There must be justice before there can be reconciliation

Yesterday’s rally on Palm Island was attended by a few hundred locals, a good number of supporters from the mainland, many police (including the state Commissioner of Police, Bob Atkinson) and at least 20 people from the mainstream media. The Premier of course was also there, along with Attorney-General, Kerry Shine.

I arrived on the island earlier on the day, talking with locals about their feelings and listening to some of the local Councillors and the Men’s Group (who organised the rally) talk about what approach they felt should be taken for the afternoon’s events. They were facing a very difficult balance – wanting to make clear how deep and strong their anger and dissatisfaction is, their determination for major change and their belief they have been repeatedly let down and lied to in the past, whilst also wanting to welcome the Premier as a visitor and to engage constructively with him.

However, as one of the visiting Aboriginal leaders said to me later “our mob are always so bloody gracious”. The Council met with the Premier for nearly two hours. At the rally both the Chair and the newly elected Mayor repeatedly urged the crowd to be calm and civil, and not to yell or swear.

The speakers and questioners at the rally were all civil, and mostly calm, but also quite determined. There was the occasional angry outburst from the crowd. I guess these things are subjective, but I thought the description in the Courier-Mail of “a torrent of abuse” was overstating things. Whilst there were a few extra four-letter words, it was nothing compared to what I often hear during Question Time in the federal Parliament. Given the harshness of the oppression and racism Indigenous Australians have been subjected to, I think it is astonishing that there are so few aggressive reactions in these sort of circumstances.

Palm Island Mayor, Delena FosterPalm Island’s Mayor, Delena Foster, opened the rally by welcoming everyone and by reinforcing that the day was focussed on justice. There are other important issues such as housing and employment, but basic justice was a fundamental.

The next speaker was Robert Blakely, a local man who said he had been an ALP member for nine years. He was fiercely critical of Labor’s record towards Indigenous people in Queensland, going back well into last century. He touched on the ‘protection’ regimes, the rounding up and exiling of striking Aboriginal workers in the 1950s, the Goss government’s record in removing access to land and the sending in of ‘storm troopers’ to Palm Island to quell unrest after Mulrunji’s death. He also pointed to the irony that the polling booth at Palm Island returned one of the highest percentage Labor votes in the state, and suggested this might need to change.Yarrabah Mayor Vince Mundraby with Attorney-General Kerry Shine in background

The next speaker was Cr Vince Mundraby, the Mayor of Yarrabah, an Aboriginal community just south of Cairns. Every Aboriginal community in Queensland has linkages to Palm because people were forcibly taken there from almost every part of the state. However, Yarrabah probably has the closest links. Vince reminded the local community that they had the support of Indigenous people across the state, and that the Councils of Queensland’s Aboriginal communities were determined to maintain an ongoing campaign for change.

Noel Pearson, probably the nation’s best known Indigenous leader, was next. He is from Cape York, Noel Pearsonwhich is a fair way to the north, but like most Aboriginal people has many direct family links to people on Palm. Its history as a place of punishment meant it had always ‘loomed large in the minds of Aboriginal people’ because of the many people who were taken from their families against their will and sent to Palm. He spoke of hearing about Palm Island as a child before he heard about places like Cairns.

He also reinforced the message that the day was about justice and equality under the law. He made the point – which was made to me repeatedly by many locals – that the only people who had been punished or locked up as a result of this death were those who had been protesting about it (and specifically about the totally discredited initial police investigation)

Peter Beattie came next. He started by thanking the community for the invitation to visit and said he wished it could havePremier Peter Beattie, with Alf Lacey in background been under better circumstances. He had a few key points that he kept reinforcing. He stressed that you can’t achieve justice by letting politicians decide who is charged. He gave a strong hint that, while he couldn’t direct the DPP to seek another opinion, he would support her doing so, and he indicated he would ask the DPP to explain to Mulrunji’s family what the extra evidence was that she said in her statement she relied on in deciding not to press charges.

The Premier also said he wanted to focus on making sure this type of incident never happened again, and stated the government would fund a diversion centre for people to be taken to when they are arrested for drunkenness. I must say it is hard to see why this wasn’t provided after the Royal Commission into black deaths in custody, or at the very least after the death in 2004. (I am also not convinced that arresting people for drunkenness is a good or fair thing to do, although taking people to a diversion centre does not need to involve formally arresting people)Warren Mundine

Warren Mundine, the ALP’s national President, and an Aboriginal man from northern NSW, followed the Premier. It is fair to say he was pretty scathing. He reinforced Noel Pearson’s personal story, saying ‘every Aboriginal person knows about Palm Island’, a place where people were sent to be punished. They know about the history in Queensland, they know this is not an isolated incident. He said the Premier was leaving the Palm Island community with nothing, and needed to show strong leadership for all citizens and not let this situation fester.

