Palm Island, Australia – Recent News Updates

Palm Island, Australia – Recent News Updates

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John Ahni Schertow
November 12, 2006
 

The following is a list of recent news and information regarding the ongoing situation in Palm Island, Australia – somethig that began, as far as media coverage goes, after the death of Mulrunji.

Most of us are probably aware of the background here, but for those who aren’t, some background information will follow.

Rally 11am Saturday Nov 18
Rally Queens Park Corner of George and Elizabeth Sts, Opp casino
March through the city to Musgrave Park
For Info or endorsement Ph: Sam Watson 0401227443

National Day of Action:
Justice for Mulrinji Stop Black Deaths in Custody
Stop Police Brutality, Stop Police Brutality, Murder & Racism

WE ARE ALSO DEMANDING:
! The full implementation of the findings of the Royal Commission into Black Deaths in Custody. !Reopen all contested deaths in custody cases.

!Drop the charges against the Palm Islanders who rose up in grief after the killing of their brother, Mulrinji. Two years ago, Mulrinji, a fit 36-year-old Aboriginal man was taken into police custody – an hour later he was dead with 4 broken ribs & his liver split in two. While police claimed he “fell”, the Coroner’s report into the death found that Mulrinji should never have been arrested, & that he was killed by Senior Sergeant Chris Hurley. Mulrinji is one of hundreds of Aboriginal people who have died in custody, yet not ONE police officer has been jailed. It’s time to stand up and demand justice. On Nov 18, the 2-year anniversary of Mulrinji’s death, people across Australia will rally demanding an end to the epidemic of police brutality and racism. Join us!

Website: http://www.australiapalmisland.50megs.com/

The silenced voice of murdered Mulrunji (Cameron Doomadgee) speaks to us from beyond the grave about the evils and injustices of racism and racial violence. It asks us to use our own voices to speak out for those who no longer can, and those unborn souls who cannot yet speak.

Cameron Doomadgee is now refered to as Mulrungi, a traditional local Murri word meaning “the dead one”. The Doomadgee family & Palm Islander’s have decided upon this until the day justice is realized for Mulrungi, his family & the Aboriginal community.

Mulrunji’s neighbors considered him a good traditional man. All are entitled to equal protection under the law, and while in police custody. Excessive violence must be curbed, even if it means public policing of the police forces. Get the word out and build public sentiment and support for activism. Minorities cannot protect themselves alone. If you care, find a tangible way to show it. Support the rights of indigenous people. They are an endangered species. If you have a value, stand up for it. Become part of the solution, now.

From Andrew Boe, www.boelawyers.com.au

I have attached an opinion piece in respect of Palm Island. An edited version ran at page 12 in the Australian newspaper today. The full version will be on the Brisbane Institute site www.brisinst.org.au later today.

I am trying to seek to keep focus on this issue and would appreciate circulation in your respective circles if you thought appropriate. The Coroner’s report can be found at http://www.justice.qld.gov.au/courts/co … ndings.htm

Further information including submissions can be found under the Current Focus page of my firm’s website: www.boelawyers.com.au

Palm Island Inquest findings – the unacceptable political inertia (pdf file)

CORONERS REPORT:

“I find that Senior Sergeant Hurley hit Mulrunji whilst he was
on the floor a number of times, in a direct response to himself having been hit in the jaw and then falling to the floor,….There was no attempt whatsoever to check on Mulrunji’s state of health after the fall and its sequelae…The so called checks on the two intoxicated prisoners in the cells was woeful, even excluding the possibility of serious injury having occurred…Neither officer remained in the cell for more than seconds on each occasion they entered to check the prisoner….It was not until Sergeant Leafe suspected that Murunji
might in fact be dead, that any close scrutiny was made…No attempt at resuscitation was made by any police officer even when there was a degree of uncertainty about whether Mulrunji had died…I find that Senior Sergeant Hurley avoided the issue and sent family members away from the station after knowing that Mulrunji was deceased,” she said.

Read the Report

News about the Report ( from ABC)

News, Oct 3 – Sentencing laws will further alienate indigenous Australians By Frank Quinlan

Just last week, the coroner’s report into the death in custody of a Palm Island man, Mulrunji, called for a major overhaul of how the justice system deals with indigenous Australians.

