After reports emerged that three Indigenous people have died in custody across Australia in a week, proud Barranbinya man and ABC Sports reporter Tony Armstrong has said that the wider community is “white-hot with rage”, calling the continued deaths in custody a “national crisis” and “as serious a health risk as it gets in the Indigenous community”.
Speaking on the couch on News Breakfast on Friday morning, where he’s currently standing in as the program’s sports reporter, Tony said that it’s obvious that nothing is being done to address the deaths in custody, as 2021 marks 30 years since the Royal Commission into the issue.
“It makes me sick,” he said to co-anchors Lisa Millar and Michael Rowland.
“Being Indigenous… we have to talk about this stuff with a kind of uptick, talking about ‘Oh, you know, there’s a positive light at the end of the tunnel.’ 30 years since the Royal Commission and, as you said, over 450 deaths.”
In the last week, three Indigenous people across two prison facilities in New South Wales and Victoria have died, with the latest being a man at the medium-level Ravenhall prison, west of Melbourne.
Tony said that during the Black Lives Matter protests last year, a lot of allies were noting that there was a shift in the energy, and commenting that “it just felt different this time”. Tony agreed, but said the difference is not a positive one – more Indigenous people are dying in custody and at a faster rate.
“It is different,” he said.
“If you look at it statistically, we’re dying in jail faster than we were between the Royal Commission and Black Lives Matter last year. So, in fact, it’s gotten worse. And this is just reported deaths, of course.”
“We’re angry…white hot with rage.”— News Breakfast (@BreakfastNews) March 11, 2021
The ABC’s Tony Armstrong says nothing is being done to address Indigenous deaths in custody. It comes amid growing outrage over a third death in custody in a week. @Tonaaayy_ @abcnews pic.twitter.com/GT1hE13YHQ
Tony also said that a lot of finger-pointing is being done over the issue, despite the governments over the last 30 years having recommendations from the Royal Commission to help ease the problem.
“Nothing is being done,” he said.
“So much finger-pointing, ‘the problem’s here, the problem’s there’. The answers are in the Royal Commission from 30 years ago, and so many of those recommendations have not been acted upon. I mean, that’s the thing that kills me, the thing that really frustrates me.
“We know what needs to be done, and whoever’s been in charge over the course of those 30 years, nothing has been done.
“This is as serious a health risk as there is in the Indigenous community. You go into jail, you are a huge chance of dying. This is a national crisis, one of the many that Indigenous people face.”