Palm Island inquiry mess gets worse

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.

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  1. Hi Andrew,

    What is your real motive here? I was always under the impression that a justice system was one meant to be free from fear or favor?? I believe the DPP’s decision in this was in no way a matter of interference and not motivated by racial prejudice. They didn’t move forward because they believed they would not secure a guilty verdict. By your lengthy tirade I have to assume you think there was interference or racism! Can you provide us with that evidence?

    Don’t you think this kind of bullying of the DPP is just the kind of stuff that creates prejudicial opinions that don’t allow the “Peers” to set aside their personal views, as was suggested in Townsville? The DPP is not proceeding presumably because a case of reasonable doubt could be made by the defense? This happens every day of the week in our justice system. Your bleeding heart rhetoric is simply adding to the problem and the resignation of Pat Shanahan is just an example of it. The excuses for his resignation are poor at best, which leads me to believe that he is getting out before the BS that you and others are throwing around starts to sticks. I wanted to see it tested in court but your post and much of the recent racial protestations make this more and more difficult.

    If you or others think the justice system is wrong then maybe we can have an enquiry to change that, rather than witch hunt the DPP for doing its job.

  2. I’m not sure I can make my motive any clearer Glenn – I thought I was being about as subtle as a sledgehammer in putting my views.

    This is about a lot more than just the DPP, as most of the points in the incomplete list above show. The DPP should take some of the blame for that (not specifically for deciding not to lay charges, but other actions accompanying that decision), but the Qld government and the way it has handled the whole issue is far more of a problem. The whole thing is such a mess now I’m not sure how can be resolved satsifactorily.

    In any case, I can’t see why criticising some of the DPP’s actions equals ‘bullying’.

  3. The whole thing stinks of racial prejudice.

    Most people believe that tripping over a single step is really not that complicated and would not cause death. Mulrunji was likely dying as he was dragged into the cell. Why did the Police not try to resuscitate upon finding Mulrunji dead or dying? – that has to be a criminal negligence in duty of care.

    The only complication to the fall was Sen. Sgt. Hurley.

    Did Mulrunji really fall over the step anyway?

    It seems that the Police Investigators were busy putting words and suggestions to Hurley about falling over a step whilst they were socialising, interviewing and having dinner with him. The fact that the investigators allowed Hurley to hear the evidence to be used against him (he was allowed to remain in the room and hear the witnesses being interviewed) has to be very helpful in planning a defense.

    I would like to know if the police involved have committed perjury and covered up a death caused by one of their own. I would like to know if the Police have followed correct procedure in their investigation and evidence gathering.

    Is the reason that the DPP know that they will not ensure a conviction, the fact that the Police have thoroughly corrupted the process? If so, I would like that and the other, as yet unknown, circumstances brought out in a trial.

    No one should die for being drunk and mouthing off at Police. Even if the DPP say that they cannot get a conviction, the public want to know what went wrong and how Mulrunji came to die soon after entering the Police Station (for an offence of which he should never have been arrested in the first instance).

    The court should determine how Mulrunji died, the DPP does not determine the cause of death, but they do rely on the police to provide the evidence to be used in court against the accused- is this where the problem lies?

  4. Congratulations, Andrew.
    With the defective response of certain media outlets, including the supposedly broadsheet SMH, we have been left to rely on someone from outside that profession, who ought to have been free to work on other issues, but for such cowardice ( what else could it be? ).
    As it is, the ongoing coverage from Andrew has been an outstanding version of what Margo Kingston once called “citizen journalism”.
    Glen Graham’s post fails to meet any criteria requiring serious response, but Deborah’s comments deserve expansion, as usual.
    Certain police and their- “Redneck”- supporters supporters may deserve the racist description along with accusations of brutality and cowardice. They are like the thug warden in “Shawshank Redemption”, who delighted in kicking in prisoners.
    But for other people further up the food chain, the more sinister connotations of expediency come into play.
    Since it’s Christmas, perhaps we could think of a biblical analogy. Hurley may represent the babbling rabble, represented in the figure of Caiphas. The DPP; a gormless, treacherous creature if ever there was one, could be a combination of Caiphas, cowardly Peter denying Christ, or Pilate.
    But I think Beattie, a man I once respected; a man who once beat his cheat mournfully, protested the regime that murdered Steve Biko, is more the Pontius Pilate ( unless it’s the silent figure of the “Christian” Rudd hovering silent in the background),in this.
    As for the Liberals, they don’t deserve mention, and should be answering likewise for the equally despicable and rigged decision not to force the AWB to pay back taxpayers money for their stinking bribes to Saddam Hussein.
    I’m suddenly thinking of Dante’s “Inferno”. Those whose rash actons were determined by intemperance were punished harshly enough. But those whose knowing souls whose premeditated crimes were driven out of cold bloodedness, ended up in the very harshest vistas of Hell.

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