Call for Aboriginal ombudsman


By David Jagger

SYDNEY — In the wake of the report of the Royal Commission into Black Deaths in Custody, Aboriginal representatives here are calling for an Aboriginal ombudsman or crime authority.

Commission evidence indicated that police officers may have committed crimes or breached police regulations in at least 12 Aboriginal custody deaths nationally. Yet state police departments and state and federal directors of public prosecutions have taken no action.

A South Australian prison officer is the only custodian found guilty of breach of regulations. He was fined $50.

According to the Sydney Morning Herald, the NSW DPP referred the commission report into one death, that of Paul Kearney, back to police for further investigation. This was "normal procedure".

NSW Aboriginal Legal Service vice-chairman Bill Craigie said, "This is a prime example of police investigating police. The Aboriginal community has no faith in that attitude."

Kooris marched to the Redfern police station on May 22 to prompt a response from the NSW election rivals to the commission's 339 recommendations, covering a range of custodial and social concerns, including land needs.

The protesters got no response from the Coalition or the Labor Party.

"It has been a gross oversight by the royal commission that it didn't set up a mechanism whereby these recommendations could be monitored", said Craigie.

Craigie envisaged a federal Aboriginal ombudsman with offices in each state to monitor implementation of the recommendations and to guard against any police harassment following the commission's probe.

Ideally, it would also further investigate the various police breaches outlined by the commission and pressure DPPs to prosecute, he says.

"The Aboriginal community has just about exhausted all legal remedies open to us in this country", Craigie said. Through the Aboriginal Legal Service, it will be seeking redress at the United Nations Working Group of Indigenous Populations, now drafting a Universal Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

The working group also endorses a World Council of Churches declaration calling on the federal government to establish a crimes authority "under Aboriginal control, with full investigative and prosecutorial authority".

Chris Cunneen, a co-author of the recently tabled Human Rights Commission report on racist violence, believes an Aboriginal crime authority, or the weaker Aboriginal ombudsman, are good ideas, but unlikely to be implemented. The racist violence report recommended that state and federal ombudsman's offices and police complaints tribunals at least have Aboriginal investigating officers. It also said federal police should be able to investigate state police in cases of racist violence.

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