Digital Speaker Series #2: Rising up for our Rights

by | Mar 23, 2021

Rising up for our Rights: transcript

Rosanne: It’s been a busy night. The Victorian Multicultural Commission had a webinar on this evening. I know that there’s been a debrief about women’s marches this evening. And I also know that there’s a snap action being called by Flat Out to establish a Commission for Homes Not Prisons in Victoria after announcements about expanding the women’s prison which is obviously an issue. So, you know, if those are events and issues that you’re interested in and you’re coming from, we really appreciate you joining us tonight.

And obviously to all of you who are watching the event on video after the fact, Welcome and we’re glad that you were able to watch it afterwards.

So I’d like to start by acknowledging the custodians of these lands on which we’re meeting and their enduring sovereignty of land, sea, sky, and community.

I’m personally on Wurundjeri land. And I know that Marcella I can see has written you’re on Bunerong land. Marjorie. Where are you today?

Marjorie: I’m on Gunnai country.

Rosanne: And June.

Marjorie: East Gippsland.

June: I’m on Gumbainggir country, which is North Coast New South Wales.

Rosanne: And I know Amao is… Oh, we’ve just lost Amao. That’s not good.

But I know Amao has been having some connection problems, but I know Amao is also in Naarm at the moment. I believe.

And we’ve got our lovely tech support person from intertwine tonight.

Lauren Carter doing work in the background. She’ll get Amao back hopefully and back on the screen.

To continue, I’d like to note that this panel is occurring on colonised land. That sovereignty was never ceded. We honour the elders past and present. We bear witness to the strength, diversity and resilience of the First Peoples. And I’d like to acknowledge the First Peoples in the room with us June and Marjorie, especially, but any other First Peoples who are joining us.

And I would personally like to acknowledge that as a migrant, descendant of migrants, that I also benefit from settler colonialism in this land.

I’d also like to quickly add a little safety note for our participants and for our audience and frame the discussion tonight. We’d like to acknowledge that interpersonal violence can exist alongside structural violence and what we’re asking you to do today is we’re calling you in, in a spirit of radical solidarity, where the struggle of every one of us becomes the struggle of all of us. We won’t tolerate lateral violence here. We won’t tolerate racism. We won’t tolerate transphobia or ableism or sexism.

If you find that you need support because of any of the conversations that we’re having tonight and you can contact Lauren Carter, intertwine’s amazing Lauren Carter, in the chat. For support, both tech support and a little bit of emotional support. So to start the conversation off.

It’s been, it’s been a really intense couple of weeks. We’ve had daily onslaught of misogyny. We’ve had more deaths in custody. We’ve heard today about another man being let off after the choking death of a trans woman of colour.

We’ve heard more awful revelations about what’s going on in parliament.

And if you are anything like me, you’re filled with rage and despair. And when we’re filled with rage and despair, the question is, what do we do with that? Where does it go? How do we, what do we do about it? So one of the things that we do is we join together and recognise each other’s rage and despair and work together to do something. So that makes it amazing for me tonight in this moment of rage and despair to be joined by these incredible panelists.

And I’m very sorry. My phone just rang. The things that you don’t realise, you haven’t set your own phone onto do not disturb. So I’m going to introduce them and I’d like, in fact, I’m going to ask you to introduce yourselves and then we’re going to — I’m going to duck out. And effectively these lovely, incredible people are going to have a conversation with each other. So Marcella, June, Marjorie. June is involved with the First Peoples Disability Network, just an incredible person there. And because my phone rang, all of my notes have just disappeared. So that’s why I’m gonna ask you to introduce yourselves. June, if you introduce yourself and then Marjorie and then Marcella, and then I’ll come back and ask a question to start us off. 

June: Good evening everyone. And thanks for joining us. I’d like to acknowledge that we’re on many countries across this land this afternoon and pay my respects to their elders both past and present and all of our emerging leaders that are here to listen and learn and support our struggles. So my name’s June Riemer. I’m a Gumbainggirr Dunghutti woman from the North Coast of New South Wales. I’m deputy CEO for First Peoples Disability Network Australia. We’re the only national peak representing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people living with disability. Thank you.

Rosanne: Marjorie?

Marjorie: Hello. My name is Marjorie Thorpe. I’m a Djab Wurrung senior woman, currently involved in the court action against the state government for the trees. And the area in the Western highway. I live at Lake Tyers in East Gippsland. My father’s country, Gunnai country. And I’m a member of the Elders Council in this part of the country. I also pay my respects to and acknowledge all of the women on this session tonight, and I’m very honoured to be here with you. And I do also recognise all of the indigenous peoples, not only in this country, but everywhere else, who are continuing the struggle to be recognised and have their issues addressed. So thank you.

Rosanne: Marcella?

Marcella: Hi, everybody. It’s such an honour to be on the panel with you, Marjorie and June. I’m Marcella. I am very recently one of the organisers for March for Justice. But my normal day job is working in the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre. I’m the media and engagement manager. And I’ve been working in that human rights sort of movement for people seeking asylum and refuge for about four years now.

Before that, I was a campaigner, an election campaigner for the Greens. And worked for members of parliament, state and federal.

And also was a social worker for a while as well.

Rosanne: Thanks so much Marcella. And if Amao is able to join us again, which I really hope that she is, Amao is a Samoan-Australian Fa’afafine performer and activist, and we’re really lucky to have her.

She’s been doing some incredible work over the past number of years.

I wanted to start off. And as I say, you know, I’ll kind of duck out of this conversation. We started out with originally having this conversation set up for international human rights day. And unfortunately we had to delay it and I wanted to talk about human rights as an imported white framework. I think it’s really… It’s something that we don’t often reflect on. And I was wondering if I could, first of all, ask you, Marjorie, to talk about how you see human rights and whether or not from your point of view is rights compatible with the way that First Peoples think about the world or is it just, is this a white thing that we’ve just imposed on everyone?

Marjorie: That’s a good question, because you know, we’re led to believe that these frameworks that are established to address the issues of indigenous peoples and women, are there to address the concerns that we have.

But as you said, it’s usually a framework that’s been dictated from, from a male perspective.

You know, it’s either driven by policies that are coming out of government now.

From our point of view, it’s government, unfortunately, that we’re dependent on to establish services and provide everything that we do in our communities.

We’re government-dependent. So at the end of the day, those issues are driven by the male white patriarchy in this country.

Marcella: June, did you want to add? Did you want to speak to that? The white framework?

Marjorie: Hi. I couldn’t hear that. Sorry.

June: Yeah. So I’ll pick up there. Yeah. I mean, it definitely… you know, even though we have the human rights principles and Australia is a signatory, it still has those colonial overtunes in regards to, it doesn’t acknowledge, you know, individual cultures or traditions or self-determination. So, you know, for so many of our people, yes, we have a human rights framework, but it was written… not on behalf of our people or for our people. It was written to, you know, guide colonial institutions and how they conduct business.

So I think, you know, in particular I would give… an example would be, you know, the CRPD and the rights of people with a disability, which we work under, you know, as an organisation.

But currently we have the Disability Royal Commission happening. And it hasn’t intersected at all with our people because it runs to a mainstream timetable that doesn’t understand cultural business. And then doesn’t interpret the way business is done on country for our communities.

People are not safeguarded in regards to whistleblowing on behalf of institutions that may have created violence, neglect or abuse in their lives.

So, yes, we do have the human rights framework, but it really doesn’t go down to the level that really supporting Aboriginal people to have sovereignty, you know, to have their own self-determination. And that’s what’s lost in this conversation, even though Australia is a signatory to those human rights frameworks. They’re not instigated or accepted within the Australian government.