Local man Brad Foster, who was chairing the proceedings, then allowed a few questions from the crowd. One poignant question came from Lex Wotton, who asked the Premier if he had the power to lay charges, what decision he would have made. Not surprisingly, the Premier wouldn’t answer it, saying it wasn’t his job and he hadn’t examined all the evidence, but it was still a stark demonstration that, when the system fails, somehow the answer always seems to be ‘there’s nothing I can do.’

Alf Lacey makes his point to the PremierAnother telling question came from Alf Lacey, a former Chairman of the Palm Island Council. He asked the Premier why the ‘five point plan’ offered by the government from the Premier’s visit in 2004 hadn’t been implemented and how could the community expect anything different this time. Mr Beattie responded by saying Alf was right, but he was committed to working with Council to make positive change.

Apart from the speakers, other Indigenous leaders who travelled to the Island to show support included the co-Chair of Reconciliation Australia, Jackie Huggins,Murandoo Yanner Carpentaria Land Council leader Murandoo Yanner, and Townsville based leader Gracelyn Smallwood. Federal Indigenous Affairs Minister Mal Brough also sent along his senior advisor and had a brief message of support read out to the rally, which included an expression of admiration for the way Palm Islanders are handling this difficult situation, and an offer to “assist if there is anything reasonable he can do.”

Whilst it is reasonable to be cynical about the Premier’s visit to the Island and to wonder at the long-term value that will come from the media snapshots of such as event, it was still the right thing for him to make the visit and for all of us to be made aware of the anger and total bewilderment.

However, the only way to assuage the cynicism is to ensure that the Premier does not succeed in using his visit just to put a lid on the story and to enable the media and public attention to ‘move on’. He got away with that when he visited the Island after the eruption of outrage following the initial totally flawed investigation into Mulrunji’s death two years ago. All of us who are expressing shared outrage now must keep that pressure on for as long as it takes for justice to be seen to be done for Mulrunji, his family and the Palm Island community, and for real, sustainable and substantial change.

One thing which I think would be very good for the Premier to do is to return to Palm Island in a few months time, without all the TV cameras, and sit down and do some more listening – as well as demonstrating he is following up on the public commitments he made to the community and the extra ones he made in his meeting with the Council.

I stayed around after the rally to try to gather peoples’ impressions. I spoke with a few of the Councillors and the CEO, some of the rally organisers and speakers and a couple of Mulrunji’s sisters. I also spoke with some people at the pub that evening. I don’t wish to speak for the people of Palm Island, but I think it is fair to say that they are heartened by the support being shown to them by people all around the state, both black and white. This will give them some strength and encouragement for a while, but it really needs to be followed up and built on.

Yesterday was the day for the voices of the Palm Island community to be heard and for the lack of justice for Indigenous people to be recognised by the community in Queensland. Today and the months to come is for the wider community to continue to support them in the quest for justice and for major changes to a system – political, legal and economic – that continues to comprehensively fail them.

ELSEWHERE: The Let’s Take Over blog has a lot of links to reports and descriptions of the Palm Island rally and support rallies held in Townsville and Brisbane.

One of the many signs at the rally

An afternoon view of Coolgaree Bay from the local pub

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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34 Comments

  1. Andrew Bartlett:
    Thank you very much for your comprehensive report from Palm Island; I gave up on “The Couier-Mail” ages ago.

    The Men’s Group certainly did have a challenge in keeping balance and they seemed to have succeeded. Maybe they can teach the overpid boards of dirctors of Australia’s major corporations a thing or two. Good on them.

    I thought this was to all do with the people on Palm – and a lot of other Aborigines – having their say on this tragedy and on the many many unresolved injustices ….. so just what the h*ll were the usual mob of professional “indigenees” doing there starring in the media again???? I’m fed up with fly-in-fly-out academics and hit-and-run media stooges.

