“For example, if we have a cyclone, a flood or a bush fire everything possible would be done to rectify the situation as quickly as possible,” Mr Hamburger told a Brisbane public hearing into the 2020 Queensland Productivity Commision’s report into Queensland’s imprisonment rates.
“What we have here is a human, social and economic disaster of immense proportions that needs to be treated with the same sense of extreme urgency.”
The report found there were 8771 adult prisoners in Queensland jails on June 30, 2019. Of those, 2873 prisoners were Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, about 33 per cent of Queensland’s prisoners.
There were 186,482 Indigenous Queenslanders recorded in the 2016 census, making up 4 per cent of the state’s population.
In January, the Queensland Productivity Commission reported the state was not meeting any of the seven objectives of the federal government’s Closing the Gap report.
The same report also found limited co-ordinated improvements since the 1991 federal Aboriginal Deaths in Custody Report.
“Despite enormous expenditures and effort, governments have made limited progress in addressing the drivers of high Indigenous incarceration rates,” it says.
“The evidence suggests this is because government has not been able to find ways to step away from centralised planning and policy-making that keeps Indigenous people from exerting control and responsibility over their own lives.”
It has prompted Queensland’s three state MPs with Indigenous backgrounds – Environment Minister Leeanne Enoch (Quandamooka, North Stradbroke Island), Cynthia Lui (Kulkalgau, Torres Strait) and Lance McCallum (Gubbi Gubbi, Caboolture) to ask all Queenslanders to learn more about Indigenous people’s ugly truths.
A former teacher, Ms Enoch was the first Indigenous woman elected to Queensland Parliament in 2015.
Ms Enoch said the marches, which drew thousands to Brisbane’s CBD, raised important issues that needed to be spoken.
“Black lives matter today. Black lives matter every day,” Ms Enoch said.
“It is about turning up every day to accept and acknowledge that those at times ugly, uncomfortable truths are the foundation for the pervasive, persistent inequalities that First Nations people experience in this country.
“But, if we are able to turn up every day, we will – together – be able to make this country a better place, for everybody.”
Member for Cook since the 2017 election, Ms Lui, was born on Yam Island in the Torres Strait and went to school in a fibro hut with bare concrete floors.
Ms Lui said the weekend rallies brought the conversation about the treatment of First Australians to the surface.
“Not just here in Queensland, but nationally and internationally,” Ms Lui said.
“If we don’t have those conversations these issues are forgotten and no one talks about it.”
Ms Lui said Queensland’s Treaty process, led by Jackie Huggins and former federal attorney-general Michael Lavarch, was slow but important.
New Bundamba MP Mr McCallum, who won Jo-Ann Miller’s old seat in March after she retired, said “the core issue has been forgotten” in some recent media coverage.
“I mean what moves 50,000 people nationwide to go and stand in solidarity on this issue?” Mr McCallum asked.
“That is a clear demonstration how important this issue is to so many people across the country, whether they are Indigenous, or non-Indigenous.”
Mr McCallum said concrete actions in Indigenous health and justice were now needed.
“I mean we have just come off the back of Reconciliation Week and we still have a long way to go in terms of the Closing the Gap report,” he said.
Tony Moore is a senior reporter at the Brisbane Times