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Statement by Tom Calma, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner, Regarding Mulrunji's Death

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice


Content type: Media Release

Let me begin by extending my deepest sympathies to the family and friends of Mulrunji and to the Indigenous communities of Palm Island and Townsville, who have been so deeply affected by Mulrunji’s death in custody in 2004 and subsequent proceedings.

I share with you my outrage at the failures to date of the Queensland authorities to provide justice to Mulrunji’s family.

The actions of the Queensland Director of Public Prosecutions, and the continued apparent inaction of the Queensland Police and the Queensland Police Union, shame all Australians. We remain to see a response from the Queensland authorities that affirms that all people are equal before the law, without exception and without discrimination.

I consider that the Director of Public Prosecutions has made comments that extend beyond her role, such as in claiming that Mulrunji’s death was an accident. Her role requires her to determine whether the available evidence supports a prosecution – not to decide whether the death was accidental or not. She does not have the evidence or capacity to support such a claim, and has seriously erred in her judgement.

The simple fact remains that Mulrunji’s arrest for offensive language led to his death. The Deputy State Coroner found that Senior Sergeant Hurley caused Mulrunji’s death. She also found that the police investigation into Mulrunji’s death did not meet the standard required for a death in custody.

The inadequacies in the initial investigation would seem now to be contributing to the inability to see justice done. A thorough and impartial investigation of the death would have provided a solid foundation for any prosecution.

Despite this, we have yet to see any evidence that the Queensland Police have disciplined Senior Sergeant Hurley or any other staff responsible for these failures. We have also seen no evidence of reforms or training being introduced to address the inadequacies in investigation procedures identified by the Coroner.

Justice demands that these matters be addressed, and that the Queensland Police are transparent and open in their response.

I also stand side by side with Mulrunji’s family and the Palm Island Community in expressing my frustration and anger at the failure of the Queensland Government to act swiftly and decisively to ensure that the systemic failures identified by the Coroner are addressed as a matter of the highest priority.

The direct intervention of the Queensland Premier is required as a matter of urgency. At stake is confidence in the fair and impartial administration of justice for all.

I welcome the fact that the Queensland Government has said that it will implement the Coroner’s recommendations. We need to see this commitment matched with action.

I call on the Queensland Premier, the Police Minister and the unions to cooperate with Indigenous communities to implement the recommendations of the Coronial inquest into Mulrunji’s death. The Queensland Government must also work collaboratively with the federal Government and the Palm Island community to address the social conditions on Palm Island, ranging from housing issues through to education, prevention and rehabilitation programs.

Too many young Aboriginal people have already died needlessly. The recommendations of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody were made 15 years ago to prevent the very circumstances that led to Murunji’s death. The Queensland Government must act decisively to ensure that further deaths are prevented into the future.

This is also an opportune time to restate my call in September this year for the COAG Indigenous Affairs Ministers to initiate a national audit on the status of state, territory and federal adoption of the Royal Commission recommendations and report back to the Australian public by mid-2007.

The above statement was provided to the organisers of the rally in Townsville and Palm Island on 20 December 2006 to protest actions relating to the death of Mulrunji.

Media contact: Louise McDermott (02) 9284 9851 or 0419 258 597

updated 20 December, 2006