More on Palm Island and Indigneous justice

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.

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  1. Well, I am not a fan of Noel Pearson much,although, he does tend to focus things.I wouldnt expect much from the Murdoch press they are either setting Beattie up to have a big fall or they know he is in power for some time and thus bum kissing is the order of the day.What surprised me was John Howard,,I almost lost the fact he can think sometimes,but I guess there is another agenda whilst the superannuation ticks over.Perhaps he has found a third house in Queensland to live in….Howard could rescue both Police and Aboriginals if he wanted to,and I guess if he found a economic solution that met the human requirements he would…yet the problem isnt really the Police,but,those with law degrees ,whilst the police officer involved is a rather tallish man,others are not taking it as well as him.After all he is being accused,whilst they..the decision makers..have opted out like they are being questioned, whilst, Hurleys position isnt good yet is simple to understand.Police will Police and well… It is easy to see that the real problem now is the processes of government are paralysed by past mistakes that originate before anyones birth.Maybe there should be a combined Police and aboriginal holiday called and gazetted in Queensland,so on that day each year the Queensland public generally sees the point in accepting history and policing..And medals or awards are passed between the two general groups.

  2. Mary’s observation that white settlers are still being pardoned is a powerful message.

    People have already made up their minds about Hurley and the DPP’s decision. The only way justice can be seen to be done now is if the decision is reversed and Hurley pays the price.

  3. I am obviously well out of step here since I truly want equal treatment of white and black offenders.

    Why was no Aboriginal charged over the bashing of a 65+ year old white grandmother in Mount Isa several years ago, hauled from her car and beaten by a drunken mob? Why aren’t the Aboriginal men who rape and maltreat women and children all charged and locked up? Why weren’t the rioters in Redfern and Dubbo locked up?

    Should Hurley be tried? Probably. But why doesn’t the ATSI community take it seriously when it’s an Aborigine who has been the offender.

    Until I see ALL crime treated equally and the ATSI community supporting that equality, I think I’ll just stay sceptical of this push for “JUSTICE”.

  4. Yes let’s SEE some justice for all people. The Royal Commission in Black Deaths in Custody was a total waste of time & money. It must be one of Australia’s best cover ups 1. the number of deaths by Police Officer & 2. The number of Deaths in Custody of whatever colour, race or creed.

  5. Until i see all aboriginals lifted and helped to the standards they should be and the white race supporting that equality i think i’ll just stay skeptical of the wall to oppose justice.

  6. At the very least Mulrinji was owed a duty of care from his custodions in the watchhouse into which he was thrown. At the very least his family deserved the respect to be informed of his condition as soon as it became evident.
    I suspect that had the victim been non-indiginous he would in all likelihood have not been arrested in the first place.
    At the very least the entire Queensland community deserves to see these sort of questions answered; if not in court then with a judicial inquiry, or even royal commission.
    regards col gradolf

  7. g’day,
    Sorry but it just occurred to me that there are striking similarities between the Mulrinji case and the one on the Gold Coast a few years ago.
    I’m sure that you all remember the euthanasia advocate who invited her closest friends and family to witness her deliberate demise. She successfully ended her life and the pain that caused her action.
    Since then the Queensland Police Force has pursued those witnesses with attempts to get them charged with failing to render aid.
    Their attempts to pursue similar charges in the Mulrinji case must have been very shallow indeed, for I, for one, have not heard of them.
    I guess that once again the ethnicity of killer and victim must be an issue: it’s ok for a QPF officer to injure a man and then fail (refuse) to respond to his distress, but if a woman chooses to end her suffering in the presence of her friends, then they become fair game for the full force of the law.
    Interesting isn’t it.
    regards col gradolf

  8. For my part,
    I thought the one on telly tonight about the cab driver gaoled for six months for making a citizen’s arrest on yet another fare-dodger who had tried to rip him off, was one of the funniest things I’d seen from a long time.
    In the sense that you laugh to avoid crying.

  9. I totally agree Kevin – we need equal treatment of black and white offenders. According to Boel Pearson’s piece “indigenous adults constitute about 20 per cent of the adult prison population and 40 per cent of juvenile detainees.” I’m not sure black Australians can cope with any more equality than that.