They always find a way around. You know, they’re white policies. They’re white frameworks. To overrule any, you know, frameworks that were developed to support people, to have, you know, a quality of life in a civil society.


Marcella: I agree. That was really powerful what you both said. For me, I think, You know, I’m a Tamil migrant. And I came here when I was nine years old. And I didn’t really know what human rights were until I went to uni.

And I also, sorry, there’s children. Children right outside my door. Sorry.

I feel like what I want to say is, is that the human rights framework is a very legalistic framework. It is, it is an academic framework. And it’s almost like it’s the only thing that we have. You know, it was created by colonial powers, you know, after the war to protect themselves really.

And to protect the whole world, but to really protect themselves. But I do feel like it’s the only modern framework that we have in this, in, in this colonised world to recognise the humanity of people and to protect that humanity of people.


Yeah. So I think that’s … even though it’s been written by the colonising powers, it’s the only thing we have that they will recognise. It’s their language. And, and unfortunately, so many of our communities and countries and nations have to speak that white colonial language in order to be able to, you know, access any kind of legal rights or any kind of rights.

That’s that’s kind of how I feel about that. We’re forced to engage with it.

Marjorie: And I guess when you look at the declaration for indigenous rights that came out of the UN. And this was one country that in the first instance failed to implement it and to accept it. So, you know, we’ve had continual battles trying to have our rights recognised and addressed and you know, it’s usually.

You know, it’s sometimes.

You know, the lip service that’s paid to us in addressing those issues that we have is, is, you know, it’s not good enough.

And we’re in this continual struggle to have our rights recognised and let alone being addressed in a way that we know will, you know, do something about it?

And so we find that a lot of that suggests to, you know, protection of their own interests, as you mentioned.

And it’s usually a, you know, a commercial interest. That’s based on a capitalist system. And even in the UN, if you see the issues there with other countries not being accepted and it’s pretty much dominated by the powerful nations of the world. And they’ve got business interests in some countries that they don’t want to see human rights addressed.

June: And I think I would like to add on to that. Thanks Marjorie.

But also in Australia, we had the racial discrimination act and the disability discrimination act, before the human rights frameworks.

But for our people on the ground, none of those really supported or covered, you know, their self-determination because with all these acts and frameworks, they’re not centred around cultural interpretation. Or they’re not taught for people to understand their rights. And obligations of institutions to make inclusive society, whatever that may be. So I think this is, you know, what we see, you know, right across this area, particularly, you know, in our area of work around, you know, disability discrimination.

You know, it just doesn’t happen for most of our community there.

You know, particularly in rural and remote areas, our people with disability are living in squalid conditions that you would not see in third world countries.

Marjorie: Yeah, that’s right.

June: So in regards to all these acts and frameworks, unless people, you know, have that knowledge, which is not easily, you know, spread or taught or learned across systems, people don’t know how to enable these frameworks, to be able to stand up and empower and have a voice.

So, you know, it’s still that colonial overlay, you know, keep ‘em in the dark. Don’t let them know about their individual rights. And, and so we have a long way to go in this country.

Marcella: I 100% agree with you. I think. Yeah, it’s that, it’s that making things inaccessible.

June: Hmm.

Marcella: It’s very colonial and very, you know, very white colonial and white supremacist thing to do to maintain power over people and people’s resources because you’re right. In the end, it comes down to resources. You know, land and you know, that people own, especially for Aboriginal people in this country and First Nations people in this country but also, you know, commercial interests in India and commercial interests in, in where I’m from and all of, you know, countries that are not Western countries, you know, the resources, the only thing that you know, people are interested in really is resources of those countries. And how much they can get away with. And it’s almost like that is the rule of the day is how much can powerful people get away with?

You know, it’s happening in parliament right now. How much can the Prime Minister get away with? It’s always been like that. You know, since colonial time.

Marjorie: And even the, you know, the watered down rights that we’re supposed to have, you know, within the UN, that’s watered down continuously and it comes down to a state level. And one of the real problems that we have is information.

So, you know, there’s control over the information processes about what your rights are and what this actually means. And how do you access services?

You know, we see that, you know, you know, across the board in our communities that there’s no access. You know, people are living in poverty. There’s, you know, they’re the majority of people, but they don’t have information or engagement, proper engagement under, you know, even the principles that you’re supposed to engage people by there.

You know, it’s less than what we’ve got a right to basically.

So that’s a continual struggle. You know, one of the issues it highlights today that, you know, as a result of the inquiry into the removal of Aboriginal children from their families.

And I was part of that inquiry and that was 1996 that the recommendations came out of that, and today people are asking me in my own community, about how do they get information about whether they’re entitled to any redress?

You know, right now, today and it’s those things that, you know, I ring up the responsible agencies. And they’re asking me to, if I can organise a meeting! Well, no, I don’t have the capacity or the resource to do that. I’m an aged pensioner.

And, you know, it’s not. And so those people are still failing, you know?

The redress system in Victoria is being talked about, but they’ll only go to a radius — you know, it doesn’t, we don’t even, we’re not even included in that catchment in East Gippsland. So those, this area, this particular community where I live, was identified as a baby farm, in that inquiry. And so, you know, there are a lot of people that just — our people and lots of other people — who don’t even have information. And to access information, you have to usually have an internet. You have to be able to read and write and yeah, that’s not happening in a country like this.

It’s disgusting.

And it’s shameful that this country can still allow, for people in this country, Aboriginal people and others, to be in those circumstances.

You know, people with disabilities, people who you know, who are LGBTQIA people.

It’s a discrimination that we endure every day. And if we’re affected by not only one of those categories, if you like, if we, if we’re in a couple of them, that’s multiplied. Yeah. I actually seen something about the ageism as well. So for people, women, who’d be get to a particular age,then you’re discriminated against that, so let alone if you have all of those categories. Well, it’s very difficult. And there are a lot of people in those categories that are, you know, disenfranchised.

June: And I think, you know, that’s very true Marjorie that, you know, that’s a conversation Australia needs to be had. It was, you know, our founding member, Uncle Lester Bostock, a Bundjalong man, from the North coast of New South Wales. He was the one that coined the phrase about if we’re not included in the constitution, so, what are we? Flora and fauna?

So, you know, that’s still a conversation that needs to be had today.

You know, or he was the one that came up with double disadvantage as in being Aboriginal in Australia today is a disadvantage. For us, if you have a disability, it’s a double disadvantage, but now, you know, we’re talking about, you know, triple disadvantage. Whether it’s ableism or not being able to, you know, access appropriate supports in your life, whatever that may be because of lack of communication, lack of cultural awareness and communication on the ground for our people, you know, lack of language transference.

So, you know, these conversations are still happening, that we talked about in the seventies. I mean, I think, you know, the big one that we had lately around Black Lives Matter. We’ve been saying that in Australia for, you know, 30, 40 years now, but it took, you know, an American to die for our people, our communities to stand up? Really? You know, we had 332 recommendations from the Royal Commission that was held into black deaths in custody. And none of them have been implemented. So, you know where are our human rights? Last week alone, we had another person with disability die in custody. You know, 70% of our population who are incarcerated — and we have the highest incarceration rates in the world for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people — 70% have a disability and should not even be there in the first place.

So, you know, when we talk about human rights frameworks, it doesn’t happen in Australia. Because we’re overruled, as you said, by the colonial framework that you know is top down rather than bottom up and listening. And understanding culture. Understanding traditions.

You know, whichever that may be, as you said, the LGBTQI community, our refugee communities. But more importantly, you know, our First Nations. We’re still not recognised as the traditional owners of this land.

