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Black activist comments on prevailing community and police racism towards Aborigines and the need for Aborigines to become protagonists for change

PETER THOMPSON: Charles Perkins, is a former head of the Department of Aboriginal Affairs in Canberra, and Mr Perkins is with me this morning. Good morning, Charles Perkins. What's your reaction to the video?

CHARLES PERKINS: Well, I think like everybody else in Australia, absolutely disgusted with the behaviour of the police, but not surprised. As Hal Wootten said, that's just fairly typical in many country towns and in certain sections of the police force right throughout Australia - not only here in New South Wales.

And I'm astounded at Mr Lauer. He's treating it in a sort of an isolated incident type of thing. It's not an isolated incident. He ought to have those two police officers dismissed. If he doesn't dismiss them, then the Premier ought to step him down as Police Commissioner.

PETER THOMPSON: Well, is Mr Lauer right in saying it's simply a symptom of attitudes held by the wider community too?

CHARLES PERKINS: I think that's what ought to be realised, that this is a symptom, as it is with bad health amongst Aboriginal people, as with juvenile delinquency amongst Aboriginal people. What we're dealing with in Australia at the present time, unfortunately Peter, are symptoms of what's a real root cause in Aboriginal affairs, the real problems in Aboriginal affairs. We're not looking at that. Like, for example, the black deaths in custody costs $60 million, mate, and they haven't implemented any of it, really.

And secondly, no police officers were charged with murder or any misdemeanour at all. And so it's a real disgrace. And there's a real problem in Australia today about Aboriginal affairs, and we're not attacking the causes, we're attacking the symptoms.

PETER THOMPSON: Can we come back to that in a moment? Let's go back to what Mr Lauer said. He said he was disgusted and that the relatives are entitled to be outraged and to get an apology. That seems fair enough.

CHARLES PERKINS: What does that mean? That means nothing; that's fairy floss. I mean, that's a lot of crap. What we want is some disciplinary action taken against those two police officers. They ought to be dismissed or demoted or removed from that area.

PETER THOMPSON: But that's treating the symptoms, not the cause.

CHARLES PERKINS: Well, you've got to do that. You can do that, but you've got to at least do that - get them removed from there. Some disciplinary action has to be taken like it should have been taken in the black deaths in custody report for those officers that obviously did lie to the Commission - for example up at Wee Waa. So I expect him and the Aboriginal community and Australia and the Prime Minister certainly, I expect him to take action.

PETER THOMPSON: Well, of course, we've had two incidents in a week shown by Cop it sweet and also this video last night.

CHARLES PERKINS: That's right.

PETER THOMPSON: How many police stations do these attitudes hold?

CHARLES PERKINS: I think it's quite common through a lot of police stations and the minds of a lot of officers right throughout Australia, and they're not obviously being trained in attitudes towards Aboriginal people or any other ethnic groups in Australia. And they ought to undertake multicultural training as a matter of urgency.

But it goes deeper than that, as we talked about before. You can do that. You can demote policemen, you can have training for policemen to treat other people better and stop them being standoverish and so on.

PETER THOMPSON: Let's go further on that point. How do you train police officers to treat Aborigines better?

CHARLES PERKINS: Well, everybody else is doing it in Australia. Multicultural training is in the forefront of all Commonwealth and State departments at the present time, so why not the police?

PETER THOMPSON: What sort of change in behaviour is needed, though, other than just removing these symptoms and racist slurs and so on?

CHARLES PERKINS: Well, you can do all of that, but you cannot really go to the root cause of it, once again which I am trying to stress. You can have those training sessions and people can take notice of that, but to really change attitudes it's got to change more fundamentally.

For example, Aboriginal people, we have to change as well. We've got to take more of a prominent place in our own affairs. We've got to realise there are some things that we have to do for ourselves, so we've got to get off our black bums and do it as well.

PETER THOMPSON: What things?

CHARLES PERKINS: Well, lots of things, like we've got to take care of our families, we've got to look after our own health as well as other people trying to look after it. We've got to get ourselves trained to get better employment. We've got to build up economic enterprises and maintain them. But the trouble is the Government, the State and the Federal governments, are not doing that well enough. They're just expecting us, as we at the present time, to float in Australian society and cop all of these particular incidences - bad health, bad relations with the police and so on

They're really only symptoms. What we should get down to is other root causes which I'd like to talk to you about.

PETER THOMPSON: All right. What are those root causes? What should the white community be doing?

CHARLES PERKINS: Well, not so much what the white community should be doing, it's what the white community in terms of the Federal Government should be doing at the present time, and that is recognising the Aboriginal people as indigenous people in this country, the owners of this country, and organise a treaty with the Aboriginal people.

Now, some people throw up their arms and say: 'Oh, we're not going to do that.' They've got to do it. We've got to go back to the question of sovereignty of this country and we've got to build a good psychological base for better relations.

PETER THOMPSON: Is the white community, in your view, ready for that treaty? Bob Hawke certainly thought that we weren't.

CHARLES PERKINS: Bob Hawke bullshitted Aboriginal people for the last three years of his existence. We've got a reconciliation instrument that's floating around with the Federal Government at the present time. That's not going to do us any good. There's too much talk and not enough action, so we've got to go and solve these problems of the sovereignty questions, the treaty, national land rights. Come to those things and all the others will fall into place. And that's not what's happening at the present time.

PETER THOMPSON: Charles Perkins, thanks very much.