    I’m sure that the people actually experiencing these tragedies and injustices are quite intelligent and capable of speaking for themselves without the need for any “spokespersons” shoving their own personal agendas down everyone’s throats and dominating the meeting. If anyone who has something to say is shy about speaking up in public, that can be easily fixed by giving them a bit of practice and encouragement in speaking up in public beforehand. Listening to someone expressing an opinion is far more important than worrying whether the speaker is swearing or not and whether their public speaking skills are polished or not. ((not meant as a criticism of you; its a criticism of the precious darlings who are offended at hearing a naughty word but unmoved by seeing chronic unemployment and hopelessness)).

    Thanks for going there.

  2. Mike Rann ensured that the old boys club was over-turned (one plea bargain for a rich kid and one for a top lawyer) a couple of times in the last 2 years. Does Beattie not have similair power?

    Maybe it is time to impose sporting sanctions on Queensland. That is the only way to get issues in front of most people.

  3. Graham
    “the usual mob of professional “indigenees” is what some might call a “leadership”

    Howard scrapped ATSIC
    Beattie scrapped the Indigenous reference group and the Aboriginal co-ordinating council – and then he scrapped the indigenous portfolio alltogether

    This “usual mob” are not directly connected to structures of the white state and are more likely to represent Aboriginal perspective than the Abocrats of the past 2 decades

    Given the systematic disempowerment and consequent lack of political skills that is the status-quo of grass roots Aboriginal society this emerging leadership should be supported instead of dismissed because they are providing leadership

    I might add that “the usual mob” were invited to do what they did by the grass roots leadership of the Palm Island Mens business group

  4. Rob

    from memory, the SA examples you quote were appeals against sentences. The Qld government can and has done this – in regard to Palm Island, they chose to appeal the leniency of the sentences given to three local people who pleased guilty to charges arising from the riot on the island and got suspended or non-custodial sentences. I don’t know if this was a plea bargain or not, but the Qld Govt obviously felt it was appropriate that these three Aboriginal people get locked up, which they now will be, including one mum being taken from her kids just in time for Xmas.

    As for reviewing the DPP’s decision, it is interesting to see today’s news reports that, despite all the protestations that the Qld government couldn’t order a review, the Attorney-General has now announced precisely that.

    Apparently because the DPP has given the Attorney-General a file on the matter, this now allows him to order a review!! Supposedly they couldn’t have ordered the review without the file, yet according to Beattie the file “was not something that the Government asked for, nor would we have expected it.”

    Figure that one out if you can.

  5. Graham

    It was rally organisers who decided who would speak, and they also consulted the Council about it.

    It was chaired by a local, Brad Foster, and the first two speakers were locals. Both the Yarrabah Mayor and Noel Pearson also strongly emphasised the strong Palm Island links and were speaking in support of, rather than on behalf of, the locals.

    Similarly, it was the decision of the Doomadgee family to have a lawyer speak on behalf of them in this instance. This isn’t just cos they might feel the spokesperson can speak more fluently to the media. It can also be because they don’t want to have direct contact with media or others.

    As long as the choice is made by people as to who they want to speak on their behalf, I think their choice has to be respected.

    I do agree it’s not desirable having the media always going to a small number of Indigenous people to talk about places they are not from, but I think this case is different.

    Also, justice for the people of Palm will also need to be part of a wider campaign for change to deliver justice for all indigenous people, which means the voices of as many as possible need to be heard.

  6. on Andrew’s last point

    Palm Island is the biggest Aboriginal community in Australia and the one with the darkest history so it is not surprising that it is a focus for the natiional Aboriginal movement and its leadership

    Since the demise of the Redfern community Palm Island has become the Aboriginal capital of Australia

  7. John Tracey:
    Leadership is fine …. and we’ve all seen some fine examples of real leadership by Aborigines. (By the way, some time back, I called for the office of Governor-General to be always filled by an Aborigine).

    My scepticism is probably coloured by having seen some of those who are held up as so-called “elders” or “community leaders” or “spokesmen” when they are no such thing (and worse) …… and it’s also coloured by my experiences, as a war veteran, of having people like Bruce Ruxton and his type being presented as “spokesmen” for veterans like me – like h*ll they speak for me!

    Andrew Bartlett:
    If the Doomadgee family wanted to avoid direct contact with the media (gee, I can certainly relate to that!) and chose somebody to speak for them; good on them, that was their decision and they’re perfectly entitled to do so..

    If people like Pearson (whom I do not like) were speaking IN SUPPORT OF the people of Palm then that’s great and the whole country should applaud them for taking the time and trouble to do so. But if they crossed that line and manipulated the meeting for some selfish purpose or another by claiming that they spoke FOR the people then they deserve condemnation.

