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Aboriginal activist tackles judicial racism in new book

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Dr Stephen Hagan, a Kullilli traditional owner of southwest Queensland and Senior Director of Alliance Management at Batchelor Institute of Indigenous Tertiary Education, has published a scathing review of racism and bigotry ingrained within the judicial system and taken aim at judges who refuse to acknowledge their own cultural biases.

Armed with five years of research, a product of his PhD, Dr Hagan’s book speaks volumes at a time when Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders have been left feeling let down by the justice system, particularly in the wake of the Elijah Doughty trail.

The Rise and Rise of Judicial Bigotry outlines how today’s judicial officers are not immune to developing an outlook that predispositions them to have discriminatory views of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders. This leads them to impose unnecessary and unfair custodial sentences.

“I’m one of the first to publicly talk about the elephant in the room. It’s not about the police who are arresting Aboriginal people. At the end of the day it is the judges and the magistrates who impose custodial sentences,” said Dr Hagan.

Through a number of comparative examples, Dr Hagan illustrates how Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are often given harsher custodial sentences than non-Indigenous people for similar offences.

“In order to make a statement that judges are inherently racist or are bigoted I needed to be able to validate that position. In other words, I needed to go back and look at comparable court cases where a white person and an Aboriginal person are before a judge for a similar case.”

“But I needed to go further than that. I needed to go right back and look at the origin, history and accumulation of racist thought.”

“I wanted people to understand how you can be inherently racist but not know about it.”

The book is turning heads, even prior to its official release this Saturday August 26th.

“This remarkable piece of research by Dr Stephen Hagan of the problems of racism in the highest level of the Australian Judiciary must be told to the wider community both nationally and internationally,” said renowned health professional Professor Gracelyn Smallwood

“The book is timely, given the recent publicity of First Nation Australian’s high incarceration and suicide rates.”

Malcom Turnbull’s Indigenous Advisory Council member and prominent Aboriginal educator Professor Chris Sarra spoke his praises of the book.

“Dr Stephen Hagan takes no prisoners and bows to no one.  His take down of the legal system and the judges is political polemics at its very best”

“The choice of a high profile judicial officer as a target is particularly important,” said Professor Sarra.

“I have found this book challenging and am grateful for how it provoked me into thinking.”

Through this book Dr Hagan is trying to get the justice system to reflect on its role in the increasing statistics of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander incarceration.

“I am asking people to have a deep look at themselves. They’re not admitting that they are a part of the problem, they think it is Aboriginal people who are infringing on societal codes of conduct and that they ought to be punished for it. They are not looking at it as if they could possibly be excluding Aboriginal people from actively participating in society,” said Dr Hagan.

“A lot of people think they have answers about Aboriginal people, about incarceration rates and recidivism. They are not asking Aboriginal people.”

“I’ve done the research and these are my findings.”

Dr Hagan hopes that people can look past the controversy and take a meaningful look at their own cultural context and how that affects their perceptions of others, particularly for those working within the legal system.

“I want people to ask themselves if they think race relations in Australia are really changing. Is racist thought really changing? Sure they don’t shoot Aborigines now, but they are locking them up and taking away all their civil liberties.”

The book is available via First Nations Telegraph, click here to pre-order or purchase a copy.


Words and image: Chelsea Heaney