Sam Watson: We need a new royal commission into black deaths in custody

November 17, 2011
Sam Watson.

November 19 marks the seventh anniversary of “the police murder of Mulrunji Doomadgee on Palm Island”, says Sam Watson, a prominent Queensland Murri leader and Socialist Alliance member.

In Brisbane, supporters of Aboriginal rights will rally that day to demand governments implement all 339 recommendations of the 1991 Royal Commission into Black deaths in custody.

Watson told Green Left Weekly: “It is important that Aboriginal people and their supporters mark this solemn day with a rally and march to continue our urgent call for justice for all Aboriginal deaths in custody.

“To this day, the police officer who admitted his actions had directly caused the death of Mulrunji on November 19, 2004 — Senior Sergeant Chris Hurley — is still a free man. Our commemoration is also intended to condemn the many Aboriginal deaths since the Royal Commission into Black Deaths in Custody handed down its report in 1991.

“State and federal governments endorsed most of those 339 recommendations of the Royal Commission, and applied for Commonwealth funds to implement them. As a result, large amounts of public money were handed out to state police and prison services, while Aboriginal community support organisations had to line up for the crumbs.

“Hundreds of millions of dollars was dished out, but Aboriginal legal services and deaths in custody watch groups received only the loose change. Even now, 20 years on, we still have national networks of community-based programs still fighting for survival.

“Recently, in deaths in custody cases in Queensland, New South Wales, Western Australia and Victoria, police unions can channel millions of dollars into legal defence funds for police, in order to frustrate the processes of the law. Meanwhile, families of Aboriginal victims have to access public defenders for their legal representation.”

Watson said the rally would also call “for a new Royal Commission into Black deaths in custody, and a full, public audit of all the deaths which have occurred in the past 20 years.

“We also want a complete investigation into particular cases, such as the death in Brisbane of Daniel Yock in 1993, the Mulrunji case in 2004, the death of Mr Ward in WA, and TJ Hickey in Sydney.

“In all these cases, arresting police and prison officers routinely ignored and breached key recommendations of the 1991 Royal Commission. Until the Australian legal system can hold police and prison staff criminally accountable, there will be no justice for Black people in custody.

“The arrest rates of Aborigines will continue to climb; the incarceration rates will continue to climb; and the deaths in custody rates will also climb. Until police and prison officers responsible for deaths in custody are arrested, charged and jailed for long terms, the tragedy of Black deaths in custody will never be properly addressed. And justice will continue to be denied to Aboriginal people.”

GLW asked Watson about his view of the new stage of the Northern Territory intervention into Indigenous communities. He replied: “With Prime Minister Julia Gillard now calling for uranium exports to India, the hidden agenda of the Northern Territory Intervention is fully exposed.

“The real agenda of the Howard, Rudd and now Gillard governments’ NT intervention was to force Aboriginal landowners to step aside and allow uranium mining on their land.

“The traditional owners have always been very worried about the dangers of uranium. The sites where uranium lies have been known for generations as ‘sickness places’. This has been expressed over the years through songs, sacred ceremonies and rituals.

“The move to export uranium to India, which refuses to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, will increase the danger of the spread of weapons of mass destruction. In general, further expansion of the uranium industry is an immense environmental disaster, which could expose Australia to the dangers of nuclear waste dumps.

“Julia Gillard and the current crop of Labor politicians have no principles. They are committed merely to the short-term political and economic cycle.”

Watson said the intervention has done nothing about the key issues NT Aboriginal communities face, such as health, housing and education. He said: “All the statistics show that since the 2007 intervention, there has been no significant improvement in the health and living conditions of Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory. There has been a further drift of the out-station population into the urban hubs.

“They want to destroy the communities and allow the miners in. This is genocide by another name. The result is just as sure as in the old days of poison and guns.”

He told GLW he though the future of the Aboriginal rights movement depended upon the movement “becoming far more political. There are currently pockets of Black resistance, where families and communities have mobilised against deaths in custody, against increased police powers, and in support of improved health, housing and land rights.

“But we need to build an effective, national political network that can draw Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people together to create a Black bloc that can challenge the whole white, ruling power structure.

“We must realise we either hang separately, or hang together. So soon after the 11th day of the 11th month, we can see that the ruling class has no vision for the future, apart from war and economic crisis. We urgently need to construct an alternative political vision that looks beyond the short term, and far into the future.”

He also said he was heartened by the global Occupy movement. “The ruling class hopes that Occupy has reached its peak and will decline from here,” he said. “But Occupy has meant that masses of people are now demanding a new goal for society.

“People are seeking to cast aside the shackles of exploitation and oppression. The 99% are now in the parks and streets of almost every major city in the world.

“The 99% are demanding a genuine new world order. The Occupy movement will get stronger, not weaker, from here,” Watson said.

Regarding the future of the socialist movement, Watson said: “All the great, progressive political movements of the last 150 years had great thinkers and leaders driven by a vision of a new equitably-based society.

“Capitalism merely counts its coins, which should be redistributed at the street level to the workers and poor, whose sweat, blood and sacrifice has created all their wealth.”

Watson also said he was not happy with the recent announcement that 2,500 US Marines would be stationed in Darwin.

“President Obama is intent on driving the US further into the Asia-Pacific region, strengthening its military base in northern Australia as a new ‘Brisbane Line’, aimed in the final instance against China.

“We should all be alarmed at the growing alliance between the US and Australian governments in consolidating US military power in our region. This represents a disturbing threat to peace in this area of the world.”


We r part ,my nephew keeps getting bashed by police my son was bashed by police most police treat us like scum (why )we r human too
My children & grandchildren are of Indigenous heritage and I am proud to be associated through them with the original inhabitants of this country. The unique links with land and community are values to be honored and cherrished. Early invaders brougnt a whole new set of destructive values with them. Sadly, these values and the actions associated with them are still intrenched in many (if not most) areas of government and business. The average Australian of any heritage also subscribes to much of the warped values (often unconsciously) that allow injustice to continue. I am not sure another commission/enquiry will achieve satisfactory results. Yet questions need answers and our beautiful Indigenious Australians deserve to be treated with dignity and justice at all times. Perhaps the realisation that - 'if it happens to ANYONE - it can also happen to anyone of US as well' would help. Or - 'when an injustice happens to someone, it IS happening to ME on some level' because we are all members of the ONE HUMAN FAMILY.
Times Are Changing, Peoples Rights are Top of the Agenda Around the World. So it Must be Time to Sit down and Re-Draw the Map. Don't get Left Behind it's Going to Happen.

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