The Coroner’s report into the death of an Aboriginal man, Mulrunji, in the Palm Island lockup in 2004 has found that his death was the result of a bashing by the police officer in charge of the station. Since the case may result in a criminal prosecution, I don’t intend to discuss issues of guilt or innocence in relation to Mulrunji’s death.
What is clear as a result of the case is that the system failed in all sorts of respects. The initial police investigation was a farce, with the investigators having dinner with the office under investigation, and other aspects were no better. Even in the absence of criminal charges, there’s more than enough in the coroner’s report to suggest that the officer should be stood down until the matter is fully resolved.
More importantly, the government seems to have done very little to implement the recommendations of the 1991 inquiry into deaths in custody and, by inaction, has let things go backwards putting at risk the modest gains of the 1990s. The dismissive attitude of Police Minister Judy Spence along with the government’s post-election decision (not mentioned in the campaign) to scrap the Indigenous Policy portfolio, suggests that things are only going to get worse.
There aren’t any easy answers to the problems of drunkenness and crime in Aboriginal communities. But that’s not a reason for ignoring those problems, and letting things slide back to the worst days of the past.