By Jacqui Kavanagh
SYDNEY — Aboriginal representatives have condemned the failure of the final report of the Royal Commission into Black Deaths in Custody to recommend the laying of charges against police killers.
"The royal commission had two functions ", said Michael Mansell, representing the Aboriginal Provisional Government, at a May 11 press conference here. "One was to examine the failings of the legal system in not bringing to justice those who were on hand when Aborigines died in custody and secondly looking at why it was that so many Aboriginal people died in custody. On the second point it clearly did its job. It looked at all the social circumstance and explained them very well, and the government should simply adopt the recommendations.
"But on the first question, whilst the royal commission correctly found that the existing legal system wrongly allowed people to walk away unpunished, it failed to address the real problem, that is, what people ... blatantly killed an Aboriginal person. The Royal Commission failed to bring those people before court."
Kevin Gilbert of the Treaty '88 Committee added, "We believe that wherever a custodial officer has by an unlawful act or a callous act contributed to the death of an Aboriginal person in custody that that officer, or officers, should be tried before a jury.
"We believe that that must be the first step if the Australian government is sincere in any way or if the judicial system is to establish any sort of integrity at all in the eyes of Aboriginal people."
The press conference, representing a range of Aboriginal organisations, announced the formation of a National Aboriginal Task Force. In addition to Mansell and Gilbert, those present were Brian Butler from the Secretariat for National Aboriginal Child Care, Rosemary Smith from the International Council of Indigenous Women, John Christopherson from the World Council of Indigenous People and Helen Corbett, chairperson of the National Committee to Defend Black Rights.
The aim of the task force is to promote Aboriginal sovereignty. It will soon begin a national speaking tour to put forward proposals and gain feedback from Aboriginal communities throughout Australia.
Kevin Gilbert outlined some of the proposals to be taken on the speaking tour, which may include the development of alternative Aboriginal political structures and the calling for international sanctions against Australia.
Mansell explained, "We are talking about things such as excluding police from Aboriginal communities, excluding white jurisdiction over Aboriginal people, Aboriginal communities taking control over their own areas ...
"We define sovereignty as the right of a people on their own land, to their own pace and to determine their own destiny."
Rosemary Smith contrasted sovereignty with the federal government's current proposal to form a Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation, which would spend the next 10 years discussing a document. Kevin Gilbert added, "Another decade means another decade in which the needs of Aboriginal people are not met."