Rallies demand justice for Mr Ward

June 20, 2009

In the wake of the inquest into the shocking death in custody of Aboriginal elder Mr Ward, more than 1000 people rallied in Perth in rainy weather on June 20. Ward was roasted in a prison van on a four-hour journey on a 42ºC day.

The rally was widely supported by members of local Aboriginal communities, union leaders, Green parliamentarians, and progressive campaigners.

Teddy Biljabu, representing Ward's family, expressed relief that so many white people were in attendance, which showed the family is not alone. He said the family would continue fighting for justice until the systematic racism that led to Ward's death was fixed.

Associate professor Ted Wilkes said this was more than just a death in custody issue. It was a broader issue of injustice and racism. The "gap" in life expectancy between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australians is greater in WA than the national average.

Marianne MacKay got a rousing cheer when she called for programs to help keep Aboriginal people out of jail.

Other rallies took place across the country to mark the second anniversary of the announcement of the racist intervention into Northern Territory Aboriginal communities. They also acknowledged that the attacks on Aboriginal people are not restricted to the NT.

In Sydney, Emma Murphy reports 150 people gathered in pouring rain to hear speakers including Maurie Ryan from the Central Land Council in the NT, professor Larissa Behrendt, Dootch Kennedy from the Illawarra Aboriginal Land Council, Adam Kerslake from Unions NSW, Geoff Scott from the NSW Aboriginal Land Council and journalist Jeff McMullen.

McMullen slammed the government's "consultation process", currently underway in NT communities. "You don't make laws and then consult the Aboriginal people", he said. "You talk to them first."

Behrendt slammed the government's ongoing justification for continuing the policy: "[Aboriginal affairs minister Jenny] Macklin should be able to come up with laws that protect women and children without being racist", she said. "It's not that hard."

In Melbourne, Chris Peterson reported that 100 people attended the protest. Speakers included Aboriginal activists Gary Foley Robbie Thorpe, and Aletha Penrith from the NT.

The rally also heard music from Shiralee Hood, Indigenous hip hop artists Payback Records, Little G, Mr Morz Alter Egoz, Tjimba and the Yung Warriors.

Fifty people rallied in Brisbane, Jim McIlroy said. Murri activist and Socialist Alliance member Sam Watson addressed the crowd. He said while it was important to rally on the second anniversary of the intervention, but there were many other issues facing Aboriginal people around the country.

Watson pointed to the recent decision to re-open the coronial inquest into the death in custody of Palm Island man Mulrunji Doomadgee, and said the campaign to stop black deaths in custody must continue.

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