Marcella: Yeah.

Marjorie: That’s one of the issues that Victoria has been dragging its feet, to address exactly that, and what’s the status of that in our communities.

And, you know, we’ve said from time immemorial that this is our land.

And there has been nothing that we have done to say otherwise. There’s not being any consent. And we’re talking about consent again, you know, in a whole other areas, but fundamentally the first consent was never given by the people whose land this still is. And so, you know, we’re still trying to address those issues and you know, Victoria has now decided that they’ll go… that they’ll work on a Treaty Commission, which is all fine and well, but they’re controlling that process. And they’re making sure that that process suits their agenda.

So it’s a continual battle as well. And another thing that’s very important is the establishment of a Truth and Justice commission.

So you can’t have a Treaty unless you address the issues of what’s happened to our people as a consequence of that colonisation, and that invasion in the first place. And we talk about people who have, you know, have been systematically abused, discriminated against and the majority of our people suffer from post-traumatic stress disorders.

You know, this continual you know, the mental health of our people is very fragile and there’s not the sufficient or adequate services for addressing that full-stop.

And so unfortunately we get a system where the creation of bodies are appearing that are said to be addressing those issues, but sadly, they are also controlled by government policies.

You know, and that’s, that’s our biggest problem. So first of all, you know, it’s recognized that we are the sovereigns of this country and we’ve not given that up. That’s all we hang on to.

And so unless those processes, you know, are worked through with good intent, then it’s not going to change, you know, you can’t say yes, we’ll have a treaty, you know, on one hand, on the other hand, create a process that doesn’t address that at all and actually goes way from what we’re talking about. So we have to be very mindful of that because we create another institutional body that’s supposed to address our issues, we need to make sure that we actually control those institutions and processes because it’s us that know, whoever we are, what our needs are. We don’t need anyone to interpret that for us.

We all come from different nations in this country.

And we need to make sure our nations of indigenous people across this country have control of what happens within their lands and with their peoples.

You know, particularly with the stolen gens people.

You know, we have a process now that, you know, people need to know, you know, fundamentally to have good mental health, you need to know who you are. And you need to know where you come from.

That’s everybody.

And people need to be respected and recognised for that.

Marcella: I think you’re right, you know, the human rights framework is too removed from real life, you know, it’s too removed from that basic respect and connection — that human connection — is missing in all of the interactions that the state and institutions have with ordinary people. You know, like in my work with the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre and refugees, people seeking asylum, being in detention for eight years, being on temporary visas for eight years. You know, their human rights. They don’t they’re there. First of all, they’ve been dehumanised. You know, utter, completely dehumanised in the national narrative.

They are not human beings anymore. You know, and the institutions don’t deal with or respect or recognise that even the fact that they are human beings with feelings, and trauma and medical needs.

You know, we have a human rights law program at the ASRC, you know, and we do that work, but there isn’t a charter of human rights in Australia. So there’s no legal avenue to enforce that in Australia.

So we struggle, you know, on a daily basis. You know, and my job as a campaigner was to humanise people seeking asylum and refugees.

So white people could see them as human beings and actually care about them, and relate to them as human beings, as people with families and the capacity to be hurt, you know, by being in locked up for eight years,

You know, and that project of… you know, human rights isn’t even, it’s up here. You know, it’s unachievable because when institutions and governments, you know, and people, white people with power, cannot even recognise that you are a human with feelings, you know?

And that you need help and that you’re hurt. That’s what gets me. That’s what’s terrifying for me. It’s terrifying, you know, that people with power and powerful institutions cannot even answer the call of help for people who are hurting and who are just… yeah, that’s what’s terrifying for me.

They’d rather clean the couch, clean the office, than help someone. That’s the terrifying thing.

Marjorie: And so the people who come here as refugees have come from countries where, you know, they’ve lived under terrible conditions. And in lot of cases that’s been caused by wars that have, you know, fought up for resources.

You know, we’ve lived that life of being incarcerated in places like Lake Tyers, which, you know, people weren’t allowed to go off here. My father was born here and people weren’t allowed to go off here until 1967. It was a reserve. So we were locked up on those reserves and our people didn’t have any rights. We were run by managers. So, and, you know, we’re still suffering the consequences of that.

The trauma that our people have endured has not been addressed. And so we keep getting these policies, said to be for our own good, but in fact, they’re not being driven by ourselves or the people who… which is self-determination. You can only fix yourself. And you can only address those issues you know, that you’re affected by if you’re involved in those, in those decision-making processes. Other people can’t do it for you.

And this country needs to also address the issues of the people who are coming here as genuine refugees, as opposed to the skilled migrants and particularly, other migrants coming from other countries.

You know, there’s a very big concern that I have. And a lot of those people are coming from countries that they’re not indigenous, they’re white people, fleeing countries that are, you know, because they are afraid of what’s happening. And South Africa, I guess, is a good example of that. What’s happening with the, you know, people, white people from New Zealand and other places are coming to this country because, you know, as my brother Robbie says, it’s the last bastion of white supremacy.

And I totally agree with him on that one.

Marcella: That is a very interesting point, Marjorie.

Can you say that again? I love that. I love what you just said.

You said, white people are coming here because it’s the last bastion of white supremacy.

Marjorie: Yes. Yes, it is.

Marcella: Wow.

Marjorie: And so you have a look at the foundations of this country. We’re still hanging on to the Crown. You know, what has the Crown done for peoples around the world? Particularly nations, like, you know, across the world, they’ve plundered and raped them.

And so they’re holding onto this country because it’s rich in minerals and resources. So wait till they plunder this country and rape it, and rob it to the point where no one can live in those communities and that’s what’s also happened.

I’m tired of the welfare process and the structures that tell us how we should live and how we should improve our lives.

That doesn’t cut it with me anymore. We have to fight for our land and for our peoples. ‘Cause you know what? We own this country. And it’s not going to take a voice in the parliament to solve our problems for us.

I spent six years on the Reconciliation Council going around this country as a chair, as a convener of the people’s movement, that’s not what people understood with that moderate point of view.

There was no treaty, you know, just discussions within that, but that’s what come out loud and clear in that declaration towards reconciliation.

We could not reconcile in 2000 because the country was too racist.

That was the bottom line.

So there was supposed to be an education process to educate the rest of the country about their racist attitudes towards First Peoples, let alone anybody else who comes here, people of colour or people with difference, you know, this country is so set on dividing people because of the difference that we have. Our people never did that. That is not what we did. Everyone was, they were people and everyone had something to contribute and once you’ve seen the divisions. ‘Oh, you’ve got a disability, you’re whatever it is.’ You know, that’s our problem in this country.

And that’s what our people know, that that’s wrong. That’s what we need.

You know, the white supremacy, where did the Nazis come from after the World War Two? They came here. They didn’t only go to South America. They came here. And they’re still here.

And I think you can see that’s entrenched in some of those halls of power in Canberra. It’s sickening. And it’s frightening, like you said,

Cause they can’t… How do they treat people? Lock them up in hotels.

These are people who’ve come here with a need of being, you know, fleeing for their lives. And they’re locked up in hotels like that. The Mantra and other hotels, that’s a disgusting human rights abuse of people.

And if people in this country can stand by and let that happen, that says it all.

But, you know what?

They’re well practiced on how to abuse people because they did it to us. For over 250 years. And they still can’t admit that what they’ve done is genocide. But that’s what it exactly is, that was identified in the inquiry for the removal of children from their families. It was genocide.

Marcella: And before that, they spent 300 years also in India doing that to us.

