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“We don’t have a race problem”: NSW Police Minister takes leave of senses

By Mellek Steel

Today, the NSW Police Minister made two comments of note. The first was laughably incorrect, the second was absolutely terrifying.

This morning, the NSW Police Minister, David Elliott attacked a group of primary school students for hanging a Black Lives Matter poster in the wake of the George Floyd ruling. Sensationally, Elliott made the case that children were being brainwashed with anti-police propaganda, and he would be pursuing an apology from the teacher involved.

The poster, shared by GetUp! media advisor Alex McKinnon on Twitter, asks us to ‘Stop Killer Cops’ surrounded by hashtags calling for #JusticeNow and #BLM. Elliott, speaking on a morning breakfast show, said that “we don’t have a race problem here in Australia,” and we should “stop trying to teach our kids what is going on overseas is the way it happens in Australia.”



Crucially, Elliott also said that “I don’t want taxpayers’ money going into an alleged education where children are going to walk away thinking that police are somehow racist.”



I’m not suggesting that the Police Minister doesn’t have a clue, or indeed, is not telling the truth, but his statements only make sense if you disqualify the reality we First Nations people face.

In January, The Guardian’s Michael McGowan noted that while 96 children were searched in 2020, a disproportionate number of those searched (about 21%) were Indigenous, including one case in which an 11-year-old was strip-searched by police. The data also revealed that Indigenous Australians of all ages continue to be disproportionately subjected to the practice.

Karly Warner of the NSW Aboriginal Legal Service told the outlet that “forcing a child to remove their clothes is deeply intrusive, disempowering and humiliating, and especially for Aboriginal people who have too often been targets of discrimination and over-policing… the excessive use of strip-searching is causing extreme emotional and psychological harm… an unclothed and traumatic early encounter with police is something that children will have to deal with long after they’re allowed to put their clothes back on. It is unjust, it violates children’s rights, and it undermines the relationship that police have with children.”

In February, a 57-year-old Corrective Services NSW officer presented at Lismore police station on 5 February 2021 and was charged with manslaughter over the 15 March 2019 shooting death of Wiradjuri man Dwayne Johnstone, who was a detainee in the custody of the prison guard.

On the day of the fatal shooting, Johnstone had appeared in the Lismore Local Court and was denied bail over an assault charge. He later suffered a possible epileptic seizure in the holding cell at the courthouse and two Corrective Services officers took him to Lismore Base Hospital for treatment.

Johnston was being taken back to a van as he left the hospital when he elbowed an unarmed guard and made a break for it. The 43-year-old was handcuffed and shackled as he attempted to escape. And the other officer fired three shots, hitting him in the lower back with the third, which proved fatal.

As is the procedure with custodial deaths, a coronial inquiry followed. And in an unprecedented move, NSW state coroner Teresa O’Sullivan called a halt to the inquest in late October last year, as she referred the matter to the DPP to consider whether charges should be laid.

The decision to charge the guard with manslaughter is ground-breaking. It marks the first time a corrections officer has faced a substantial charge in relation to a First Nations custodial death.

A lack of accountability has long marked the aftermath of Aboriginal deaths in custody. Despite the Royal Commission into this continuing crisis handing down 339 recommendations in 1991, there have now been over 440 First Nations custodial deaths since the inquiry tabled its report.

Later the same month, undercover officers in the Sydney suburb of Parramatta were recorded assaulting a First Nations minor.

As Paul Gregoire of The Big Smoke wrote at the time: “On hearing yelling from an enclosed shopping area around the local station, a member of the public started filming as they made their way up a small flight of stairs to where the noise was coming from. There, they encountered three undercover officers and a young boy in their custody. The handcuffed Indigenous youth is screaming, as one officer has an extremely tight grip on his left wrist from behind. A number of young passers-by, as well as those known to the youth, plead with the officers to ‘stop hurting’ him. But two of the plainclothes officers blankly stare on – like they’ve heard it all before – while a third walks towards another minor filming in an effort to make them stop. The third officer approaches the person filming, waving them on. The cameraperson responds that they won’t move as the colour of the boy’s hand is changing.

