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Changing the record for good

12 April 2021 at 4:20 pm
Maggie Coggan
As co-chair of Change the Record, proud Narungga woman Cheryl Axleby has dedicated her career to fighting for social justice and equity for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people across the country. She’s this week’s Changemaker. 

Maggie Coggan | 12 April 2021 at 4:20 pm


Changing the record for good
12 April 2021 at 4:20 pm

As co-chair of Change the Record, proud Narungga woman Cheryl Axleby has dedicated her career to fighting for social justice and equity for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people across the country. She’s this week’s Changemaker. 

In a career spanning 30 years, Axleby has held leadership positions across the Aboriginal community sector, law and justice, women’s issues, youth justice, child protection and family services.

And in all of these roles – which include CEO of the Aboriginal Legal Rights Movement, and co-chair of the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services – her aim has been to create proactive, not reactive solutions for issues impacting on the quality of life for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. 

In 2012, she joined Change the Record, an Aboriginal-led initiative, bringing together a coalition of Aboriginal peak bodies and non-Indigenous allies to end the incarceration of, and family violence against, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

In this week’s Changemaker, Axleby discusses the importance of Aboriginal-led solutions, where she draws her inspiration from when faced with challenges, and her hope for the future. 

What led to you becoming involved in Change the Record? 

The reason I signed on as co-chair of Change the Record is because it was the first Aboriginal led national body on justice that wasn’t relying on government funding, which allowed for full independence of our voices to be heard on the issues that impact our people in the justice system.

What kind of difference does it make that the organisation is Aboriginal-led?

We are aware of the issues that impact on us and we also are very much aware of our human rights and how they’re breached constantly throughout Australia.

We have a great coalition of members that support the Aboriginal voice, which is fantastic. And I believe that this is their way of making a contribution and making a difference to First Nations people in this country.

And what kind of impact are you trying to drive during your time as the co-chair of Change the Record?

Well, there are a couple of things. One is creating awareness among the rest of Australian society about the issues impacting Aboriginal and First Nations people in the justice system. It’s also about debunking some of the myths that are out there, hearing first-hand from a very reputable body who has great membership and our coalition of members who are also out there calling for justice. Whether it be through human rights, the legal system or race – there are people out there voicing and creating opportunity for change in society. When we come together that kind of people power can really make a change. 

How do you manage the challenges of your job? 

What keeps me grounded and driven is the strength that I continually pull on from my family and community. But what drives me the most is the recognition of the fight that’s being fought by elders before me. [Those] who have led the way and created opportunities for us to be able to speak out so openly and to fight for equality and equity for our rights in our own country.

And what is your favourite thing about your job?

The opportunity to meet many people from different walks of life, whether it be politicians, campaigners, [or] community members, and getting the opportunity to sit down and actually talk and get a point of view across that maybe people may not have understood previously. 

The growing support for Change the Record and the outcomes we are trying to achieve is really enlightening, and demonstrates that the work we’re doing is having an impact and creating awareness. I think that people want to actually do something about it and demonstrate the support with their actions.

Do you hold hope for the future?

Definitely. One of the things that we’re really proud of is keeping issues at the forefront of people’s minds. We’ve still got a long way to go in the context of seeing a reduction in incarceration rates of First Nations people, and a reduction in the terrible statistics relating to family violence, but that also comes back to racism and institutionalised systems and blockages that continually drive our people in the justice system. So I do believe change will come. 

I do think that this change will come when we start seeing really good leadership with politicians who hold the power to change legislation. The more that we enlighten them, and the more that we give them the facts and also give them some of the possible solutions, we will see change happen. Raising the age of criminal responsibility is a classic example where we have ACT already making a commitment that they’re going to raise the age of criminal responsibility. And we are aware that some of the states and territories are thinking about it.

Maggie Coggan  |  Journalist  |  @MaggieCoggan

Maggie Coggan is a journalist at Pro Bono News covering the social sector.

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