Marjorie: Yes. Yes. In the first instance, they tried to wipe us out with a gun and murder us and poison us. Then they separated us and dispersed our children away. Yeah. Sorry doesn’t cut it either. I’m sorry, but it doesn’t cut it.

June: And I think that’s an important note around, you know, the resilience of, you know, first nations people from, you know, many countries across this world that a human rights framework doesn’t understand.

So, you know, this week was the anniversary of William Ferguson, an Aboriginal man that white wrote to the Queen, during the Holocaust, you know, to alert them to the injustices that were happening to the Jewish people. It was an Aboriginal man that wrote that, who was still being persecuted and living, you know,  on missions himself.

So I think you hit it earlier Marjorie about, you know, we look after our own and, and work together and include everyone. We’re an inclusive society. That’s what the human rights framework doesn’t cover around culture. We include everyone. You know, if you look at the history across Australia, First Nations people, you know, accepted everyone, whether it was, you know, the Chinese, you know, pearl divers, the Afghan camel herders. You know, whoever it was that came into the country, the Irish, that you know, worked hard to, you know, open up Australia.

You know, we accepted all those people.

It was the colonial’s overture that you know, conquered and divided us, and are still conquering and dividing us now. And we only have to look at the Closing the Gap current protocols and priorities. An example of that I would give, for the first time ever in its 10 year history is, disability hasn’t been included. We have, the First Peoples Disability Network, have now been working for three months with the government, because they don’t like our wording. So there’s still overruling. You know, they acknowledged that disability is a priority area in our communities, whether it’s educational outcomes, employment outcomes, justice outcomes.

There’s a disability story in all of that. But the government still wouldn’t… Cause we in our negotiations asked for four priority areas around that. They came to the table with only two. So we’re still always having to negotiate with this colonial power that doesn’t understand the realities on the ground.

But what I wanted to say, I think, in the end, resilience will hold out.

You know, whatever the government’s thrown at us, you know, whatever human rights frameworks have been developed. Our mobs, whether it’s the refugee communities or the other cultural groups, but more importantly, our First Nations people are still standing. Throw whatever you want at us, but we’re still here and we’ll do it our way. We’ll do it cultural way, and we’ll look after our own, you know.

So I think in the end there will be a people movement. You know, people have had enough, as we said in the last, you know, few weeks, all the things that, you know, we’re surrounded by.

That was earlier said, you know, we’re constantly hearing this White man overview of how we should live our lives, but it’s not good enough anymore.

And I think you will see people power come through and we have to collectively all join hands and come together.

And then it’s the young ones, you know, that will be the voice now. The legal entities about putting the wrongs to the rights.

You know, they don’t even accept, you know, we’ve tried to put truth-telling into, you know… Unless we identify, you know, the wrongs, and come forward and speak about it, you know, as human beings and accept there were wrongs done for whatever reason.

But, you know, their attitude and their mindset, you know, as we’ve seen in the last week, they cannot relent. They still have to be this ignorant body that, you know, doesn’t acknowledge even when they do wrong.

And I think that’s what, you know, our communities and our other, you know, refugee communities or LGBTQI people, you know, we accept, you know, wrongs from everyone and we come together because we’re marginalised.

So I think it will be the marginalised groups that will rise up and make this change. We can’t expect it from the human rights framework because it doesn’t really include us. And, you know, us at the table here tonight understand those frameworks, but the majority of our people are so downtrodden, so, you know, intergenerational trauma, as you said, Marjorie. You know, they’re just trying to live their day. You know, it’s about survival.

Marjorie: Yeah. Survival.

June: You know, it’s up to the rest of us to, you know, fight that battle for them. But now we have a long way to go. And I think collectively as a civil society, whenever one realizes, you know, we can’t keep going on this journey, you know, change has to happen.

Marjorie: We have to, you know, what we do and what you would do June and others, is building capacity of those people that, you know, don’t have the knowledge or the capability to understand what’s, you know, how they can do things for themselves. And I think that’s what we do.

But what do I get a bit, well, quite angry about is that you go into some of these organisations and they’re not jobs for our people in those organisations that are established for us. It’s jobs for non-Aboriginal people who, you know, who say then that they know what’s best for us.

And I’m really concerned about that in the child protection area, in the mental health area, in the health area, in all of these areas. They’re not our people getting the jobs like it used to be, you know, when we were working in those organisations. Now we’re considered to not be skilled enough or knowledge enough to be able to do what needs to be done.

You know? I’m seeing that across the board in this state.

June: And I think also we’re…

Just want to bring up a word that you used, and that’s bandied around a lot, about ‘capacity’.

Our people actually have capacity; refugees have capacity. It’s about enhancing their skill sets.

Marjorie: Yes.

June: So we try not to use capacity anymore. We’re talking about enhancing. Everyone has capacity. 

Marjorie: That’s right. No, you’re right. 

June: … about giving them the knowledge or the skill sets to enhance their capabilities.

So I think it’s about language change too, because while, you know, we allow the government to talk about capacity building programs, it, you know, envisions that no one has capacity. They all need a helping hand.

No, we don’t. We, you know, we know what needs to be done, we have the solutions. Just let us get on with business. So, you know, we need to change language.

Marjorie: Yes we do. We can’t fall into that government speak, can we? Yeah, it’s hard because you sort of think, ‘Oh, what’s the word to describe it?’ but you’re absolutely right and I’ll never forget that now.

Marcella: Capacity is a development word. You know, it’s the whole idea, the framework of development, and developing countries and developing people, that assumes that people of colour, Aboriginal people, First Nations people are empty slates. You know, are incapacitated.

Marjorie: Yes.

Marcella: Need help, when in fact they’re just need to be stopped being oppressed. They needed their stuff to stop being stolen. You know, they need to stop being incarcerated. You know, they need their political rights. You know, and people need to be free and people need their fair share of the resources of this planet. You know? People need to stop…

It’s the people in power who are the problem. It’s the people who are taking more than their fair share that are the problem.

Their capacity needs to be built to stop doing that. Similarly to men’s capacity to stop, you know, committing gendered violence against women needs to be built. Like, do you know what I mean?

It’s them. It’s the perpetrators. It’s the oppressors who actually need their capacity built to stop oppressing people. To stop hurting people and harming people. 

It’s not us. We just need people to stop harming us really.

You know, and it’s that whole white colonial development model that talks about capacity building.

You know, it’s bullshit. It’s a lie.

Sorry for swearing. But it’s true.

Rosanne: This is a fantastic conversation. I’m going to bring in some questions from the discussions that have been happening. It’s such a pity Amao isn’t with us too. We’ve been talking about LGBTIQ and also there’s, I know, a lot of discussion at the moment about LGBTIQ refugees and how that intersects.

I just want to reflect, you know, one of the things we’ve been talking about, this idea of Australia being a signatory to all these human rights charters, the rights of indigenous people, the rights of people with disabilities, the rights of refugees.

And yet we’re continuing to lock up ten-year-olds, we’re still locking up asylum seekers. We’re, you know, doing all these abuses that we’re talking about. So is the question, ‘what do we need to do to ensure that the human rights agreements are adhered to?’ Or is it that we give up and do something else? And if something else, what’s that something else?

June: That’s a big one.

Marcella: I think, I mean, for us, it would be, from a legal perspective, if Australia has ratified the human rights charter, so it becomes law in this country, so we have a charter of human rights, then Peter Dutton can’t do these things. You know, Andrew Bolt — you know, we have a racial vilification legislation that people can take Andrew Bolt to court for being racist, you know, but we don’t have any legal mechanisms within… to enforce those human rights against people who are abusing them.