    If we members of the public are to keep a close eye on what the Police do with Aborigines then we are entitled to keep a critical eye on those who are presented to us as Aboriginal leading-lights too.

    You are right about as many voices as possible being needed throughout Australia to bring about justice for all Aborigines.

  8. AT ONE STAGE DOWN IN Melbourne a man by the name of Stan collected all the names of journalists willing to do stories on Aboriginal matters.Being a mathematician,Polish and speaking any number of languages he was a one man army..and at one stage worked for Defence in translating Russian.He also liked walking around barefoot,although,Im sure,not a barefoot socialist.Funny thing about the beginnings of the Democrats,they werent willing to crap on the so called left immediately,assuming there might be some highly driven motivation amongst them ,and there was..amongst all the splinter groups.I think two things are happening to Aboriginal matters,a. over-exposure and failing government policy….in that these issues are now so similar to other groups,including us run of the mill whiteys,that sooner or later ,it might be necessary to ask some more basic questions..including over worked aboriginals,and not excluding unemployed,if their emotions are being driven crazy by historical and contemporary issues.I know ,most of my days are not organised by others as role or requirement of the work place.Better go swimming ,play a musical instrument learn another language,beat a Guinness book of records,or read out aloud stephen hawkings new book on mathematics…I cant even afford the thing,But somebody must beat the tides eventually and transcribe it into the first ever compendium of modern aboriginal mathematics.Try putting on a kids voice whilst doing it..many fine kid actors on tv. have been seen over the years.But knowing your stuff is even better.Perhaps one day we will have a aborigibnal mathematician or three regularily sniggering about all things maths including from government.Until then,if you see wisdom in this Senators blog..give him the numbers..because when it comes to blogs there is cowardice amongst the political ranks..and this makes this blog a a standard that now cannot be challenged..I wish Australians werent so tired of opinion………………………

  9. No doubt the problems at Palm Island reach far beyond the current case, and are rooted in long-established racism. However, I’ve heard little to refute the DPP position in this particular case. From what I know of them, successful prosecutions are by no means easy. Is the DPP decision realy based on racism (if sub-concious)? Is Beattie really to blame for not wanting to intervene?

    If not, then the focus needs to be at a much broader level than a political response to the DPP decision, and those screaming for a reversal are missing the point.

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  11. Andrew Bartlett [on post 5]:
    So my taxes, such as they are, are being used to lock up three Aborigines just in time for Christmas and that includes seperating a mother from her kiddies. That is low! Can I get a refund of my taxes please?

  12. Alan, here is my take of the core of the case against Hurley:

    1) He told the same story three times to investigating detectives – that he fell NEXT to Mulrunji, not ON him.

    2) When the medical evidence showed that Hurley either fell on Mulrunji, OR assaulted him, (as his lawyer admitted at the coronial inquest) Hurley changed his story.

    Notice that this does not rely on any so-called ‘unreliable’ witnesses.

    Greater detail here in this comment on my blog.

    This is not to accuse DPP Leanne Clare of personally being a racist. But she is taking part in a legal system that systematically denies rights and justice to Aborigines, and her decision helps that system to keep on going, unchallenged.

    Those ‘screaming’ for a reversal are NOT missing the point at all. A man was killed under very suspicious circumstances that look like murder. Why should we just let that slide? What if if was your brother or son or cousin? You would be demanding justice, and if anyone accused you of ‘screaming for a reversal’ you would, rightly, regard them as callous and heartless.

    However, there are also wider issues, including the toxic features of Aboriginal society (which black leaders are well aware of and doing what they can to change), and the malignant influence of the Police Union.

  13. David –

    Firstly, I guess I wasn’t clear in who I mean’t when I said ‘screaming for a reversal’. Those personally involved of course have every cause to feel aggrieved and to express it. As you say, if I was in their position (although I couldn’t be given the circumstances) I’m sure I would do the same thing. I was referring to those not personally involved who think that polititians and public servants can easily produce a correct verdict in prosecutions.

    I’m in the unusual position of being involved in writing legislation and investigating possible breaches. Writing watertight legislation is hard enough (as Andrew would attest with his animal welfare attempt). Evidence gathering and presentation is extremely delicate, with the least irregularity likely to make evidence either inadmissable or subject to doubt by defence lawyers in court. The DPP decision not to prosecute may have been completely impartial, and have nothing to do with ‘a legal system that systematically denies rights and justice to Aborigines’. That’s not to say that Hurley didn’t murder Mulrinji. Getting a conviction is another matter. The law can indeed be an ass, and people need to accept thst.

