Unfortunately, Christmas has done nothing to improve the shambles surrounding the way our justice system has dealt with the death in custody in Palm Island. This situation is about justice being seen to be done and people feeling they are getting a fair go, but the application of one short-term fix piled on top of another has now created such a mess that I doubt it will appear satisfactory no matter what the outcome.
The last few days have seen a few more questions and problems added to the list. The decision by retired judge, Pat Shanahan, to resign from the review of the Director of Public Prosecution’s decision has added to the mess (or rather, the decision to appoint him rather than go for someone from interstate, added to the mess). Given how highly political this case has become, it would unsatisfactory (and highly unwise) to go with a Queenslander, no matter how much the Premier wants to play the parochial card with by asking “what’s wrong with Queenslanders?”.
I also think there is still a big question to be answered about the circumstances surrounding the initiation of the review. Mr Beattie and the Attorney-General Mr Shine both said they did not ask the DPP to provide the file which supposedly enabled them to initiate a review, yet the DPP specifically said she was requested to hand over the file. Indeed, Mr Beattie went so far as to say the file “was not something that the Government asked for, nor would we have expected it.”
This may seem like a small thing, but it appears either the DPP or the Premier (and Attorney-General) are not telling the truth about the precise thing which purportedly enabled a review to take place – not exactly a situation that adds to one’s confidence about the whole issue.
The state government’s refusal to see any underlying problems or to put long-term interests ahead of short-term issue management has created a situation where there are now too many inconsistencies and unanswered questions, with each new controversy overlaying and modifying the previous one.
I thought I should do up a list so I don’t lose track of all the different issues that have arisen from this whole tragedy, which we should not forget did not just involve the death of Mulrunji in custody. His mother died not too long afterwards, with many people saying she never recovered, and of course his only son also died towards the end of this year. Not to forget the impact on his immediate family and the wider community.
Following are some of the other issues I think need to be addressed. No doubt there are more I’ve forgotten or am not aware of:
• will the review of the DPP’s decision be only into her decision not to lay charges, or will it examine the adequacy of the way she has handled the whole situation?
• in particular, will the review examine whether the DPP was justified in making her own conclusive finding that the death must have been a “tragic accident” caused by “complicated fall”?
• will the review also assess whether it was appropriate for the DPP to come to this definitive finding on the basis of new and undisclosed evidence which no one else had a chance to test?
• why, more than two years after the death in custody has there still been no disciplinary action taken in regards to serious procedural failings in the initial police investigation, or on matters such as failing to tell Mulrunji’s family he was dead when they came to check on him at the jail?
• Comparing the lack of action on the part of any police officers involved in the death in custody or the subsequent investigations compare to the extreme and immediate action of police in response to those on Palm Island protesting the finding of the initial flawed and rushed police investigation. This involved large number of armed riot police raiding people’s homes, busting down doors and drawing guns in front of children;
• The State government’s decision to appeal the sentence of three people from Palm Island who pleaded guilty to one charge of rioting, resulting directly in them having to serve time in jail, including a mother of four whose children have had to be placed in care while she is in custody;
• The bail conditions placed on some other people accused by police from the riot, which included some being barred from being on Palm Island – a form of exile from home and family with overtones of the historical practice of removing Indigenous people deemed to be ‘troublemakers’ from their community and family. At least one person I know who was subjected to this and who had their door broken down and armed police in his house ended up having no charges laid.
• The Court finding that one of the riot accused, Lex Wotton, could not get a fair trial in Townsville on the charges because of prejudicial media coverage and research showing that most locals would be unable to put aside predetermined views on the matter.
PS: This item has been cross-posted at Larvatus Prodeo.