Historic victory but movement must fight on

MEDIA RELEASE:Sam Watson: charging of policeman over Palm Island death a historic victory but movement must fight on.
28 January 2006>>

“Invasion Day 2007 will go down as a historic day for the Indigenous people of Queensland and Australia”, Sam Watson, Socialist Alliance spokesperson on Indigenous affairs, said today.

Watson was commenting on the January 26 announcement by the Queensland attorney-general that Senior Sergeant Chris Hurley will be charged with the manslaughter of Mulrunji on Palm Island in 2004.

Watson noted that it will be the first time in Queensland history (and only the second time in Australian history) that a police officer is to be charged in relation to an Aboriginal death in custody.

“After waiting more than two years, after the disgraceful decision of the Queensland Director of Public Prosecution (DPP) Leanne Clare and after being told to ‘accept the umpires decision’, this is a small step toward justice”, he said.

But Watson added: “We also must remember that there are four fresh graves on Palm Island that are there as a direct result of that one incident. No matter how many police will be charged or how many years they are sent to jail, our people will still stay in those graves. They
have been lost to us forever.”

The Socialist Alliance spokesperson also stressed that the movement for justice for Mulrunji will need to remain vigilant and mobilised.

“In this national campaign people from across the broader community mobilised, marched and stood in solidarity with the Doomadgee family and the people of Palm Island. It was only because of that high-profile and passionate campaign that the Queensland government was forced to commission a second review of the decision not to charge Chris Hurley.

“This second review was undertaken by one of this nation’s most eminent and respected jurists, former NSW Chief Justice Sir Laurence Street. He found what was already blazingly obvious after the coroner’s report—that there was sufficient evidence to support a charge of manslaughter at least.”

Watson continued: “Indigenous people never pursued this issue as a special political or human rights issue. At its core it has only ever been a matter of law and of the right of an Aboriginal man to live within this community.

“An Aboriginal man was unlawfully killed in police custody and now after two years that particular officer will finally be charged. That is appropriate and just. The life of an Aboriginal person on Palm Island will now have the very same currency as that of a non-Indigenous person
who lives and works in the heart of a capital city.”

“But this change did not just happen and was not handed to us in gift wrapping.” Watson continued. “It has been fought for and won on a battlefield already drenched in the blood and suffering of our people. It was the passion and power of broad popular protest that forced a
series of back-downs by Queensland premier Peter Beattie.”

“Because of it Beattie retreated from ‘no review’ to ‘review with [Queensland judge] Pat Shanahan’. He then retreated from denouncing as ‘silly’ the movement’s demand for a reviewer from outside Queensland to accepting a review by Sir Laurence Street.

Watson went on to warn that the only other charging of police over a black death in custody (the John Pat case) saw an all-white jury acquit the cops involved.

“The Queensland Police Union is outraged because their previous licence to bash and terrorise Indigenous people is at risk and it is determined to protect its own. All the more reason for the movement to maintain the pressure for justice. Only when those who brutalise Indigenous people actually pay for their crimes and only when police are held criminally accountable for their actions will justice have been done.”

Watson concluded: “Justice for Mulrunji also means justice for those who protested against his death in custody. We will fight for the quashing of the charges and convictions against the Palm Islanders who rose up at his death and for the resignation of the incompetent and partisan Leanne Clare.

“We will continue to monitor police activity right across our communities to ensure that no person or family will ever have to endure what the people of Palm Island have been subjected to for so many years.”