“In the background, the police van can be heard approaching with its siren. ‘No. I am not moving,’ the person filming continues. ‘How old is he?’ And another young onlooker calls out, ‘He’s 12.’”

The above exists in the safe vacuum of yet more violence, as NSW Police Commissioner Mick Fuller famously said in June 2020 that the officer filmed throwing an Indigenous teenager to the ground during an arrest “had a bad day.“

As The ABC put it, “the incident, in which the officer kicked the 16-year-old’s feet from beneath him before dumping the boy to the ground, is now the subject of an internal police investigation, to see whether excessive force was used.”


Indeed, an important point that Elliott missed is that the school children were protesting the police officers who are killers, with Derek Chauvin being the most contemporary example. However, by claiming that racial bias doesn’t exist, he’s merely illuminating his entitlement, and indeed, how he’s forever been the oppressor, and never the oppressed.

This article was originally published on The Big Smoke.

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  1. Uta Hannemann

    “we don’t have a race problem here in Australia,”

    Oh, if only this was the truth!

  2. Canguro

    Let’s not forget that Elliott is the man who said, in the wake of the damning report into the NSW police illegal strip-searching tactics, that he wouldn’t mind his under-age children being strip-searched by those police.

    “I’ve got young children and if I thought the police felt they were at risk of doing something wrong I’d want them strip-searched,” Elliott said.

    Empathy deficit on full display, and another example of an idiot who’s fallen for the misperception that just because someone’s frocked up in a uniform that makes him (or her) an ‘expert’ in their field.

    And disturbing that we continue to get these neanderthal knuckle-draggers put into positions of authority and given licence to utter their moronic points of view to the detriment of the audience, some of whom will no doubt accept the idiotic utterances as having veracity by virtue of the source, the ‘he said, and he’s the Minister, so it must be true’ syndrome.

  3. Michael Taylor

    Uta, I’ve always found that those who shriek the loudest about not being racist are those that in all likelihood are.

  4. pierre wilkinson

    Naturally we don’t have a race problem in Australia, well, not if you are white and male…
    the police minister exemplifies the total lack of empathy endemic in the Lib/Nat philosophy

  5. Terence Mills

    Whilst at university in recent years, (as a mature age student, naturally) one of the assignments we were set was to research and report on racism in our community. We were divided into groups of five and in my group there were two white guys, a white girl, a Vietnamese man and a man of Tongan heritage – all Australian citizens.

    As we discussed our group experience, the whites generally considered that we were a non-racist society but the two men of Asian and Pacific heritage quickly brought us to our senses.

    They pointed to housing rentals as being their single biggest problem and how real estate agents would happily find rentals for whites only to be told that no vacancies existed when they enquired – bank loans were generally a waste of time in applying due to regular employment being the second biggest problem : as they normally ended up with casual work or gig economy jobs, a home-loan was out of the question due to erratic earning patterns.

    They gave us many other examples of how we are a casually racist society in so many ways.

    They were both studying education, I hope that things worked out well for them. We went for a beer several times after late lectures and they confided that normally they would not feel welcome in a pub and that, sadly, my presence gave them legitimacy.

    An amusing aside : the Tongan guy brought me in some sweet potato runners wrapped in newspapers (the white ones favoured in Tonga) and as we were going into a lecture he said ‘leave them here is the bushes and pick them up when we come out’. Of course’ we were spotted by security or dobbed in and had to explain that these runners were not for smoking but for planting ! They gave us the benefit of the doubt.

    Sadly, we are racists but things are changing.

  6. Andrew J. Smith

    My sister and brother in law are in the midst of leaving Chatswood Sydney (the ‘binl’ originally from Northern Beaches), for Brisbane CBD (not suburban nor regional QLD, they have been there done that), as he complains there are too many white Oz ockers 🙂 They would prefer to be living offshore….