    As I said, ‘the focus needs to be at a much broader level than a political response to the DPP decision’. A concerted effort to overcome the effect of 200 plus years of racism and injustice is needed. That’s the hard road polititians need to follow.

  14. Alan I think Noel Pearson’s article accurately pinpoints the ‘problem’ in the DPP not proceeding with Clare sidelineing public interest and likelihood of conviction guidelines:

    “First, in explaining her original decision, she said she had reviewed the evidence, including (unknown and untested) new evidence not available to the coronial inquiry that earlier this year found that Senior Sergeant Chris Hurley was responsible for the death of Doomadgee.

    However, Clare did not only say she had concluded that the evidence did not support a conviction, she declared that it was a “tragic, tragic accident”. She did not say that the evidence would likely or even highly likely result in a finding that the death was an accident; rather, she made an absolute determination that it was an accident.

    She arrogated to herself the role of the jury to positively declare what had happened, when her role as DPP must surely be to offer her opinion as to whether any charge could succeed against Hurley.”
    http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/story/0,20867,20965347-601,00.html

  15. If this was happening in any place other than Queensland, I might believe that the DPP had some good reason not to proceed.

    However, the various politically motivated prosecutions, convictions and appeal rulings involving members of the One Nation Party have made it obvious that the justice system in Queensland will deliver whatever results the Government wants.

    If there is no prosecution, that is because the Government wants no prosecution. If there is a prosecution, it will be because public opinion has caused the Government to change its mind.

    Beattie is the man in charge.

  16. Thanks Kaye – I hadn’t seen Pearsons article. It is indeed to the point. (EP – I confess to being a Victorian, so I may not have the same perspective as a Queenslander). If Clares decision was not impartial, what was behind it? I would have thought the political capital would have been with running with the prosecution if anything. Is it a response to police union pressure?

  17. I was referring to those not personally involved who think that polititians and public servants can easily produce a correct verdict in prosecutions.

    Do you mean those who think that Hurley should be charged, and who think that the admissible, reliable evidence – points to his guilt?

    Mulrunji’s family has welcomed the support of people who are not ‘personally involved’, and indeed the Aboriginal community has asked for it. I heard Murunji’s brother, Alec Doomadgee, welcome such support at the Brisbane rally last Wednesday.

    What are you trying to achieve by dividing Mulrunji’s family and the people who support them?

    The law can indeed be an ass, and people need to accept that.

    No we don’t. We have the option of looking at the ridiculous rules of admissibility in our criminal trials, and changing them.

    The DPP decision not to prosecute may have been completely impartial, and have nothing to do with ‘a legal system that systematically denies rights and justice to Aborigines’.

    The problem is a system that lets people make decisions which are impartial on a personal level, but which help to keep injustice going on a systematic level.

    If the DPP’s decision is completely ‘correct’ as the law stands, then the law is wrong.

    And why are the police not looking for more evidence? Hurley’s behaviour and story have been very dodgy so far. Why is pressure not being put on him to get the real story? If he was not a police officer, the fact that he changed his story under suspicion of murder would be triggering alarm bells in the police department.

    I think EP’s reasoning is correct in so far as it goes, but at least one of the reasons that (IMAO) Beattie would prefer not to see a prosecution is that he is fearful of the power of the police union.

  18. David – ‘What are you trying to achieve by dividing Mulrunji’s family and the people who support them?’ I was pointing out that an emotive reaction demanding a direct overturning of the decision from someone personally involved is understandable (and I include in that people who have suffered from a racist system). A more considered approach is needed from people not personally involved.

    ‘The problem is a system that lets people make decisions which are impartial on a personal level, but which help to keep injustice going on a systematic level.’

    The injustice is the problem, not the impartial decision. Changing an impartial decision will compound injustice. As I’ve said before, it’s the systematic injustice that must be tackled.

    ‘If the DPP’s decision is completely ‘correct’ as the law stands, then the law is wrong.’

    Not necesarily. The rules of evidence are there to protect people (often from the police). In this case it’s the other way round. We can’t vary the rules of evidence between cases, to protect people we want protected and expose those we don’t.