So when the government abuses human rights, which is — deaths in custody is an abuse of human rights, you know, stealing children, you know, all the police violence, all of that — that is an abuse of human rights, but we have no legal course, to go to court and say, this person has broken the law.

So human human rights is not a law in Australia, so it would help enormously — enormously — if we had a charter of human rights in Australia, because then there would be a legal recourse for this stuff.

We can take the government to court and get them to do, you know, but of course that is resources again. You know, that is being able to access the justice system, which is an entirely different… 

It’s the racist structures within the justice system that will never, that won’t allow people to have that recourse. So it’s almost like we need the charter, but we also just need to tear down the systems.

Marjorie: That’s right.

June: Right.

Marjorie: And a Treaty will do that.

A treaty will do that. Properly.

A proper treaty will do all of that.

We don’t need to be beholden to a foreign power, like the, you know, the United Kingdom.

We need to have our own treaty, but we need to make sure that, and that’s what the first peoples in this country, we’re on the brink of that.

And that’s what we have to fight for because no one else is going to do it for us. We can’t have these other institutions or people taking over whatever services so that they prevent exactly what you’re saying.

And the justice system is a good example of that.

They’re never gonna let us have human rights. Look at the bastardised charter of human rights in Victoria, it’s ridiculous. There’s no justice in that. We have not got justice. We haven’t got, you know, this, we haven’t given up anything.

The first thing that we haven’t given in. All we’ve got hanging on to is that we have not given consent. The First Peoples have not given consent and gee, they’re trying so hard to get us, to get that from us by de facto way of doing it and that’s going to, you know, it has to be the First Peoples from their own countries who do that in a united front. That’s not easy, but it’s not that difficult either.

June: Yep. I think time. You know, it’s changing, the time of arrogance and colonial over tune is way past. And, you know, I think the arrogance around locking up ten-year-olds, the only country in the world that doesn’t recognise, you know, criminal responsibility is, you know, 12, it should be 14.

Like really guys? You know, like, so I think that arrogance, you know, is shown at the UN. You know, I go to the UN quite regularly in Geneva and New York and the country rapporteurs from every country in the world cannot believe the arrogance of the Australian government and call them out.

So I think it’s a matter of time, you know, it’s just about getting rid of this old school and we need a people movement.

You know, we need people to get behind.

You know, I think if one thing that’s helped Australia — you know, we keep hearing about, ‘we’re the most inclusive multicultural society’ — well, is that the people movement that can come behind, you know, our First Nations people and get rid of these colonial structures that, you know, just is still built from, you know, thousands of years ago and won’t change, you know.

It was a people movement that got the marriage equality happening. It wasn’t the government, the government was never going to sign off that. It was the people movement.

That everyone, you know, is entitled to love or be with whomever they want.

You know, like why should a government, you know, stop a person loving another person in the way they want to, whoever that may be.

So, you know, when we see the things that have changed in time and in particular, you know, the night, the 1967 referendum, a yes vote for our communities — it was the people movement.

So, you know, I think it’s, you know, we’ve seen lately with, you know, the action for women the other day. And so I think we need more of, you know, communities, all communities, come up behind and go:  ‘enough is enough’. Vote with your feet. Vote these institutions out.

You know, they’re not serving us. They’re serving themselves.

Marjorie: That’s right.

June: They’re antiquated. So, as we said, you know, the human rights frameworks are not laws, so let’s get rid of the antiquated bodies that won’t make change and, and, you know, support the most vulnerable, the most disadvantaged, the most impoverished.

You know, we’re a first world country. It’s appalling.

The conditions, you know, whether it’s refugees or our communities, or, you know, other CALD communities across this country. You know, homelessness or, you know, whatever it may be. I mean, we touched on it earlier, you know, the realisation that a woman over 55 has more chance of being homeless in this country today than, you know, being supported. You know, we’re one of the wealthiest countries.

You know, there’s a new exhibition happening at the moment. It’s called Silent Visions. And it’s about homeless women in Sydney at the moment. Someone’s going around filming them all and having conversations with them, you know? So, you know, really? This is the standard we, you know, that these colonial ignorants allow our community to live under, you know?

I know that these conversations is about human rights tonight, but you know, for us up here in the North Coast that you know has so been so impacted in the last week with all these floods. And it wasn’t on the radio, the other day, someone said, you know, ‘We’ve all the things that have happened. We’ve had the drought, we’ve had the fires, we’ve had COVID. Now we have floods.’

And the government still can’t get it together to, you know, make appropriate emergency points for, you know, individuals. So we’ve got our elders, walking around in the rain, trying to get this, you know, they’ve been evacuated. But they haven’t got their scripts with them, need their medication urgently, through all these processes, they haven’t thought to have a doctor at an emergency point?

Rosanne: Yeah.

June: I guess it’s just this sheer arrogance that live in the 1950s and 60s, won’t forward as an inclusive society, whether it’s, you know, First Nations in general, or refugees or those living with a disability, which account in our community over 50% of our population, and most of that is psychological trauma that hasn’t been addressed.

So, you know, I think as I said earlier, we need a movement. We need a movement of change. Collectively come together.

Rosanne: Yep. A hundred percent.

Marjorie: I think that, you know, we overrepresent and across all of those areas, you know, our people are represented, like you say, the 50%, you know. It’s our people that, you know, are the smallest percentage in terms of population, suffering the highest percentages across the whole spectrum. So, you know, we are suffering from this and we know that we’re not the only ones. That people, as we’ve mentioned, we cross the spectrum of all those people, we’re represented in all of those areas. And so, you know, that’s where, like you say, there does need to be a people movement. Cause we’re the people who are the disadvantaged in this country, the most disadvantaged, and yet, you know, and like you say, the wealth of this country is built on stolen land.

June: Hmm.

Marjorie: Stolen land. And there’s never been the proper conversation with the owners of that land to have their own economic base to live how they choose to live.

That’s what needs to happen and be addressed in any treaty conversation.

I mean, the treaty conversation to date in this state is ridiculous, but we’re not giving up. And we will fight for that. And we know that the people who are supporting us are the same people who supported us, you know, they’re the people of colour, they’re the LGBTIQA peoples, they’re, you know, all of those people who were being abused and discriminated against themselves. They’re the ones who have banded together and we’ve had lots of support and I think that’s demonstrated within the marches that have now grown by a whole, you know, by huge numbers of people saying, you know, we’ve had enough and we do need to maintain that people’s movement to change this country’s foundation, which is based on lies, death and murder, and we’re suffering the consequences of that, 230 years later. We’re still fighting for the same things.

There has to be a fundamental change and that has to stem from the foundation documents of this country. This is our country and, and a voice in parliament isn’t going to cut it.

The parliament is controlled by the people who were, you know, oppressing us, killing us.

Rosanne: I love this call to rise up. This is why we called this session, Rising up for our Rights.


So I’ve got a question from one of the people in the audience — and if you’ve got a question, please just put it into the chat.

And they’re — it’s partly a comment — they’re talking about: ‘This idea of human rights being out of reach brings to my mind the experiences of people in psychiatric care and especially involuntary care. Seeing posters on the wall about human rights and consumer rights, but unable to access many basic human needs. 

And obviously June, you know, and as a person involved with the First Peoples Disability Network, I was wondering if maybe we could start, you could talk about that and Marcella, obviously there’s huge issues for mental health within the refugee community, so I’ll go to you after that.

