fenelon — or "Natty Fen" — to the June 22 "Justice for Mulrunji" rally in Melbourne.

I would just like to say hello to my southern brothers and sisters, hello to our extended friends — and hello enemies. My name is Natty Fen and I am a proud Gu Gu Yalanji man from far-north Queensland. I am here to talk about black deaths in custody.

I have members of my family [who are] part of the stolen generation forced to live on Palm Island. And I can safely say that the ways Aboriginal people were treated on Palm were atrocious when my grandmother was a child, and if you look — I mean really want to look — you will see that their treatment is certainly atrocious today.

The case of [Mulrunji] Doomadgee gives evidence to the entrenched bias Aboriginal people face within the system — a bias that you, the broader community, only get to see in your living rooms on your TV sets. But that's what our people see every day in some form or another — and it's only the extreme blatant miscarriages of justice that you, the broader community, get to see.

It is a sad day, not only for Aboriginal Australia but for all Australians who believe in human rights and who know the value of a life.

In 1992, then Prime Minister Paul Keating made the statement in relation to Aboriginal people that as a nation, "we failed to make the most basic human response and enter into their hearts and minds — we failed to ask what if this was done to me?"

We must remember that Mr Doomadgee was someone's son, someone's brother and someone's friend — and a death sentence for swearing seems a high price to pay, in anyone's law, be it white man's or Aboriginal.

Australia talks of reconciliation — of building bridges — but let's get it right from the gate if we are truly going to walk the talk.

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