    From down south, even the NSW Labor Party was deemed to be right wing, further to the right of Vic Libs on social issues …. no surprise the former ‘jewel in the crown’ for the Libs i.e. Victoria seems long gone……

    As TM suggests, most Australians have no idea of racism and are ignorant of the experience of others whether Pasifika, Indigenous, Maori, Chinese, Indian, Moslem, southern European etc., antipathy and dog whistling that has been encouraged, especially since the time of Howard; shows how insecure many middle class urban Australians are.

  7. Matters Not

    Racism defined in terms of – discrimination on the basis of membership of a particular racial or ethnic group … can be seen as just the tip of a much larger iceberg. Some members of all groups tend to be seen as racist because of a related, but more embracing concept, known as ethnocentrism explained as:

    Ethnocentrism in social science and anthropology means to apply one’s own culture or ethnicity as a frame of reference to judge other cultures, practices, behaviors, beliefs, and people, …

    Or more simply, it is to have the opinion that one’s own way of life is somehow natural or correct and therefore to be different is to be inferior. Thus virtually all members of any group or society are ethnocentric to a greater or lesser extent. (At least, until they become aware.)

  8. totaram

    If we don’t have a race problem, why did we have a RC into Aboriginal deaths in custody? And what did they find?
    Sheesh! No one told this liar to shut up?

  9. Florence Howarth

    Especially when the man says white people matter, as he did. What are they indoctrinating the kids with? Maybe that racism is not only bad but evil. That justice *& equality is important.

    What worries me more is white-wing police who think there is nothing wrong with strip-searching girls as young as twelve as OK.

  10. wam

    Try Darwin where the public servants who deal with people are the lowest paid and the least experienced. When they get experienced and see the discrimination they move away and are replaced by another in the original ignorant category. A never ending cycle. The police culture is steeped in racial profiling. The selection process is overwhelmed with products of the armed forces. They share far right material but are convinced they are not racist to Aborigines nor Islanders. That understanding is their truth. So, sorry waltz of the cuckoo, there can be no change without a method of showing them the depth of their racism. A look at Jane Elliot’s experiments may result in a topic that all year 11 kids take in the last week of term with a follow up in first week of year 12. But whatever all current politicians, teachers, police, army/navy/airforce need some assessment of their personal attitude to racism, as do political staff appointments. One of my sadness is the ability of people and the media to attribute white transgression to a individual but black transgression to a race. The intervention and indue is imposed and white profitable when it could be black profitable and contain opt out/in provisions. Another is BLM, an issue between white and black immigrants. Ours is between white immigrants and black displaced people. Therefore our connection should be with the immigrants versus the American Indians and Indonesia in west Papua Ps Spot on Michael Try the boo-ers who would have done the same for a white footballer who did those things? Absolute rationalisation of a racist attack. Even when the dockers coach asked for no reaction QED!

  11. Max Gross

    Australia has had a “race problem” since 1788 FFS!

  12. old bloke

    Didn’t a rather prominent media personality, some time ago, refer to Elliott as ‘the minister for strip searching children’?

  13. New England Cocky

    No race problem in Australia?? And pigs fly to the moon on water wings every Friday night!!!


    The Jewish lawyer Isaac Isaacs strongly and successfully advocated for Aborigines to be excluded from the 1901 voting franchise that allowed women to vote, and then sitting as High Court judge alone excluded all Aborigines from voting, a law that remained unchanged until the 19767 Referendum, permitting state sponsored genocide and racial discrimination.

    Racism permeates all aspects of Australian society for any period you care to examine. In AFL and NRL in career opportunities, in mental health & medical services. Indeed, it would likely be impossible to find a niche where discrimination DID NOT occur, especially in land titles.

  14. Jo.

    Yes Australia has a race problem but can anyone name a country that doesn’t?

  15. Michael Taylor

    Jo, this article isn’t about other countries. It’s about an event in Australia.

  16. paul walter

    Some sympathy for Jo’s comment.

