Queensland’s Acting Premier, Anna Bligh has announced Sir Laurence Street, the former NSW Chief Justice, has been appointed to review the actions of the Director of Public Prosecutions relating to the death of Mulrunji in police custody on Palm Island.
I notice that the statement announcing the appointment does not use the term “review” at all, instead using the term “second opinion” on four occasions. This is a change from two previous statements issued by the Attorney-General within the last fortnight, here and here, which both repeatedly refer to a “review” of the DPP’s file on the Palm Island matter.
Indeed, according to The Courier-Mail, Anna Bligh “stressed he would not be reviewing the DPP and was simply providing a second opinion on the case based on the evidence”. It is hard to be certain without seeing terms of reference (I haven’t been able to find anything online), but this seems to me to suggest that the so-called review may well not address some of the major questions about the DPP’s actions. This includes a key question of how the DPP could make a categorical statement that the death in custody “could only be the result of a complicated fall”, saying this was “the only satisfactory explanation”.
The appointment of Sir Laurence Street has reportedly been welcomed by some long-standing Aboriginal activists, and his credentials and independence are undisputed. However, a person can still only review what this are instructed to review. It is hard to be certain without seeing precise terms of reference, but it looks to me like this “review” has now just become a request for a “second opinion” on possibly just one question, when there are many that remain unanswered.
UPDATE (6/1): Noel Pearson’s article in The Australian says “It is imperative that the review be empowered to look beyond the compromised police investigation and be capable of pursuing further investigation of evidence.” I like the idea, but it doesn’t look like that is what’s happening. It is good to see that Pearson specifically notes that there is plenty of good leadership on Palm Island, and even goes to the trouble of naming five people as “the tip of the iceberg.”