Palm Island man Lex Wotton has been handed a seven year jail sentence (less one year for time previously served) as a result of being found guilty by a jury of rioting with destruction.
Although I’ve spoken with people who were present on the day which led t the charges, I wasn’t there, so I won’t give a view on who did what. If you want to see a good range of reports on the evidence presented at Lex Wotton’s trial, go to this post.
Lex will be eligible for parole in July 2010, and there is no doubt the sentence could have been worse, as the government prosecutor sought. But I am surprised to see a local Aboriginal activist quoted describing it as a “fantastic result” which will mean “people can now move on.”
I think there are still a lot of unresolved issues from this whole sorry sage. And in the circumstances, I find it hard to see how it benefits anyone for Lex Wotton to be kept in jail. It won’t benefit his wife or children who are left without him, and it certainly won’t benefit his community of Palm Island. I can’t see how it helps the rest of society either.
Credit should go Mike Reynolds, the Speaker of the Queensland Parliament and state member for the seat of Townsville which covers Palm Island, for providing a character reference for Lex to the Court and for speaking out in his support. In such cases, it is much easier for politicians to fade into the background.
I gather there will still be an appeal against his conviction. I have no idea what the chances of that might be, but even if it ends up being successful, more damage has been done to the already very large task of reconciliation in Queensland.
ELSEWHERE: Australia’s Social Justice Commissioner, Tom Calma, describes the jail sentence as “a sad day”.
The following is taken from the latest newsletter from ANTaR Queensland – it was written by Jeff Waters, a journalist and author of the book “Gone for a Song – a Death in Custody on Palm Island”
How brave were the Queensland police in the aftermath of Palm Island’s riot – when special forces police swarmed the community?
They came in overwhelming numbers, and marched the streets in helmets and body armour. Automatic rifles were displayed to children and their dogs. Then, in the dead of night, they smashed down the doors of peaceful family homes in a round-up.
But they covered their faces with balaclavas, and wore no identifying markings. None of their actions could be attributed. Innocent, unarmed witnesses were handcuffed, and many similarly innocent suspects were arrested and banished. A painful Taser was employed before it had been cleared for use.
Yet no one has been held to account, and no compensation has been paid to the victims.
How courageous it was of the Crime and Misconduct Commission to decide not to force police to testify under oath in the subsequent investigation, and then to admit that it hadn’t gone so far as to finish looking into the complaints.
And what fortitude was shown by the Queensland government, which decided to support the police decisions, in spite of the fact the CMC had slammed them for declaring an “emergency situation” at all, and had questioned the legality of all of the arrests.
“The CMC is of the view that the provisions of the [Act] did not provide lawful authority for police to enter and search the homes of residents of Palm Island during the period of the emergency situation,” the report said.
There appears to be a level of untouchability. Perhaps the strength of community and political support for the police and their approaches on such issues actually renders those who disagree with them as the brave ones.