    Perhaps the rules of evidence do need changing. But that’s not within the scope of the DPP decision. And it was the demanding of an overturn of the decision that I queried.

  19. A more considered approach is needed from people not personally involved.

    See my link in comment 12 above. I have read the coroner’s report and quoted the sections that have led me to conclude that S/Sgt Hurley looks very suspicious. I think I have considered the case enough to draw valid conclusions.

    The injustice is the problem, not the impartial decision. Changing an impartial decision will compound injustice. As I’ve said before, it’s the systematic injustice that must be tackled.

    Not changing this decision will allow injustice to triumph. Laws and rules are there to serve people, not the other way around.

    It’s no good telling Mulrunji’s family that we can’t help them get justice because ‘systematic’ injustice is more important.

    The rules of evidence are there to protect people (often from the police). In this case it’s the other way round.

    The rules of evidence seem to mostly act to keep useful evidence away from the jury. I think we need to switch to a system where any evidence can be considered. Why do we not trust a jury to hear all the evidence?

    I am well aware that this is because of ‘prejudice’, but why should we assume a jury is not capable of sorting out fact from prejudice? It would be a good idea for citizens to start looking at how the courts are controlled by a small clique of lawyers.

    We can’t vary the rules of evidence between cases, to protect people we want protected and expose those we don’t.

    Where have I said that is what I want?

    ON THE AVAILABLE, ADMISSIBLE EVIDENCE, even under the current dodgy system, S/Sgt Hurley still looks in deep trouble.

    Mulrunji’s case has nothing to do with an arguement about available evidence, although people who don’t want Hurley to be charged are saying that it does.

    Hurley said three times he did not fall on Mulrunji. The medical evidence shows that if he did not fall on Mulrunji, Mulrunji was assaulted. Hurley is the only possible suspect.

    Simple.

  20. ‘I think I have considered the case enough to draw valid conclusions.’

    Have you seen the evidence not yet disclosed?

    ‘Not changing this decision will allow injustice to triumph. Laws and rules are there to serve people, not the other way around. ‘

    I reject completely any suggestion that a decision should not be impartial.

    ‘I think we need to switch to a system where any evidence can be considered.’

    Including police verbals? or Hearsay?

  21. Hurley has given different versions of events during different interviews

    Hurley was criticised by the coroner for being evasive giving evidence

    The other police witness stayed where he could not see what was going on because – from his own evidence – he did not want to get in trouble if he saw what was going on

    There is every likelyhood that a jury will find Hurley’s evidence less reliable than the other eye witness

    The other eye witness’s evidence conforms to autopsy evidence

    The DPP decision is indeed just one small part of the beast and we should not ignore all the other crises and obsess on this one flashpoint

    But this does not mean that we leave this particular issue and focus on another particular issue such a stolen wages which is also just a small part or community and domestic violence – another small part or housing or substance abuse or poverty or health and of course every one of the other deaths in custody

    There is no core issue to tackle except invasion war and colonisation and the millions of crises that go with this just like every other war torn and colonised country on the planet

    There are only these millions of isolated incidents and every one of them needs to be dealt with properly

    Aboriginal Australia and colonial Australia do not relate to each other through dialogue and political debate

    By far the biggest front of contact between Aboriginal and colonial Australia is the police – it has been this way since the first fleet got here

    The next biggest front of contact is the welfare industry with its inherent authority of the professional and subservience of the client

    Beyond that colonial society is insulated and protected from the crisis of Aboriginal society by the police and welfare agencies and could not care less what happens in the Bantu stands
    (Walter Roth who wrote most of the original Aboriginal protection laws in Australia also wrote the South African apartheid laws based on the Qld laws)

  22. I broadly agree with the principle your asserting Alan – undermining one of the key good components of our justice system is not the way to deliver justice. But we also have to recognise the reality that John Tracey has described (#23) – the legal and political systems are fundamentally discriminatory, and we won’t improve that by letting this incident slide.

    The problem here is not on it’s own that the DPP decided there is insufficent admissable evidence for a trial to proceed. This may be right, in the same way (for example) that rape prosecutions sometimes don’t proceed because there is insufficent evidence (no indepndent witnesses, confused recollections, etc). But when a DPP decides there isn’t enough evidence for a rape prosecution to proceed, that’s what they say. They don’t also make a finding that the sex was consensual or the woman was asking for it, etc.

