It is good that mainstream media interest and public pressure about the ongoing fight for justice for the Aboriginal community on Palm Island, and more widely for Indigenous people in Queensland has continued in the so-called ‘silly season’, with a number of substantial articles in recent days.
Before I list a few of them, I’ll quote a few paragraphs from this report in the Torres News about the rally held on Thursday Island in the Torres Strait, following on from the recent rallies on Palm Island and around the state.
The universal call from all speakers was for “justice”, not only for Mulrunji, but also for Thursday Island teenager, Nathan Mills, who died on his 19th birthday in an incident involving Police in 2000. The rally called for an independent inquiry into Mulrunji’s death and to inundate the Premier with letters and emails of protest. All speakers linked the two deaths together in calling for justice for all Indigenous people who have died in incidents involving Police.
In an emotional speech, Nathan’s mother, Mary, said that after relating an incident in 1799 in which white settlers were pardoned for killing two Aborigines: “Here we are in 2006 and the white settlers are still being set free and pardoned for killing our sons, our fathers, our brothers. I, as a mother, am not willing to wait another 200 years for the law, without any doubt, to include the rights of my family, my people – our people.”
Shire Council Mayor Pedro Stephen also appealed to never forget “your history and to know your Indigenous history. You can make a difference; we can’t allow the washing of hands or passing the buck on this incident …… if the roles were reversed, the system would come down with all its might.”
Reverend John Whop told the rally all that was wanted was justice. “Justice should have no colour; justice should be for everyone. “The Premier must act on this and not turn a blind eye. This shouldn’t be about colour; it should be about Australia. Indigenous people can’t cope with this anymore; it’s been going on for too long.”
Here are links to some other recent articles:
This piece by Tony Koch in The Australian is based on an extended interview with Peter Beattie. It is well worth a read – and keeping a copy of for future reference to see how well the Premier measures up. The article starts by quoting Beattie’s words back at him from six years ago – “If, when I leave politics, indigenous affairs in Queensland have not been sorted out, I will consider I have failed.”
This article is a simple example of how concerted public pressure on Indigenous issues will make politicians pay attention and seek to look like their addressing it, just the same as pressure on petrol prices, hospital waiting lists or anything else. It’s up to all of us who care about this matter to keep that pressure happening.
Tony Koch also had another piece focussed just on Palm Island, quoting Noel Pearson likening “the death in custody case of Mulrunji Doomadgee to the murder of anti-apartheid activist Steve Biko at the hands of South African police” and calling for an official corruption inquiry into the November 2004 death of Doomadgee in the Palm Island watch-house. Noel Pearson also had an opinion piece in The Australian looking at the wider issue of the huge over representation of Indigenous people in Queensland prisons. “Routinely, indigenous adults constitute about 20 per cent of the adult prison population and 40 per cent of juvenile detainees. Some prisons, such as Lotus Glen in North Queensland, are almost exclusively black.”
Whlist he has his critics, I am a fan of Noel Pearson (without always agreeing with him, including some of his views in this piece), as he is willing to look outside the box and seeks to focus on what will work rather than always just on what people want to hear. Having said that, I wish the media would seek the opinions of a wider range of Indigenous Australians. Peter Beattie’s quote in the Koch article that “the only one with the ideas that work is Noel Pearson” is simply ludicrous.
The Sydney Morning Herald had a piece by Cosima Mariner about Palm Island. It is a good rundown of the issues, and notes “the litany of mistakes, conflicts of interest and alleged cover-ups that have characterised the Doomadgee affair from the moment he was taken into custody on November 19, 2004,” although I found it a bit frustrating that it had very little of the views of Palm Islanders themselves.
This is partly explained by relying on the person authorised as a spokesperon for the Doomadgee family, a lawyer working through the Errol Wyles Justice Foundation (which I wrote about here). However, in an example of what I mentioned above, the article also talks of “the Palm Island rally led by the Aboriginal leader Noel Pearson and the federal Labor president, Warren Mundine” and then quotes both of them at length. Nothing against either of these people, but they didn’t “lead” the rally. It was organised and run by the local men’s group, one of whose members, Brad Foster, chaired the rally. (he does get a brief quote in the article). The first two speakers were also locals.
I also think the article overstated the reception the Premier got on Palm Island. I know the media (and presumably most of its readers) like a bit of colour, but to say he had to “cop abuse for his Government’s handling of the death” for more than an hour and was “flayed by the 300 strong crowd”. Whilst there were a few more four letter words and the anger undoubtedly more heartfelt and genuine, the reception was far less rowdy than what the Premier would cop everyday in Question Time in the Parliament.
Meanwhile, the Queensland Government is expected to announce by Friday who will lead a review of the Palm Island death in custody controversy. Even John Howard has weighed in, saying it would be a good idea for someone outside of Queensland to do it, giving Peter Beattie a chance to stand up for Queenslanders. This report states that the lawyers for the family of Mulrunji “will pursue a judicial review of the Queensland Director of Public Prosecution’s decision not to press charges against a policeman, regardless of the outcome of the Beattie Government’s independent review of the case,” although this statement from the lawyer states a somewhat different position. Former Qld DPP, Des Sturgess, has blasted the Beattie Government for its “crazy” decision to order a review of the Palm Island death-in-custody case. “Bloody silly Beattie and Shine are right out of their depth and they’re getting further into a bog,” Mr Sturgess said yesterday. “They just sort of struck out into deep water – and then there’s no precedent for that.”
I agree they’re just ‘striking out’, making their decisions with an eye on the short-term political pressures, although I don’t agree that there is no precedent. Personally, I think it all depends on what is being reviewed. If it’s just whether or not the DPP should have laid charges, well that’s a matter of judgement and a case can probably be made that someone can reasonably make such a judgement. However, there are many other questions to be answered, not least how (and why) the DPP also decided that the only way the death could have happened was through a “complicated fall” that was a “tragic accident.” Even better would be the sort of genuinely independent inquiry into the whole damn mess that Noel Pearson is suggesting.