Murunji: statement by Palm Is lawyer


This man’s liver did not split almost in half by itself. There was never any doubt that Mulrunji died after suffering a severe violent impact, which followed a struggle with Senior Sergeant Hurley.

The relevant legal question is whether the act which caused his death was unlawful. From the perspective of Mulrunji's family and his community, the issue has never been about the actual answer to that question, but about the process by which that answer is reached by government agencies obliged to look at it.

That process has now been concluded by the DPP, who has determined that nothing unlawful occurred. Indeed, her conclusion is that there is not even a prima facie case for a jury to consider that it was unlawful.

There should be open and transparent debate about this view. In the course of such a discussion, an analogy might be drawn between the circumstances of this death and the type of case which involves a struggle between patrons and security staff at hotels. In such cases,
as in this one, the question of unlawfulness should be determined by a jury after a trial. Senior Sergeant Hurley is not entitled to a different approach, merely because he is a police officer.

There has, of course, already been an open inquiry into this matter by an independent judicial officer. Although the Deputy State Coroner was prohibited by law from expressing an opinion about the unlawfulness of anything done by Senior Sergeant Hurley, her conclusions about the facts were unambiguous.

Furthermore, evidence was given at this inquest about a number of incidents involving Hurley and at least one other police officer, other than the one in which Mulrunji died. Two separate applications were made by the police to the Supreme Court in an attempt to prevent this
evidence from becoming public. Those applications were unsuccessful. As a result, many other issues were raised, and these remain unresolved. It is essential that the status of these matters be clarified immediately.

There remains the issue of the role of the Attorney General. The Attorney has power to present an indictment in any court whether an accused has been committed for trial or not. All of the evidence is available to the Attorney and his advisers. This would be an appropriate time to enquire of the Attorney as to whether he feels it might be appropriate for him to exercise that power.

Finally, when considering the family's reaction and that of his local community to this decision, others should attempt to view this matter from their perspective. That is, they should consider how they might feel if it was their brother, father, or son who lay, writhing in agony on the floor of a police cell, after being assaulted by the local Sergeant, whilst his cries for help went unheeded. Mulrunji’s crime, if there was one, was to say a few words to which a police officer took offence. The only prosecutions that have been initiated following this event have been against members of the community who expressed their frustration about the initial investigations into this death. The Deputy State Coroner has already observed that this initial
investigation was unacceptable and deficient.

This whole episode should leave ordinary Australians cold with shame about how our systems continue to fail the needs and aspirations of indigenous Australians.

Andrew Boe
Lawyer for and on behalf of the Palm Island Aboriginal Council
14 December 2006