June: I think for me, you know, on a personal note in regards to our work. I know our people are, you know, marginalized and don’t have access to, you know, these appropriate entities. So, you know, whenever, you know, there’s an issue, what I found with my solution, when you know, I’m contacted by families, whatever the situation may be, I actually put everyone in the email. I don’t care if it’s Peter Dutton or the human rights disability discrimination commissioner, or the disability royal commissioner or the NDIS CEO. That’s how I get around it.

So for me, it’s about getting that person down on the ground, who would never have access to any of these people, they’ve got their addresses, I put their mobile numbers in the email.

I do everything. So it’s about giving choice and access and information to those that wouldn’t normally have it.

I mean, it’s a long road, this journey, you know. We’ve taken discrimination cases, you know, all the way through and, you know, as Marcella said it’s very hard to, you know, get these across the line in many cases, but I guess my technique is embarrassing people.

You know, so, you know, these people have gone to their local community. They’ve gone to their local member. They’ve gone here and gone there. And that’s the difference. I have access to all these people. So I give it to my community. Why shouldn’t they have access to it too? Until someone answers them, whether it’s the human rights disability discrimination commissioner, the social justice commissioner, whoever.

You know, whatever the issue is. I put everyone in the email. So, I know that’s not the answer that, you know, maybe you’re looking for, but I think it’s about empowering people to, you know, have a voice. And allow them to, you know, understand that ‘you’re welcome to this world too’. And it isn’t for the haves and haves nots.

So I think that’s what I’m trying to say.

Marcella: I think that’s kind of what I am going to say as well. You know? And I think you, you know, women like us, who have the language and who have, you know, who have been lucky enough and privileged enough to have learned how to work this system, you know, and to gain access to power.

We are the bridges. You know, we are the connection, you know, for people who do not have that, you know, like my parents who came to this country in their forties and had no idea and had to work, you know, exploitive or really difficult jobs, you know, just to make it and to send us to school. Now, because they did that, I’ve got, you know, I’ve had a university education and I have fortunately, somehow, you know, have a little bit of power. You know, because I’m a campaigner and I know how to run campaigns and I know how to empower movements and contact MPs.

But the other power that I’ve got is that I am a media person.

And I put people in the media.

Rosanne: Yeah.

Marcella: I’ve made it my mission, my personal mission, at the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, to put as many people from refugee backgrounds and people seeking asylum into the media to speak directly to journalists.

You know, to speak on The Project, to speak on the 7:30 Report and supported them and coached them and gave people the words, in some cases. You know, they would give me words, I would sort of help them develop their words. I’ve written op-eds, you know, co-written op-eds with people in detention on Manus. You know, and I have used that job that I’ve got at the ASRC and then the change that I’ve noticed really is that as soon as you start putting people to speak for themselves in the media, everyone starts listening. Hmm, journalists, listening, because they can see the human being there and they can hear the story firsthand. And it’s not some white person speaking about someone’s problems.

It’s someone representing themselves and suddenly there is empathy.

June: Yeah.

Marcella: And then there’s human relation.

June: Yeah. Human relations, giving a face to the story. You know, you can’t underestimate that, you know, human connection when there’s a face or, you know, we see it all the time, every night on the news, you put a face forward or a conversation forward. And things change, you know?

I’m happy to talk about it cause they don’t like me anyway, but the NDIS, the amount of times, you know, I’ve put things forward to the CEO, to the fact he got the shits with me, and ringing me nine o’clock at night and asked me to stop doing it. And I said, ‘well, start doing your job’.

It’s not our money. It’s not your money. It’s not your system. It’s about changing human lives, whoever they may be and giving them the best opportunities.

Ring me nine o’clock at night. I’ll give you a mouthful. On a Friday night, mind you. Who rings anyone on a Friday night? I actually feel quite privileged actually.

Marcella: Go June!

Rosanne: Marcella, could you talk a little bit about that intersection between mental health rights and maybe the Mental Health Commission report that’s just come out and refugee rights.

Marcella: Yeah. I mean, that is one of the greatest sort of challenges I think in my work, especially, is how do you… You know, cause people are in different stages of mental health deterioration and physical health deterioration, after eight years, you know, in this system.

And we, you know, we have lots of services at the ASRC. We provide, you know, health services, housing, et cetera. And we, you know, a lot of us say that we are also mental health workers in a way. You know, because we absorb some of that. I’m actually on leave from work because I have absorbed a little bit too much of it.

You know, and I mean, I know one story I can tell you is that, you know, I was working on a 7:30 Report story with a man who was recently released from… he spent time at the Mantra Hotel and he was released. And the journalist wanted to film outside the Mantra.

You know, and when I asked him he was visibly shaken. You know, his body had a traumatic response, but he agreed to go there.

And I went there with him and it was an incredibly powerful story.

And, you know, he was filmed looking up at the windows where he had been behind for months. And that had a profound effect on his body.

You know, and I had to take him, hold him and take him back into the car.

You know, and, and that I, it took me weeks, you know, to come to terms with that.

So it is always that. And I think, you know, June and Marjorie will know this really well, is that we need to look after people. On a very personal level, you need to look after people. And where is that line between, you know, people being able to advocate for themselves and be their own spokespeople and people actually being so worn down by a system that they can’t change, that they can’t actually do that.

So you know, it’s us — the bridges, you know — that absorbed that and look after people and keep them safe. But I also think that it’s really, really, really important for people’s mental health. And I have seen the transformation, you know, with people from refugee [backgrounds], women from refugee backgrounds, when they have had some coaching and training, you know, and in campaigning — suddenly that trauma, that is unspeakable, you know, very very quickly, people are transformed through that process of becoming an advocate and becoming a public spokesperson.

I stood up on stage in front of 20,000 people in Melbourne, you know, a week ago and talked about being a survivor, and I’ve never done that before in my life.

Rosanne: And you were amazing.

Marcella: You know, and that for me, my mental health — I’m still feeling the repercussions on that. I don’t know what it is. But it was empowering, but terrifying too. And Bedlehem, who is a very powerful woman who survived Nauru and the terrible things that happened to women on Nauru, and I’ve seen her transform simply from having a mic in her hand and people to listen to her and being in the media.

You know, so we…  it’s that constant work of supporting people on a very personal level and June and Marjorie, you know, that community that we all know as women and women of color, we know how to build and how to do that, that community work, that deep connection work, that deep sort of ally work where you surround people with a wall of strength and iron and you protect them and you give them that place of power, you know?

June: And I think that’s an important point, like, you know, for our communities that it’s the women that, you know, have kept things going, you know, for lots of reasons, you know.

For our men, their culture, their, you know, their resilience, their lore, L-O-R-E, all these things were taken from them and where the woman was the one left behind, to, you know, pick up the pieces. So, you know, our women across community have, you know, even with nothing, have kept strong and kept going. And I was asked this question, you know, — two weeks ago, I actually won New South Wales Aboriginal Woman of the Year — and so I was asked several times, you know, what keeps you strong? What keeps you going?

And I went, “it was my grandmother, my mother, because they never gave up.”

You know, they lived on missions. They weren’t allowed to go to school. They were marginalised, but they never gave up. You know, kept us strong, kept us going forward and Marjorie would know this. And, you know, in regards what you mentioned earlier, Marcella, about education, you know, my mother knew, even though she didn’t get to go to school. She knew education was important. We were never allowed to have a day off.

So, you know, education, as you’re saying, information, literacy, narrative, all this, you know, which is advocacy. If we can share with our people and help build their, you know, confidence and, you know, we can see a different future, I think. And that’s what, you know, collectively, you know, we all come here tonight from different walks of life and, you know, have had different journeys, but we’re all saying the same thing.

It’s about building that power, that power movement, for people to have a voice and be seen and be heard.