    After all, what is “racism”?

  17. Kaye Lee

    Racism is fear of the ‘other’. It is protectionism – the fear that others want what you have got or, worse still, may be getting something that you are not. It is wanting someone else to blame for what is wrong in your life. For some, racism is elitism – the genuine belief that they are superior, whether due to skin colour or religion or ethnicity. . For some, it is greed, exploiting those they consider inferior, using them to create their comfort and wealth. For others, it is fear that their ‘race’ will lose its “dominance” and privilege.

    One thing is very clear – we really can’t handle the truth. Anything critical of the past, or present, is to be whitewashed, or whiteboarded. Which just shows how immature and insecure this country really is, how lacking in confidence we really are. If you cannot tell the truth about the past, you will never accept the truth about the present or find the way to move forward. Defensive lies and cover-ups become the norm. Conciliation and collaboration are seen as weakness. Empathy is something you go to a course about which gives you ideas on how to appear like you give a shit.

    Endless reviews and committees and inquiries and announcements do not equate to delivering solutions.

    And every time our children try to become involved and express their opinions, they are belittled.

  18. Michael Taylor

    Paul, I don’t have sympathy for Jo’s comment. She/he was deflecting from the horrid racism that our Indigenous brothers and sisters face in this country.

  19. paul walter

    It is well that no other country on Earth has a race problem. I’d hate to think we were the rule rather than the exception.

  20. paul walter

    Ah, missed Kaye Lee. Seldom has so much masonry fallen upon one Charlie Brown for such a short and qualified comment.

    Kaye, what most other wise intelligent people don’t seem to accept is that conservatives have used off shore labour to batter down conditions for local people, to the detriment of new and old alike.

    Neoliberalism is not about raising up the third world poor, it is about tearing down what has been assembled by many generations over time and keeping the savings for itself.

    If only multiculturalism was multiculturalism, but in the hands of neo liberalism it is used as a conflict creator to divide opposition to capitalism, not help people. Eventually it restores a form of totalitarianism we once recognised as feudalism, because it is a lazy, theft and power based system short on consciousness.

    Don’t blame millions unemployed people here, who are then pray to things like Robodebt.
    This writer would have thought you people of all people would have seen through the Murdochist chimera.

    Look beyond “othering” to see who really encourages and benefits from it, through communal conflict.

  21. Kaye Lee


    When I was forced to speak to naughty children, they often wanted to tell me what the other person had done. I always responded that I was talking to them about THEIR behaviour/reaction, not someone else’s. We set our own standards.

  22. Matters Not

    MT re:

    deflecting from the horrid racism …

    How do you know that? Where is the evidence of that claim? Seems to me that it was a reasonable query which broadens the discussion. Is ‘racism’ just a sub-set of a broader problem as suggested above? Is ‘difference’ (however defined) at the heart of the real problem

    As were KL’s claims such as:

    Racism is fear of the ‘other’ … wanting someone else to blame for what is wrong in your life … For some, racism is elitism … For some … For others, it is fear that their ‘race’ ..

    All reasonable, worthy points worthy of discussion are they not? So many reasonable questions – so many possibilities?

    And then there’s:

    every time our children try to become involved and express their opinions, they are belittled.

    Indeed! But perhaps that view of the world is not confined to Police Ministers?

  23. Michael Taylor

    I knew you’d bite, MN.

    Don’t worry, you’re secret’s safe with me.

  24. Matters Not

    KL re:

    talking to them about THEIR behaviour/reaction, not someone else’s. We set our own standards.

    If it’s the “we” that set the standards (and yes it’s from the group that we derive our ‘norms’, ‘standards’ etc) then why shouldn’t an individual then refer to the ‘other’ when claiming a defense?

  25. Michael Taylor

    MN, did I ever tell you that you really irk me?

    It’s no secret now.

  26. Michael Taylor

    PS: “You’re secret’s safe” is the correct abbreviation of “you’re secret is safe”.

