ADJOURNMENT - Colonial Brewing Company, Australia: Black Lives Matter Movement

By Matt Keogh MP

18 June 2020

Watch Matt's speech here

It seems like last drinks for a West Aussie small business. This isn't the first time I've spoken about beer in this place, and I sincerely hope it won't be the last, but this time it is much more serious. In the last few days, we've seen a well-meaning movement go from worthwhile and important political statements and impactful action to what others call political correctness gone mad and, more importantly, action that ultimately distracts from and undermines its otherwise very important aims.

A bottle shop chain in Victoria has taken Colonial beer off its shelves in a stand of solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement. The brewery in Margaret River was named due to the fact they were colonising the previously exclusive wine region with a brewery about 16 years ago. There was no malice attached to the name when the little brewery set up, nor when it went national in 2015. But now the Colonial brewery has been tarred with the same brush as monuments to racist historical figures because of particular imputations of meaning to its name. Now the brewery is taking steps to review its name and branding in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement—something that, if they follow through with it, will bring with it massive costs in rebranding. But they are to be commended for the consideration they're taking.

This could be a good outcome for a seemingly ridiculous situation—a situation that has gained national media attention. But do you know what hasn't gained the same level of public recognition? The fact that my colleague Senator McCarthy stood up in the other place yesterday and read out the names of First Nations people who have died in custody—the names of real people with lives and families whose lives were taken, often for reasons that remain unknown. What we have seen in the last few weeks around the world, and particularly in my home state of Western Australia, has been an incredible movement towards the fact that things should not remain the same. There is no place for discrimination and division in this country and, increasingly so, in this world. But we need action. There is a mood for change, and we must grasp it. We need serious focus at a federal and state level on what we can do to close the Indigenous justice gap—a focus on what we can do to reduce Indigenous incarceration, a focus on what we can do to end deaths in custody.

The Western Australian state government has made positive steps towards that, only just this week. On Tuesday, WA law was amended to end the automatic imprisonment of people for unpaid fines. This is something that I and many others within WA Labor have been working towards for many years now. It had been already eradicated around the rest of the country. This was an unjust law that saw so many individuals locked up for measly fines, often totalling no more than a couple of thousand dollars, if that. It was a law that disproportionately affected single and Indigenous women, a law that resulted in the lost lives of many, including Ms Dhu in 2014 and Cally Graham in 2017. Both families have worked to push for this change for years. Now, only a magistrate can send a fine defaulter to jail and only as a last resort.

Now there is this movement, this momentum, which will see us capable of achieving so much more, for it's not the incarceration that killed these women; it's the preconceived judgement, the prejudice, the distrust of their character that meant that these women did not receive the help they needed when they needed it. Now we must eradicate this discrimination and division. We must replace it with empathy, respect, understanding and, dare I say it, some reconciliation.

We've said sorry as a nation, but that was in 2008. What have we got to show for it? An outdated Closing the gap report where most targets were not even close to being met and that bewilderingly has never included what has been obviously missing—a justice target. A series of well-crafted and well-meaning speeches from politicians over the years hasn't fixed it, and my speech here today won't do that either. But what can be the catalyst for real change is the present movement from the wider Australian population, indeed the global movement, for Black Lives Matter, because, if enough people lend their voices to the cause, those in government, those in authority and those everyday people walking down the street will be forced to listen and think twice to act. So let's not get distracted by the name on the side of a beer can. Let's focus on these real lives and what we can do to make them better, because improving anyone's life, acknowledging in practice that black lives matter, improves all of our lives and our nation.