    As for your (fake) question asking “why aren’t the Aboriginal men who rape and maltreat women and children all charged and locked up”, I’d say from the figures above that a bloody great number of them are. People were using the same dishonest arguments in the 19th centruty to justify what was done then to Aborginal people – Palm Island is one of the legacies of your sort of idea of ‘equality.’

    Meanwhile, in today’s news, “three police were nursing wounds – including one with a broken collarbone – after a crowd of up to 500 turned on the officers when they tried to break up a fight in the bayside town of Rosebud.”

    Sounds like a riot to me. I wonder if the residents of Rosebud will have armed members of the SWAT team busting down their front doors and holding guns to their head at 6am, and innocent ones amongst them then put on bail conditions that force them out of their homes and exiled from their families for months?

    I trust you will calling for ‘equal treatment of white and black offenders’ for the people of Rosebud, Kevin.

  10. Perhaps a little off topic but of justice.Our lands people have had a disasterous introduction to the “modern world” and the last 100 years even up to late has shown true colours of the overall push to intergrate with the inequality in opportunity,public standing and the monetary head start one needs to end the pitfalls of poverty and depression passed from generation down.Allowing freehold title to be passed for Palm to Queenslands community of displaced original population on certain conditions, could fund a backbone of self help statewide.Picture accom., convention centre, entertainment, restaurants, chairlift, mountain climbing and abseiling, all the water sports landscaping,native and tropical food farm,boat hire etc etc.Art centre,indigenous and invited island troops ,the pacific etc.The bigoted cry of no more money would be silenced to a large extent.The island could be a big murri school of training, opportunity and contacts.On the Kalkadoon site there is a community housing plan that is the biggest step to intergration i have seen but is’nt in the plans to throw and disperse the people into stress and poverty of the suburbs.Freehold would be a little bit of consolation and a genuine step forward and give the people something to bargain with to ensure enterprising help.The talk of concept could go on for pages.I know it would work and would be novel and desired by the world as a must do convention.People would come to an indigenous art museum just for itself.Why not? Need i ask.

  11. What is the law on sub judice,if you are not from the state where the court case is transpiring,and the blog is within state?.As I wont mention case..what is the the difference between ,provocation and say other words that seem to indicate the same thing?.And if alcohol consumption is at fault,to what ever degree on victim and perpetrator as influence ,then how do you really judge confidently any outcome,because the victim,once attacked could of already been incapable of self defence,and the accused responding to matters could of exagerated realities!?.But, if either side prefers lies or mistruths it backfires in all directions.Being inebriated isnt the standard number of drinks in a time period to do it,but, the whole beings response to alcohol under the physiological conditions at the time.Even clothing and footwear could lend itself to heightened states of aggro.I doubt wether there are any precedents on that one though.Taking the law in ones own hands always seem uncheering later.And provocation forms arent excuseable,now,generally,and alcohol use is being considered less of an excuse..There is a residual unfairness that is unresolvable,yet,maybe Russell Crowe could slip out of it-because the client of the lawyer would by using the service make the effort to dig deeper for a workable defense.

  12. The internet doesn’t really acknowledge state borders Philip, so if it’s subjudice anywhere in the country, it doesn’t greatly matter where the blog is written or where the server is that is ‘publishing’ it.

    Now that you mention it, the difficulty many of the Palm Islanders had in getting ready access to legal assistance is another area of inconsistency or inequality.

  13. No comments here yet on the appointment of that wiley old fox Justice Street as the new reviewer of Mulrunji’s death?
    An aboriginal spokesman on the teev sounded enthusiastic, but was he celebrating prematurely?

  14. Nothing at all against Justice Street, but without seeing the terms of reference of the review, I am not overly hopeful. I note the statement put out by Anna Bligh and the A-G today didn’t use the term ‘review’ at all, instead using the term ‘second opinion’ four times.

    If all he does is a provide another opinion about whether charges should have been laid, rather than do a thorough review of the adequacy of all of the actions and statements of the DPP, then I don’t think it will achieve much other than a thin piece of arse covering for the state government.


    (I’ve just expanded this comment into a new post, so perhaps best if people leave any new comments there)

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