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Speech: Ray Jackson tribute

Speeches in Parliament
Lee Rhiannon 15 May 2015

Senator RHIANNON (New South Wales) (21:47): Tonight I rise to speak about Ray Jackson, who was a remarkable man. He was a Wiradjuri man who, sadly, died on 23 April 2015, and I do send my condolences to all of his family-his children, his grandchildren, his great-grandchildren and his many friends and colleagues in Australia and around the world.

Ray was somebody that I came to know when I worked in the New South Wales parliament. He worked extensively not just in the Indigenous community but on a whole range of social justice issues, and he was a very powerful and moving speaker. We do need to give credit to Ray's work, because he exposed many of the crimes that continue to be perpetrated against Aboriginal communities around this country. Some of the campaigns he worked on include deaths in custody and the Northern Territory intervention, and just recently he was one of the people in Sydney who were instrumental in the protests against the forced closures of Aboriginal communities in Western Australia. Ray was prolific in so many ways-he produced newsletters, media releases and letters to the paper-and was active in many ways.

One campaign where I came to know him particularly well was to do with the tragic case of TJ Hickey, a young Aboriginal man in Redfern who met a very violent death. This caused great upset both in the Aboriginal community and much more widely. The young man, known as TJ, was being chased by a police car when he lost control of his bike and was impaled on an iron fence. The police denied that in any way they had caused his death, but Aboriginal people, particularly in Redfern, did not believe that and there was enormous upset and disquiet. Every year to this day there are protests about that issue. Ray played a key role in pushing for a thorough investigation of the police activities on that night.

Sadly, Ray was part of the stolen generation; he was stolen from his mother at the age of two and went to a white family. Years later he spoke about this, and I would like to read this quote from Ray:

All I know is that my father was a soldier and he went up to Papua New Guinea. He was killed on the Kokoda Track and instead of giving his wife a war widow's pension, the bloody government came and took his children away because of my mother's Aboriginality.

I also want to pay tribute to the work that Ray did around the issue of black deaths in custody. When the Howard government was in power, they removed funding from a whole number of Indigenous institutions. This is when Ray formed the Indigenous Social Justice Association-he was a founding a member and, I understand, its president until he died. It was a very active organisation in advocating around the issue of black deaths in custody and particularly in taking the up the cases-I mentioned TJ Hickey, but also Eddie Murray and Mark Mason were two of the other key cases that he took up. As we know, this work is incredibly vital. Australia continues to incarcerate black Australians at a higher rate than that of apartheid South Africa. We live in a country that is wonderful in so many ways, but the crimes against the original inhabitants remain so intense.

I do congratulate Ray for all he achieved. Certainly there is much work to be done, and what was very moving at the commemoration of his life was the number of people from his communities who got up and spoke of their commitment to continue his work.


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