    As a person who despises the improper use of apostrophes I thought you’d know that.

  27. paul walter

    I have not the foggiest what Kaye Lee speaks of, but whatever the person is trying to say bears no relation to the points I made.

    The mods ..leave the mushrooms and green stuff alone.

    No said that (actual) racists are “correct”, what is drawn attention to is the specious claim that Australia is the exclusive source of the problem and it is solely some thing to do with essentialist “Australian ness” rather than something deeper and more complex pertaining to the species. That was NOT a clean switch, to turn a simple point relative to facts into a double down on all Australians as inherently “racist” (loaded term?).

  28. Kaye Lee

    I am sorry if I have been obscure. When reading what others write, our minds take their own journey.

    You asked what is racism? I gave a brief version of the thoughts that came to my mind. None of us can truly understand why others feel the way they do.

    I must have missed the part where someone said Australia is “the exclusive source of the problem”. Racism exists in many societies. That doesn’t mean we don’t strive for better here.

    PS You don’t have to be stoned to wonder why people are racist (descriptive term)

  29. Michael Taylor

    I used to get so angry at all the racism I witnessed in my ATSIC days in Port Augusta. It was disgusting. Pure filth.

    I asked my Adnyamathanha brother if it angered him, too.

    His answer inspired me.

    “No, I’m not angry with them. I pity them because they know nothing about us.”

  30. Kaye Lee


    I have mentioned before about two Aboriginal women I visited a few times – sisters separated as part of the Stolen Generation, brought up by white families, then eventually reunited as adults.

    We spoke of many things – calming peaceful things. They took me into the bush and taught me about ‘seeing’ . They spoke to me about MY connection to country and MY obligation as a custodian – they included us all.

    After several meetings, we had come to know each other. They knew I wasn’t comfortable with some ceremonial type stuff and that was ok. We just talked sometimes. I asked them if they were angry – but it wasn’t anger they felt. It was loss. They had been brought up in loving families and felt they could help bridge the gap – but the sadness was there.

    But they also explained that life is a spiral, and when you miss one opportunity, another will come.

    I am touching on the tip of what these women taught me. It was humbling…and uplifting.

    As they said in the Uluru Statement from the Heart, “We invite you to walk with us in a movement of the Australian people
    for a better future”

  31. paul walter

    Yes. Unqualified, unreserved apologies.

    Had it wrong, was thinking of something else entirely. Yes it was a good article. The best I can say is that the species is not long out of the trees and we have some anomalies to be ironed out before the project is complete.

    Specifically, two hundred years of murder and mayhem is not to be repaired overnight and the hard right types are victim blaming, psychotic obstructionists. If I don’t admit that I am not true to my own self and my own reading of these things.

    The right’s priorities are ever illogical and subjective so I I had better dissociate myself from these straight away.

  32. GL

    “We don’t have a race problem here in Australia.” That’s a true statement: we have racing in some form or another virtually every day of the week.

    The other type of “race problem”? Weellll, that’s a different matter and we don’t like it brought into the light.

    Oh, oh, I just had a thought. Maybe we could have races for people who want to live here. Imagine a kilometre long track and the winner of six races to the finish wins a ticket in the half yearly citizenship raffle. Just think, the highlight of the year would be The Peter Dutton Citizenship Race in which the first three placegetters win citizenship for them and their immediate family (as long as they already here and not in a facility offshore).

  33. paul walter

    Race/ethnicity/creed etc problems are pretty much universal, but it is true that the issue AIM is pointing to involves most Settler societies and the Police Minister talking Klan rubbish is a spectacular gaffe in this day and age in THIS country.

    Would have embarrassed someone from South Carolina or Alabama, and coming from this country it is foul.

    The Trump cranks are alive and well here also.

  34. Michael Taylor

    I enjoy hearing that story, Kaye. More so because I can relate to it. They are such enriching experiences.