Enough is enough.

Rosanne: It sounds to me as well. Like what Marcella is saying there leads into a little bit of why a Truth and Reconciliation Council is so vital because that telling your story and being able to be heard, that that’s, you know, your story, sounds like, you know, that’s one of the fundamental things.

And so I’m going to go to Marjorie to talk about that a bit.

There’s also a question, a couple of questions for you, Marjorie in the chat, asking about, you know, do you think we need one federal treaty, do we need different individual treaties? And, you know, has the Uluru Statement helped facilitate or initiate any of these things or is it… can you talk to that a little bit?

Marjorie: I think the Uluru statement is a farce in itself and it’s actually designed to take away more than do anything else. I mean, a voice in Parliament isn’t going to help us.

You know, we’ve got some pretty good representatives in parliament now on their own volition they got there with the support of wonderful people.

So, you know, I don’t know how anything else is going to work better than that, and that’s about people, you know, coming together and that’s the people’s movement that June has mentioned about, you know, and it’s about love and respect for each other. It’s not putting up… you know, being used or abused or manipulated by those who want to maintain their status in this country.

And essentially that goes to the heart of our land issues as well.

You know, and it’s about… There should be treaties from every land group in this country, they have a right to speak on their behalf of their own land themselves.

You know, no one knows better their own country and the people who are from that country. So, you know, a state treaty sounds fine in the first place. But that needs to drill down to whose country are we talking about? Who are those people? They do that too as native title process, they make sure they get access to the resources through that way so why can’t they do it through this way? So it’s about whose land are you on? That’s your country, that’s your people. You know, that’s the struggle that we fight from here, that we’re not going to go over and talk about our neighbour’s country.

What we need to do is, is build up friendships and treaties with them as well. We need to set up ways that we can engage in and protocols of how we even…  You know, there’s too much… You know, what we’re finding in our communities is there’s you know, issues amongst ourselves. We’ve got to stop that.

And we’ve been, you know, there’s wedges driven between us because, you know, one agency might not agree with that group and they’ll go to another group and hear what they want. Sometimes they might pay them for it too, unfortunately. So there’s some real issues here. And we’re not just talking about in this State.

It’s been a hard-fought battle, even getting Treaty on the agenda in this state. We were the ones that said… When our group of people went to Uluru, they went on the mandate of Treaty. That was the third one. We put another option on those consultations. And that was the one that won the day from Victoria.

And then to bring that back to now and we’ve also fought for — not Truth and Reconciliation, reconciliation has already had its day, anyone that’s talking about reconciliation, that’s part of the facade now. That’s old rhetoric. What we’re talking about is justice. It’s Truth and Justice,

And we need to start making friends with each other and getting along with our neighbours basically, whether they’re… whoever they are. And we need to figure out what we want to see in this country. We need to protect our land. Most important. We can see the destruction of the land, you know, through climate change, what’s happening now. It’s what’s happening.

We’re getting all of that rain now. And we’re very concerned about that.

You know, we’ve had fires here, not — you know, to a lesser extent than what happened on the coast, but it’s very concerning about the destruction of our land, for money — for logging, in this instance, and for mining.

And so we’re not getting the benefit of that. We don’t want to see that happen because that’s our land, that’s our culture and that’s where our spirit to this land is connected to. We have to fight for that because if that’s gone, we don’t have anything.

And if they want to sell it on that, you know, the stock exchange for whatever value, for a dollar, they can get — it’s not worth it to us. Money isn’t going to solve our problems. It’s about creating that people’s movement. And creating friendships, which is a Treaty amongst ourselves and with our neighbours and then that formulates into a proper treaty that this country can live by, and own, and be proud of.

That’s my… that’s what I think. That’s what I fight for. And worked for, and that’s what I’ve done all of my life, working through all of the issues that we talked about.

You know, I can’t do that anymore. I worked on that inquiry and that broke me to see, to know. And I worked in, I’ve worked in Aboriginal Childcare Agency, before that, in mental health research as well. But that inquiry broke me in terms of, you know, the devastation, that act of genocide, which is what it was, the impact of removing our children was the worst thing they could’ve done to our people besides slaughtering us in the first place. They should have killed us all. They should not have ever took our children away from us like they did.

And we’re still suffering the consequences of that impact still today.

The removal of our children is more than what it was in the, you know, the days of the fifties and sixties.

It’s worse.

It’s worse. 

So how do we solve that?

There’s no solution to that problem that I can see.

June: Well, there is intergenerational trauma that we haven’t addressed.

Marjorie: Exactly, I was just going to say that, the trauma…

June: Divide and conquer, that’s what government does…

Marjorie: The unresolved grief, trauma and loss that is ongoing and unresolved. That’s the key foundation to helping people through that.

You know, there needs to be those services where that’s the bottom line. We have to help people. Well, however we get those services. What services people are getting now falls way short of that.

And then, we wonder why we’ve got people being incarcerated. They can’t…

You know, it’s just on and on. We need to address the real issues, tell the truth in this country. A Truth and Justice Commission is what we need. And every nation in this country needs to have their own process for that and do it the way they want to do it. Not a top-down approach. That doesn’t work.

It’s a bottom-up approach, isn’t it, you build on the groundwork and you build up to a point where, you know, we have that unification across the country, to, you know, to make a new country. Cause this country’s, you know, it’s shameful, in the eyes of the world. Look at Jacinta, look at New Zealand calling us a rogue nation. That’s exactly what we are. We are a rogue nation.

June: But I was just gonna add to Marjorie, you know, like when, when our nation is built on trinkets and blankets. And divide and conquer. And we’re still living this today. So, you know, that creates the infighting amongst, you know, particularly our communities because you know, little bits of trinkets are handed out and conquer and divide and, you know, it’s still, you know, for many of our communities, the disadvantage and the, you know, issues that happen within community, all a sign of poverty.

Marjorie: Yes.

June: Not being addressed.

Marjorie: Yeah.

Marcella: Socio-economic.

June: Yeah. Yeah. So, you know,

We’re still living in an era where, you know, they’re throwing out trinkets and blankets, which was, you know, 17th,  18the century.

Marjorie: Yeah.

June: You know, we need to move past that and think about, you know, how we empower people. And language and narrative is the way. Because if people have a voice, you know, that’s the most powerful thing you can give any individual.

Marcella: So can I also just say that it’s really important, I think, at this point too, for me to say that we actually need that direct empowerment. You know, there are too many people, there are too many white privileged people, in the progressive movement who are not allowing that to happen. You know, there is too much individual ambition and individual kind of agenda in the progressive movement.

And there is a real disconnect, you know? An Irish woman once said to me at a rally, she’s like, “I’m so surprised. In Australia, you don’t actually stand next to the person that you’re advocating for. You guys go to rallies and you don’t have the person that you’re advocating for next to you.” And that has changed with WAR — Warriors of the Aboriginal Resistance — that has changed. The Black Lives Matter movement changed that with Warriors of the Aboriginal Resistance, they are, you know, incredible, incredible young activists.

But we still, that bar of the progressive white professional, you know, advocates, or political people who take all the jobs.

Marjorie: Yeah.

Marcella: And make this about their books and their careers?

Marjorie: Yes.

Marcella: And bar people who actually have the lived experience from any kind of power. You know, or any kind of platform. You know, the white spokespeople in the media, like, it’s just, I tell you, the most damage I’ve ever had done to me, is trying, you know, to work in these spaces. And it’s everywhere I go. It’s everywhere I go. It’s in the Greens, it’s everywhere. It’s in the unions. It’s in Labor. It’s everywhere.

