A full inquiry into Mulrunji's needed

Saturday, May 31, 2008

The recent revelation that Senior Sergeant Chris Hurley — the Queensland policeman who admitted in court that he caused the death of Aboriginal man Mulrunji (Cameron Doomadgee) on Palm Island in November 2004 — received a “compensation” payment of $100,000 from the Queensland Police Service for alleged loss of personal property during the fire that followed, is a major public scandal. It deserves an immediate investigation by the Queensland Crime and Misconduct Commission.The recent revelation that Senior Sergeant Chris Hurley — the Queensland policeman who admitted in court that he caused the death of Aboriginal man Mulrunji (Cameron Doomadgee) on Palm Island in November 2004 — received a "compensation" payment of $100,000 from the Queensland Police Service for alleged loss of personal property during the fire that followed, is a major public scandal. It deserves an immediate investigation by the Queensland Crime and Misconduct Commission.

Hurley only insured his property for some $34,000 and it now appears he may have already received a payout for that sum from his insurance company. In addition, the Queensland Police Union launched an appeal for funds to support Hurley and other police involved on Palm Island. Has Hurley received three payouts for the same alleged loss of property?

The decision has caused widespread anger throughout the Aboriginal community, and been criticised by lawyers and civil libertarians. My own immediate reaction to the news was shock and outrage.

Following the so-called "riot" on Palm Island after Mulrunji was killed, then-Queensland premier Peter Beattie declared a state of emergency there. Armed police invaded the island. Aboriginal families were terrorised; doors and furniture were smashed. A young pregnant woman was forced to lie on her stomach on the floor; young children were terrified in the face of police guns and batons.

This caused widespread trauma and suffering to members of the Palm Island Aboriginal community. Why were they never compensated in any way?

The whole process of Hurley's claim and payments needs to be scrutinised. Ten other police officers on Palm Island were given a total compensation payment of some $17,000 — an average of $1700 each, compared to Hurley's $100,000!

This payment is blood money: a reward from the Queensland state for the death of Mulrunji. The value of a policeman's goods are apparently worth far more than the life of an Aboriginal man.

The community upsurge on Palm Island occurred after the release of initial autopsy results showing that Mulrunji died of "an intra-abdominal haemorrhage caused by a ruptured liver and portal vein". Only after Hurley was finally forced to trial on manslaughter charges last year did he admit that he had caused those massive injuries himself.

Hurley was later found not guilty by an all-white jury in Townsville, but has since been served with a civil claim by Mulrunji's family. Meanwhile, Aboriginal leader Lex Wotton still faces trial in October over the alleged Palm Island "riot".

The fact that Queensland Police Commissioner Bob Atkinson has now announced an internal inquiry into Hurley's compensation payment is not good enough. The commissioner and police minister should be immediately suspended over the issue.

I am writing to Premier Anna Bligh calling for a full royal commission into the whole question of the death in custody of Mulrunji and the legal processes that followed it. We need to know what went wrong with the entire justice system in this case.

Why did Leanne Clare, the then director of public prosecutions, initially refuse to prosecute Hurley over Mulrunji's death? All the people on the side of the "law" in this case have been rewarded. Hurley has his payout; Clare has been made a judge.

Hurley was promoted to a position on the Gold Coast, where he owns an expensive house and a beachfront unit. Meanwhile, Mulrunji's partner Tracey Twaddle has to suffer with no compensation for her tragic loss.

A dead Aboriginal man's family and his community have received nothing. We need genuine justice for Aboriginal people: we need to hold police and the judicial system fully responsible for such racial discrimination.

The important issue of real justice for Aboriginal and Islander people needs to be one of the key issues we take up in the national day of action for Indigenous rights being held on June 21.

The main demands of the day of action are: End the Northern Territory, WA and Queensland interventions!; Repeal the NT Emergency Response Act!; Quarantine racism, not welfare!; and Stop Black deaths in custody!

Let all supporters of Indigenous rights and justice mobilise on June 21. And let us call for a full inquiry into the Mulrunji case and its aftermath.

[Sam Watson is a Murri activist and national Indigenous rights spokesperson for the Socialist Alliance.]

From GLW issue 753

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