  35. Kaye Lee

    It was their tolerance and forgiveness and inclusivity that really made an impact on me Michael. There was a quiet dignity and strength that they shared. Interestingly, a few of the people who came to these small get-togethers were cancer sufferers. Sitting around a campfire together, for whatever reason, people drew strength from each other.

    I have a lot of guilt in not recognising and understanding the dreadful racism in the small country town where I was born.

  36. Michael Taylor

    Kaye, I grew up on Kangaroo Island in the 60s and I didn’t know what racism was.

    Sometimes when in the main town I’d see an Aboriginal kid. He would be playing with a few of the white lads. Laughing, smiling, never taunted because of his skin colour. My brother’s best mate was an Italian. To me it was like; “Wow. You were born in another country!”

    I never heard words such as boong, nigger, dago, pom etc etc.

    Then we sold the farm and moved to Adelaide, where such insults were introduced to me. Nonetheless, some of my best friends were Aborigines who lived up the road at Colebrook Home – a stately old house – and I spent many days up there playing cards or kicking the footy around.

    It wasn’t until I worked with ATSIC 35 years later that I heard that the kids there belonged to the Stolen Generation. 😢

  37. Michael Taylor

    PS: One day in the Port Augusta office a bloke rolls up to visit my Adnyamathanha brother while he was passing through town. We were introduced. Turns out to be one of the kids from Colebrook Home.

    Also turns out that he’s the father of an AFL legend who won a premiership playing with the Swans.

  38. Kaye Lee


    When I was born, my family lived in Bowraville (yes, THAT Bowraville). My grandfather, who we lived with, owned the local pub which the Aborigines (who were forced to live out on the mission) were not allowed to enter. That didn’t stop us from selling them grog through the back door. At the town theatre, there was a roped off area down the front under the screen for the Aborigines to sit in.

    But what I am most ashamed about was my adored Aboriginal nanny – my grandmother’s housekeeper. We kids thought it a treat to be allowed to eat with her in the kitchen – we all loved her dearly. I never understood that she was not allowed to join the family at the dining table. She was an amazing woman who helped three generations of my family when we needed it most. She was always there. She refused council housing and built her own shack. She refused to be interviewed by This Day Tonight to show the “other side” – a responsible woman who worked and made her own way – because she was horrified at how they portrayed her people.

    Looking back, I am so sad I didn’t know better.

  39. Michael Taylor

    We all have our regrets, Kaye. I, in particular, have many.

    But you and I understand now what my Adnyamathanha brother meant when he said:

    “No, I’m not angry with them. I pity them because they know nothing about us.”

    We are fortunate that we have walked down the trail of ‘knowing’. And it is only because we’ve walked down that trail that we now have regrets.

    Imagine what we’d be like as people if we had none.

  40. DrakeN

    For me, racism is a sub species of “otherism” of which Kaye so correctly writes. There is only one human “race” after all.

    Paul Walter’s remark that “…we are not long out of the trees…” is also apposite.

    So many primitive, inappropriate survival instincts still bedevil us.

    P.S. Michael: “You’re secret’s safe” is the correct abbreviation of “you’re secret is safe”.
    Should that not be “your secret’s safe”? 😉
    (Perhaps we could resurrect those songsmiths of the ’50s – Flanders and Swann – to create an Apostophe Song in their inimitable fashion.)

  41. paul walter

    DrakeN, I believe that at a distance we could not have travelled far in five or ten thousand years and mistakes are bound to have been made on the way.

    But enough time, enough history, has elapsed for some of those processes to be identified and as far as Michael and Kaye Lee are concerned, no time like the present to begin to undo the errors of the past, including five hundred deaths in custody over relatively recent times let alone the genocide of the last couple of hundred years.

    Minister Elliot speaks from a blinkered and selfish viewpoint that resents helping traumatised brothers and sisters up because it might cost a bob other wise employed on horse races and beer. Doing a friend a favour can be much more rewarding. We knew the problems forty years ago, yet there has been a stubborn, reactive rear guard action- Hansonism- against any sort of recognition and action.

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