After the virus: Lidia Thorpe wants to change the system
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From Schwartz Media, I’m Ruby Jones, this is 7am.
Over the next few weeks I’ll be interviewing prominent Australians who have written about their vision for the country in The Saturday Paper.
We’ll be examining how Covid-19 will reshape the key issues facing our nation.
Today, I’m speaking to Victoria’s first Aboriginal Senator, Lidia Thorpe.
She talks about the challenges of 2020, and what we can learn from the communities that she represents.
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Lidia, in your piece for The Saturday Paper, you wrote that even in the hardest times, 2020 has made us stronger. How so?
I think it's connected people more than ever. And you know, I see that in my own backyard and in Preston and what I've seen on social media and in the general media, is that people are actually opening up and they're sharing their love and their care and their resources with those that need it most.
So I think there's a lot of lessons that we've learned in 2020. Caring for Country is another one. And we just can't go back to, you know, the new normal. We've got to actually create a society that's equal and fair and caring.
You know, and this is what I learned in all my life is from trauma, from situations of hardship that Aboriginal people grow stronger from that, we learn those lessons and we band together to make our community stronger. And we just look after one another.
Mmm, and how have you personally experienced the pandemic, as it unfolded?
I've had highs and lows. Whilst, you know, I'm excited to now become a senator, it doesn't change the fact that I have my own struggles in my own family, in my own community, and that I'm still expected to support a lot of our community members who are really struggling.
So there have been times where I've been really overwhelmed. We've had a number of suicides during this pandemic. We've had, you know, a lot of violence against women, women in these vulnerable situations who haven't been able to leave. So I've been contacted by those people experiencing that.
And, you know, there was one morning there where I couldn't get out of bed. I had to have my sister come around and tell me to get out of bed because I was just so overwhelmed by people's experiences and trauma that they were experiencing at the time.
And on that day, you know, I realized, okay, I can't, I can't get to that low. I've got to keep fighting. I've got to get up and continue to do what I have to do so that these people aren't left behind and continue to raise their voices and change the system.
The system was designed to only benefit privileged white people. It wasn't designed to protect our most vulnerable. So I feel that it's also an opportunity to look at our structures, break down those barriers that are discriminative and not giving everyone the same opportunity.
And these ideas about systemic change and wanting to look at the very structure of our society. How do they link to your identity as an Aboriginal woman?
Well, my identity as an Aboriginal woman, a Gunnai-Gunditjmara Djab Wurrung woman comes from the oldest continuing living culture on Earth. And with that comes responsibility in terms of caring for one another and caring for our country, particularly our elders.
And I believe that the lessons from our old people and our ancestors and our land are something that the wider Australian population can, not only just learn from, but benefit from, if people knew how to look after their old people in a way that we have for thousands and thousands of generations, then we wouldn't see what we're seeing today with the aged care crisis, for example.
If people were more connected to the land in which they live and understood the sacredness of that and the stories contained in that land, then I believe that they would want to protect it just as much as we have for thousands and thousands of generations.
When you talk about systemic change and changing the structure of our society, can you tell me any more about what you think should go and what you think should replace it?
Well, I think that for too long that, you know, the stolen wealth has only benefited very few people in this country, and that we need to share that wealth so that no one is left behind.
And that means that, you know, these big companies and corporations and mining industry, and the people who benefit from those should be paying for their luxury and for their extraction of country that's not theirs. And that wealth should be evenly distributed amongst all Australians so that people aren't going hungry, they're not going homeless, and they have, you know, their basic human rights met.
That's one example. I suppose another example is how we incarcerate people in this country
Archival Tape -- Unidentified Man #1:
“The proportion of people in jail per head of population in the Northern Territory is third highest on the planet.”
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“Indigienous youth are 52 times more likely to become incarcerated than non-indigenous. youth.”
I mean, we look at the situation of children in this country. You know, we're locking up children from the age of 10.
Archival Tape -- Unidentified Woman #1:
“Children who should be in grade 4, grade 5 and grade 6 are being caught up in the quicksand of the criminal justice system. Hundreds of kids are being taken away from their families and locked up in prisons usually the size of a car parking spot.”
We're fighting to have that legislation change in every state and territory so that we're raising the age of criminal responsibility to 14. If that were to happen tomorrow, we would immediately release six hundred children under the age of 14.
Archival Tape -- Unidentified Woman #2:
“I want adults to stop putting 10 year old kids in jail, I want my future to be out on land with strong culture and language.”
During the pandemic, it's been mainly Sudanese and Aboriginal people that have been fined as part of the lockdown laws because, you know, we're profiled more than anybody else and we're targeted more than anybody else.
So those racist behaviors and policies that really affect our most vulnerable people need to be not just changed. I think that they should be abolished.
We’ll be back after this.
Lidia, you were sworn in as a Senator this week, but before that, you were an activist for your community. How have you navigated that shift? Has there been a big difference between those two roles for you?