And it’s white men and white women who take up the space. And that’s why we can’t get a damn word in. And we can’t ever change anything.

Marjorie: But I think that’s what you said about, you know, those young people who made that movement happen about, “this is our space”. No, you don’t see that happen with WAR. They activated before the Black Lives Matter, they took over those streets and there was not just our people, young people. It was young people of different cultures and, you know, everybody in our society was represented and that was just an amazing thing to see, these were young people leading the way and that’s what we need.

I mean, I feel that. I feel like I can’t march down the street — or I do, I try to, but it’s their future, it’s the young people’s future.

I can only say that, you know, if that’s the example, that can be done by that kind of activism, and that’s been very inclusive.

You know, some of the marches I’ve been to where you see in solidarity, the Palestinians and the Jews marching together. I mean, wow.

You know, and people from Asia and all of the different countries, who came here as refugees, who actually found a voice because they were included in that and, you know, that was something that was amazing, across the country.

Marcella: I think we need to give those young people jobs though.

Marjorie: Oh, yes!

June: Well, I was just going to go on to that.

Marcella: You know what I mean?

June: So the loudest voice or the activist won’t get a job.

Marjorie: Yes.

June: They want the quiet achievers, the ones that haven’t been on country, the ones that haven’t been in community, I mean, I can attest to this. We employed someone not so long ago. When we asked her to go out into community, she goes, “Oh, I don’t do community”. Because she’d been trained and educated in a white institution. She was a black woman, but she was white inside, you know? And this is what we have to be careful of because the powers that be will not employ the loud voice, they will not employ that activist that wants to make change internally.

They’ll take the quiet achiever that dresses for success, has been educated through a white institution. And has left their communities behind.

Marjorie: They’re assimilated. Those people are assimilated.

June: Yeah. You know,none of us want to put our own mobs down anywhere, but there’s a real worry about that currently, you know, for us, you know, because it’s mainly the older generation that, you know, have been these loud voices and I tell you now we didn’t get the jobs.

Marjorie: No. And I’m still unemployed. I’ve gone on the Aged Pension. So life’s a bit easier for me now, than being on the dole, unemployed, living on a reserve, which I’m very happy to live on, I might say, because I have, you know, I would have been homeless the same as everybody else. So I’m very grateful that I’m able to come back to my father’s country and live on this place with beautiful people, but in extreme poverty.

But, you know, I couldn’t ask for a better place to live or better people to live with.

June: So that’s that system of divide and conquer.

Marjorie: Yeah.

Rosanne: Just for the record, intertwine is paying everybody who is speaking tonight. I just want to make sure we’re really clear.

But this is — no, this is one of the reasons — I’m not saying because of what you’ve just said it in a way, but I’m saying this is one of the reasons we do this, because I do feel that the, you know, one of the reasons we started intertwine is because we see the people’s movement as being an interconnected movement of people, you know, myself as a Jewish, autistic, queer person, you know, coming into this space and going, look, you know, “I need to step back and listen because I’m white passing.”

But one of these things that we really need to make sure of is that we stop taking advantage of the free labour of people with disadvantage.

And so we made a commitment right at the beginning that we are going to put our money every time, and we are going to pay everybody who gets involved with us. And so anyone who’s listening to this video or anyone who’s in the audience who wants to donate to help give money towards helping us pay more speakers and pay more workers and pay more activists, you can go to We are a not-for-profit, all of that money goes straight back into community and to activists.

And that’s, you know, we’re coming to the end. I want to wrap up, but I want to just ask each of you to wrap up and I think we’ll go June, Marjorie, Marcella, or did we give you…

June: Marjorie… 

Rosanne: Marjorie, June, Marcella? Whatever. So last words. What do you want people listening to us today to do? What is the main action that is going to most help our communities.

Marjorie: Well, so. Support those people that are, you know, those groups that we just talked about, that are made up of exactly, you know, those young people, those people who represent all of the different other people, whatever, however, what I’m saying by ‘other’ is inclusive of everybody. No discrimination. I can’t stand the thought that someone’s discriminated because of whatever reason.

People are people, we’re human beings and we need to respect and love each other. And that’s what needs to be supported. You know, I’d like to say that, you know, I’m now at the point in my life of going through all of that and what you’re saying exactly right. I back the young people and I back the young people because they… you know, WAR, you know, my daughter’s involved with that. And I’d like to say also that these kinds of activities that you have provided, a forum for people to, you know, to hear and listen, they need to happen.

You know, that’s information and that’s people participating in hearing other people talk, talk about a different perspective. You know, I think that’s critical, that people can participate and agitate and be respected for it and valued for it. And I support those groups that do that.

June: I totally agree, Marjorie. And I think I’ll just keep mine short. I had a lot to say, but a respected elder that we work with closely, you know, up in the Northern Territory, I mean, he said to me one time, “They’re listening, but they’re not hearing”.

So I think, you know, that’s what I’d like to leave with, you know, really hear, really hear the voices of the most disadvantaged, the most vulnerable, the most marginalised.

Don’t just look at ‘em with pity, you know. Look at them with, “How can I walk alongside you and support you to be heard? Be seen? And have your voice heard loud and clear?”

So I’ll just leave it there. Thank you.

Marcella: I couldn’t say it any better. Exactly right. Just walk alongside people, walk alongside. And I would really like to see the momentum, the power, of what we just did with March for Justice to be opened up, you know, to be inclusive of Aboriginal women and organisers.

And I would really love — my dream is to do exactly what we need to do — is to come together, you know, and organise and, and organise for all of us. The same system and the same white people in power, privileged powerful people, you know, are hurting us all. That’s what we have in common is that we have the same oppressor and I want — my dream is to see everyone, seriously, you know, organising to get what we need for people.

Marjorie: We could have a people’s movement for a Treaty Republic. That’s what this country needs.

June: I love it, Marjorie!

Marcella: I’ll be there with you.

Rosanne: I’ll absolutely 100% be there with you walking alongside.

Thank you so much to our amazing panelists to Marjorie Thorpe, June Riemer, Marcella Brassett. And again it’s really sad that Amao Leota Lu had connection issues tonight and ended up dropping out. We love you as well. And we really think, I mean, I feel like to some extent we really missed those trans First Nations voices, the fa’afafine voice in the room was really missed, you’re missed. And I think that we all know that there’s real challenges right now, going on in trans communities of colour that need to be brought into this room with us as well.

Marjorie: Absolutely. 

Rosanne: Thank you everyone who has been in the audience and participating and commenting. I’ve had so many wonderful comments in the audience, people saying, “This has been incredibly humbling and inspiring,” and “Thank you,” and “Thank you to all speakers. Your time and labour is much appreciated.”

And I’ve posted a link in the chat for the feedback form. And we’d really love to see you again at our next event, or we might be starting a podcast and not trying to do this live. We’ll see how we go.

Thank you all, everybody. I hope you have an inspiring week and we’ll see you in the streets.

Marjorie: Yeah.

June: Thank you everyone.

Marcella: Rosanne, so much for giving us this opportunity and for the work that you do.

June: Thank you.

Marjorie: Thank you to you all. It’s been a wonderful experience. Thank you.


Our speakers

Marjorie Thorpe

Marjorie Thorpe

Djab Wurrung Campaign for Justice

June Riemer

June Riemer

Deputy CEO, First People's Disability Network

Marcella Brassett

Marcella Brassett

Media & Engagement Manager, ASRC

Amao Leota Lu

Amao Leota Lu

Rosanne Bersten

Rosanne Bersten

Managing Director, intertwine

Latina woman with loudhailer

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