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Elvis, your union and access to justice

Elvis, your union and access to justice

Published on August 19, 2014 by Michael Barnes

In 1969 Elvis Presley had great success with a song titled “In the Ghetto”. The reference to the Ghetto was a classic reference to chronically underprivileged communities and, in particular, an African American Ghetto in Chicago.

This song, over a few minutes, tells the tragic tale:

“A poor little baby child was born in the Ghetto and that child is another hungry mouth to feed in the Ghetto.”

This song was telling a story but it was also a clarion cry for help and, in many ways, a protest.  Elvis sang:

“People, don’t you understand the child needs a helping hand.

He will grow to be an angry young man some day.

Take a look at you and me are you too blind to see, do we simply turn our heads.”

Your Union, in its own right and as a member of the peak industrial organisations to which it is affiliated, does not simply “turn its head”.

Your Union, takes positions on matters involving social justice, equity and access to justice and that is not simply limited to the rights of employees.

In terms of the issues, Elvis is bringing to attention, we here in Australia need to be mindful of what Elvis is speaking of, namely access to justice.

We face a significant challenge to support our fellow Australians who are Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islanders.  That challenge is the grossly disproportionate incarceration rights of male and female indigenous people.  They are not getting access to justice.  Statistics suggest that whilst the Aboriginal people represent only 3% of the total population, more than 28% of the Australian prison population are Aboriginal.

The statistics are not improving, they are getting worse.

Whilst there are some variations on a State by State basis, there is no State where the percentage of Aboriginals as part of the total prison population is aligned with the percentage of Aboriginals and the white population.

Elvis sang about what can happen when people look the other way.

“… a hungry little boy with a runny nose plays in the street as a cold wind blows in the Ghetto

And his hunger burns.”

The boy turns into a man and  “learns how to steal” and “he learns how to fight”.  All this happening in the Ghetto.

Lives can be ruined by lack of support, lost hope and exclusion, this is key aspect of a denial of access to justice.  This now young man “… buys a gun, steals a car, tries to run but he don’t get far”.

Pink too in her song “Dear Mr President” released in 2006 was also singing about social injustice and access to justice.  Pink was directing her song to President George W Bush and in part she sang of “What do you feel when you see all the homeless on the street?  Who do you pray for at night before you go to sleep?”  Further she sang “How do you dream when a mother has no chance to say goodbye?  How can you say no child is left behind?  We’re not dumb and we’re not blind, they’re all sitting in your cells while you pave the road to hell”.

Your Union takes an interest in social justice issues and we all need to ensure that we do not look the other way.

“And his momma cries.”

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