    Problems that must be addressed from this incident include:
    – the DPP’s conclusive finding that the death was an accident, despite medical evidence to the coronial inquiry suggesting a totally feasible alternative scenario;
    – even issues like seriously flawed investigation, changing evidence, failure to notify relatives, failure of the most basic duty of care to a person in custody have not led even to a single reprimand after two years;
    – contrast this to the instant police response, with armed raids, arrests, bail conditions that were in effect being exiled from their home and family, and jail sentences, following the unrest on the Island after the death (a response to the initial discredited investigation, which also unilaterally determined it was an accident). Many Aboriginal people have been severly punished for this, which contrasts blatantly to the treatment towards police involved.

  23. It’s quite a conundrum. We have appointed officials, like the DPP, because we don’t trust elected officials like politicians (no disrespect, Andrew) to make impartial decisions on the face of the evidence. Then our appointed officials go and make decisions (at least nominally on the face of the evidence, as far as we are aware of it) that are politically fraught, and we ask the elected officials to step in and over-rule them.

    Weird, eh.

  24. I think that one must distinguish between:
    1. The decision not to prosecute (in which it is important to make an objective and non-emotional assessment); and
    2. The broader context of the case, including an impartial investigation, lies to Mulrunji’s family and the failure of the Queensland government and the police to address these issues (this is what I think of as the political issue – it seems to me that the measured anger displayed at the rally is entirely appropriate).

    It will be interesting to see what the review concludes. It was inappropriate for the DPP to come to a factual conclusion as to what happened (although of course, she is entitled to exercise her discretion to say that there is not enough evidence to prosecute). On the evidence I have read, if I were in the DPP’s position, I think I would have decided to prosecute, but I am not a criminal lawyer, so can’t claim any expertise in that area!

  25. Commentators will continue the mass-debate about the role of the DPP but the real historical fact is if justice is not done or seen to be done – not just for this one incident of a death in custody – but all of them then there is every chance that someone somewhere will take the law into their own hands and take an eye for an eye – and there has been 3 deaths involved in this one incident as both Mulrunji’s mother and son died of broken hearts because there was and still is no justice or resloution

    We have all seen Aboriginal people say such things at Rallies on the TV – calling for Aboriginal law since the white law has proven itself to be meaningless

    It has gone a long way beyond a quibble about due process and coming close to civil war

    Redfern rioted Palm Island Rioted Wadye rioted and many other places regularly riot but the TV cameras weren’t there so we remain ignorant of it

    The headlines of the riots pass and we think everything has settled down but it hasn’t

    Petty bickering over the DPP’s decision by those who do not feel the pain of what has happened not just the death but the whole process since – and will not bear the consequences of what will or will not happen – miss the magnitude of this situation

    reports and reviews dont cut it anymore
    Aboriginal people are desperate and flashpoints such as the riots or the altercation between Mulrunji and Hurley are common and easliy triggered because of a total failure of policing and law and order polcies in Aboriginal communities combined with an intense mutial disrespect between police and their Aboriginal clients as a direct result of things such as Mulrunji’s killing

    If our constitution allows for the sacking of a prime minister in an emergency there can be no question that such an explosive conclusion as the coroners report must be put to trial by any means necessary

  26. This story in The Australian today.

    Ex-judge in Palm death case review helped pick DPP
    http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/story/0,20867,20974525-2702,00.html

    “THE former judge chosen by the Beattie Government to review a decision by the state’s top prosecutor not to lay charges in the Palm Island death-in-custody case has become embroiled in a conflict-of-interest dispute after it emerged he voted to appoint Leanne Clare as Director of Public Prosecutions.”

  27. Isn’t it time for an external review?

    Peter Bjelke Beattie will control any internal investigation or review because the Queensland Police force demand it of him.

    It is the Queensland public that needs protection from over aggressive and hostile police members who believe that they should never have their authority, control and actions questioned. Queensland is still a police state.

    I’ve had an apoplectic police officer, red faced and jumping up and down in rage before me when I merely questioned my offence of flashing lights to warn other drivers of a speed trap. I suggested that it had to be purely a revenue raising exercise, otherwise why would they care how the drivers slowed down, as long as they did so, if that was the prime motivation? (the cop then thoroughly went over my car in an effort to book me on anything else he could find!)

    Just imagine the shock of Hurley when an Indigenous man actually hit back at him (something that he admitted in court just does not happen) for an unjust arrest – pure violent rage I’d say.

    Time to throw it open and let the truth fall where it may (but that’s what they’re all afraid of, isn’t it?).

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