Actually, no. Maybe there should be.
But I just feel that I'm just doing the same job as I've always done. I just have this new title, which I'm still struggling with, which is Senator. And, you can put any label on me or any title on me. But at the end of the day, I'm still fighting for the same things. I still have the same struggles as I did as an activist. And I'll take all of that into this place so that people have a better understanding.
I think too many people in that place learn this stuff in universities and through their degrees and not on the ground. So I will take that on the ground experience and try and educate these people who have been in their privileged little bubble for the entire time that they've been in parliament.
I want to burst that bubble and give them a bit of a smack of reality, if you like, into what it's actually like on the ground for people who are struggling.
As well as the pandemic, the thing that has defined 2020 is the Black Lives Matter movement. I wonder how much change you think that movement has affected in Australia.
Look, I think it's been a real wakeup call for this country.
People were quite happy to be surprised and shocked by a man who was killed in front of the world by the system that oppresses black people. But when they realized that, hey, this is actually happening in our own backyard right here, that was a rude awakening for a lot of people. And we still see people in absolute denial that it's a problem here.
But I think there's more people that were awoken from the Black Lives Matter movement. And I believe that our movement has grown as a result.
And so do you think then that it has actually caused Australians to to have a meaningful look at what's happening in our own backyard?
Yes, I do.
I absolutely do, and that's why I believe treaty is also an opportunity to inform people about, because I believe that that can be the mechanism that will bring people along on that journey.
Let's talk more about treaty, because you've said that you don't support constitutional recognition and a voice to parliament. Can you tell me more about why that is?
Well, I suppose it's about sequence.
So in terms of the Uluru statement, it says voice, truth, treaty. Well I’m flipping those priorities to be truth telling first. The country needs to own up to what's happened in the last two hundred and forty years. We need that acknowledged and we need to break down those systems that have been created in that time and tell the truth. There's so many people in this country that have no idea of the truth of this country or they're in denial of the truth of this country. So we need to go down this truth telling path so that we can mature as a nation. And then treaty has to come next.
So once people understand the truth and they acknowledge it and they embrace it, then we can talk about how we move forward together as a nation. And once we've had that conversation then I think constitutional recognition or a voice to parliament can be part of a treaty negotiation.
There's there's many parts of our society where we need to negotiate a better outcome. And constitutional recognition can be one of those if the people want that as their priority.
But you're saying treaty has to come first?
Lidia, what type of country do you think that Australia, and I mean that as, I guess, as a collective, Australia wants to be, and what would be needed to take us there?
I think that in people's hearts and minds, people want a country that we can all be proud of, that we can all celebrate and where we're not leaving anyone behind.
There's no reason why we should have people who are hungry in our own country or poor in our own country. We have so much to offer as a nation that we should not have people in those situations. And I believe that everyone would agree with that.
We need to have a flag that represents us all, we need to have an anthem that represents us all and we need to have a parliament that represents us all. And I mean, who would not want that?
We want to be part of a celebration of what this nation represents. But what do we represent? I don't think anyone is really comfortable about what we actually represent.
Lidia, thank you so much for your time today.
This is the first in our series of conversations with prominent Australians reimagining the future after the virus. Make sure to subscribe in your favourite podcast app so you don’t miss future episodes.
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Also in the news today…
New South Wales' streak of 12 days without a locally acquired coronavirus case has come to an end. The state reported three cases in Sydney yesterday, and they do not appear to be linked, according to the government.
Pop up testing clinics have been established across the city as contract tracers work to limit any potential spread.
And Victorian health authorities have asked 177 people and their close contacts to self-quarantine in Kilmore, to stop the town's outbreak from getting worse.
There are two active cases in Kilmore. Both people caught the virus after a visitor from Melbourne visited a local cafe while infectious.
I’m Ruby Jones, this is 7am. See ya tomorrow.
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Lidia Thorpe entered the Senate this week, becoming the first Aboriginal Senator representing Victoria. Today, she talks to Ruby Jones about rebuilding after the pandemic, and what we can learn from the communities that she represents.
Over the next few weeks 7am will be interviewing prominent Australians who have written about their vision for the country in The Saturday Paper.
Guest: Senator for Victoria, Lidia Thorpe.
After the virus: Fighting for our future in The Saturday Paper
7am is a daily show from The Monthly and The Saturday Paper. It’s produced by Ruby Schwartz, Atticus Bastow, and Michelle Macklem.
Elle Marsh is our features and field producer, in a position supported by the Judith Neilson Institute for Journalism and Ideas.
Brian Campeau mixes the show. Our editor is Osman Faruqi. Erik Jensen is our editor-in-chief. Our theme music is by Ned Beckley and Josh Hogan of Envelope Audio.
New episodes of 7am are released every weekday morning. Subscribe in your favourite podcast app, to make sure you don’t miss out.
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