Protests call for end to Aboriginal deaths in custody

April 17, 2011
Qld Greens spokesperson Libby Connors. Photo: David Jackmanson/Flickr

“Of the 339 recommendations of the royal commission into black deaths in custody handed down in 1991, the first people to receive funding were the police and prisons,” Murri community leader Sam Watson told an April 15 rally to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the commission.

“The big bucks went to the cops and the jails. Aboriginal legal services and other Indigenous organisations only got the crumbs. Instead of decreasing the rate of incarceration of Aboriginal people, that rate has increased over the past 20 years in Australia."

The rally and march attracted about 100 protesters.

Libby Connors from the Queensland Greens read out a statement from the federal Greens that supported an audit of the 99 Indigenous deaths in custody since 1991, and called for a plan to reinvest funds saved by reducing Aboriginal incarceration rates into improving health and education standards in the communities.

Kitty Carra from ANTAR Queensland urged support for “Project 10%”, aimed at cutting the rate of Indigenous jailing by 10% a year.

She said a key recommendation of the 1991 royal commission was for “arrest to be a last resort”. But this had not been implemented at all.

Ewan Saunders from the Socialist Alliance stressed that the criminal justice system had totally failed to carry out the recommendations of the 1991 commission. “We now have a higher rate of Black deaths in custody in Australia than South Africa did at the height of the apartheid system,” he said.

Reverend Alex Gator issued a call for a further protest in two weeks' time outside the Brisbane police headquarters, to demand the sacking of Queensland Police Commissioner Bob Atkinson and the charging of the six police officers accused of covering up the killing of Mulrunji Doomadgee by Senior Sergeant Chris Hurley on Palm Island in November 2004.

In Perth, Alex Bainbridge reported hundreds of supporters of Aboriginal rights carried white crosses — one for each of the Aboriginal people who has died in custody in the last 20 years — to the state parliament in Perth on April 15.

Sandy Billing, the cousin of an Aboriginal man who died in January while in police custody in Kalgoorlie, spoke at the rally and called for real action to stop Aboriginal deaths in custody.

Researcher Ted Wilkes got a big cheer when he told the rally: “We need treatment services and rehabilitation services, not bloody prisons.”

Other speakers included elder Ben Smith, Deaths in Custody Watch Committee Chairperson Marianne MacKay and the Aboriginal Legal Service’s Tammy Solonec.


I think the best way to prevent deaths in custody is for people not to break the Laws of the country and there will be no need to arrest them.
I am not surprised at all that deaths are still occuring in custody of Aboriginal prisoners. All that ever came out of the Royal Commission was funding for new beaut prisons, courthouse and goals. Oh, and the cops and screws got a little bit of cultural awareness - whoopy do!
I think one of the hugest barriers in tackling this issue is the public response. It seems that only Aboriginals are actually fighting against these deaths, and non-Indigenous people who do so are labelled "socialists", etc. Many people are adopting a narrow minded view of the situation (e.g. the comment in which the author says "the best way to prevent deaths in custody is for people not to break the Laws of the country and there will be no need to arrest them"). This attitude is hindering any possible progress/reform that SHOULD be undertaken. Yes, proportionality is certainly a mitigating factor, but it's not conclusive. Educational programs should be encourages, as well as those for treatment and rehabilitation. The "throw them in the gutters" attitude is not only racist, but outdated and ignorant. Imprisonment has rehabilitative intentions, not only punitive. I think the community should get informed before making such simplistic observations and conclusions.
It is easy to say dont break the laws , but a lot of aboriginal people are wrongy inprisioned and discrimanated against and placed in jail. JAIL IS NOT THE ANSWER!!!. It is only proof to the fact that there has been an increase in deafs in custody. Our goverment should wake up and look at the facts that are before them there 339 recommendations have not worked. Neither has the northen territory intervention. It will never work while the gorverment places these policys on aboriginal people. They need to listen to aboriginal people!!! they know what is best for there own people the proof is right before our eyes. Its not working in the northen territory nor is it working in the prisions. WE NEED TO LISTEN TO THE ABORIGINAL PEOPLE!!!
with riots at vliearwood shwing agley side of australlia with govomant and opshion blaming refugges sarting a fier with bogeans right wingd idots saying thay shoud be deportad for destrying govomant portey fact is that vilerwood and all dethion ficlteys are priveatley owan and run with coshion wich on pare with prison in laos than detshion ficltey devlopd westan contorey with refugges wating on wits end living coseant fere being deoptad if gileard tham she might as have singnd thear death wareant srilanka not safe with despot govomant wating puera singleas budiast sate sill rounding up tamels pouting costrshion camps hazears form afgenstian porcuead by both govomant and telbean if jews in aushwites burt in dowan you woud not blame theam so why in hell woud blame refugges touching villearwood witch shoud shut dowan rest hell holes dethioan ficlteys sam bullock
Statistically, the death rate as a percentage of the Aboriginal prison population is no greater for Aboriginals than for non-Aboriginals who are incarcerated. This fact has been conveniently ignored in order to politicise this issue. I suggest the Greens look at the statistics which will confirm this view. However, I accept that the incarceration rate of Aboriginals in terms of the total Aboriginal population of Australia, is unquestionably greater than that experienced by the non-Aboriginal population of Australia.

You need Green Left, and we need you!

Green Left is funded by contributions from readers and supporters. Help us reach our funding target.

Make a One-off Donation or choose from one of our Monthly Donation options.

Become a supporter to get the digital edition for $5 per month or the print edition for $10 per month. One-time payment options are available.

You can also call 1800 634 206 to make a donation or to become a supporter. Thank you.