Yet in the same week, hearings commenced for an inquiry by the Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs, into the Crime Amendment (Bail and Sentencing) Bill 2006, a bill that will increase the potential for injustice in sentencing decisions affecting indigenous people and other cultural minorities.

The purported aim of the legislation is to amend the sentencing and bail provisions in the Crimes Act 1914, in line with the decision made by the Council of Australian Governments (CoAG) on 14 July this year, following the Intergovernmental Summit on Violence and Child Abuse in Indigenous Communities in June.

But far from addressing the problem of violence in indigenous communities, the bill risks further discrimination against cultural minorities, and should not be passed in its current form.

Under the proposed changes, judges passing sentence on federal offences will no longer be required to consider a person’s “cultural background”, even where this might be considered relevant. Moreover, sentencing judges will not be allowed to take account of “customary practices” and customary law.

The current reference to “cultural background” guides courts to consider this as one factor, among many others, in the balancing process that is an essential part of sentencing. We do not agree with the suggestion contained in the supporting material, that the current law contains an unnecessary emphasis on “cultural background”.

While there is a serious need to address the incidence of violent crime in indigenous communities, this bill will not address the problem.

We agree with CoAG that the law’s response to family and community violence and sexual abuse must reflect the seriousness of such crimes. CoAG agreed that no customary law or cultural practice excuses, justifies, authorises, requires, or lessens the seriousness of violence or sexual abuse.

However, sentencing judges must be free to take account of cultural background, customary law and cultural practices and background, when determining appropriate penalties. In fact, the law ought to encourage them to do so.

Significantly, of the ten publicly available submissions to the Senate Inquiry, not one supports the passage of the bill.

The bill is at odds with the findings of several major reports, including the 1991 report of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody; the 1986 report of the Australian Law Reform Commission, The Recognition of Aboriginal Customary Laws; the Law Reform Commission of Western Australia’s Aboriginal Customary Laws and the NSW Law Reform Commission’s The Recognition of Aboriginal Customary Laws.

The Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody in 1991 stressed the importance of reducing the over-representation of Aboriginal people in custody.

It recommended “that governments and Aboriginal organisations recognise that the problems affecting Aboriginal juveniles are so widespread, and have such potentially disastrous repercussions for the future, that there is an urgent need for governments and Aboriginal organisations to negotiate together to devise strategies designed to reduce the rate at which Aboriginal juveniles are involved in the welfare and criminal justice systems and, in particular, to reduce the rate at which Aboriginal juveniles are separated from their families and communities, whether by being declared to be in need of care, detained, imprisoned or otherwise”.

However, indigenous people, and those from disadvantaged backgrounds, are increasingly and disproportionately represented in the prison population. The proportion of indigenous people in the total prison population increased from 14 per cent in 1991 to 22 per cent in 2005.

Criminal justice is inextricably linked to social justice. The overrepresentation of indigenous people in the criminal justice system is among the factors leading to indigenous disadvantage. We know for example, that time in prison reduces employment prospects.

It’s concerning that the motivations underlying the bill, no matter how well-intentioned, may be grounded in the very misconceptions of Aboriginal customary law, against which the NSW Law Reform Commission warned.

In particular, there appears to be an operating assumption that judges and magistrates may take account of Aboriginal customary law, in such a way as to “excuse” or lessen the seriousness of offences involving violence against women.

Even apart from grave doubts about whether this assumption accurately reflects Aboriginal customary law, the appeals process is the most effective means of redressing any individual inappropriate sentencing decision.

The senate committee’s report on this inquiry must stress the urgent need for action to address underlying causes of violence in indigenous communities, especially poverty, social exclusion and inadequate support for families in crisis.

The Commonwealth Government must ensure that any legislative action it develops in response to the July 2006 CoAG Communique, is measured and just. It must also ensure that any such action will not have unintended consequences which might further disadvantage some of the most vulnerable people in the Australian community.

An inquiry of just four weeks, with limited opportunity for public input and debate, does not achieve this, and does a disservice to the importance of the issues under consideration.

Frank Quinlan
Frank Quinlan is the Director of Catholic Social Services Australia, the Canberra-based umbrella organisation representing social welfare works of the Catholic Church.

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