Home > Oz Politics > Mulrunji case not over

Mulrunji case not over

June 21st, 2007

The acquittal of Senior Sergeant Chris Hurley on charges of manslaughter and assault leading to the death of Cameron Doomadgee (Mulrunji) does not resolve all the issues raised by this tragedy. I won’t comment on, or discuss, the trial itself. The jury has given its verdict and Hurley is entitled to treat it as conclusive.

The whole sequence of events shows failure by the Queensland state at every level.

First, there’s the huge problem of alcohol abuse in indigenous communities*: the government has made little headway on this, and doesn’t seem to have made much of an effort. The abolition of the Indigenous Affairs portfolio after the last election was not a good sign.

Then there’s the fact that Mulrunji should never have been arrested for what amounted to insolence. His objections to being arrested when doing nothing wrong appear to have caused the struggle that ended in his death.

The sequence of events leading to Mulrunji’s death would have been much clearer if there had been closed circuit cameras covering the whole watchhouse, a policy that was rejected quite flippantly by Police Minister Judy Spence before being conceded by Peter Beattie earlier this year.

The sequence of inquiries into Mulrunji’s death displayed the system at its worst. No one could have any confidence in the police inquiry that began with the investigators having drinks and a meal with the officer under investigation. The DPP inquiry, finding as a matter of fact that Mulrunji’s death was accidental (not merely that the cause could not be determined beyond reasonable doubt) was equally bad, and follows a pattern in which politically-connected defendants have received much more favorable treatment than those (such as Pauline Hanson and Diane Fingleton) who’ve incurred the wrath of the establishment.

Returning to the bigger problems, this kind of thing will keep on happening as long as indigenous communities suffer from high levels of unemployment and alcohol or drug abuse. This will need a big effort, and a willingness to look at what works rather than political dogma. Unfortunately, it seems more likely that the dogmas of the past, which produced a system built on passive welfare, are going to be replaced by a new set of dogmas based on neoliberal ideology (for example, inflated expectations about the effects of property ownership, and a refusal to countenance large-scale job creation).

* There are also problems with alcohol-related violence in the community more generally, but that would need another post.

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  1. Razor
    June 21st, 2007 at 14:11 | #1

    JQ – “Mulrunji should never have been arrested for what amounted to insolence.”

    So, what is your prescription for the Police to be able to demand the respect thatthey deserve?? Do nothing? Walk away?

    The DPP’s initial decision is vindicated. The foul political machinations of the Beattie Government should be punished.

    As for Alcohol – Palm Island should be declared a dry zone – no sale or consumption of alcohol.

  2. bemused
    June 21st, 2007 at 14:47 | #2

    Razor – “So, what is your prescription for the Police to be able to demand the respect thatthey deserve?? Do nothing? Walk away?”

    Ummm well actually mine would be yes!

    Police deserve no more respect than any other member of the community (and no less either).

    Mulrunji was a harmless drunk and best left alone to get over it. There was no point in making an issue of it and escalating matters by arresting him.

    I am not surprised by the verdict, I worked for a time in the ‘deep north’ and there are far too many there with disgracefully racist attitudes.

    So far justice remains denied.

    We agree with bans on the sale or consumption of alcohol at Palm Island and elsewhere it is a major scourge.

  3. June 21st, 2007 at 16:41 | #3

    Razor,
    Police should be respected, no doubt – but they should be respected because they do their job properly, not because they have the power of arrest.
    Respect should be earned, not a matter of right.

  4. June 21st, 2007 at 16:42 | #4

    Well if neo-liberal notions are going to gain the asendance can we also do away with minimum wage laws that typically impose the highest rates of unemployment on marginalised minorities such as aboriginies. It would be nice if we could have equal rates of pay and equal rates of employment but if we can’t get both it is better to have equal rates of employment.

  5. wise_but_poor
    June 21st, 2007 at 16:52 | #5

    I have couple of points to make with regards to tackling this kind of injustice:

    1. Jury should be chosen such that it represents all the concerned communities(in this case they should have had people from the indigneous community).

    2. The system should not allow the police force do black-mail the courts. In my opinion the members of the police force who were threatening industrial action should have been warned, and subsequently if they still persisted with their threat they should have been fired. Also, just consider a hypothetical situation where the dead person was white person, then do you think the police union could have threatened industrial action? Of course not! The job of police is to enforce law and not become some kind of maffia that becomes law onto themselves.

    Australia has a long way to go. It is one of the more rascist countries in the world. Maybe a solution to end racism in Australia could be a civil war!(as it happened in the US around 200 years back)- I am just kidding!

  6. Razor
    June 21st, 2007 at 16:55 | #6

    Andrew Reynolds – part of earning respect is demonstrating that they won’t accept disrespect. This means that when they are shown disrespect they take action. If you want to verbally abuse you should expect to at least end up in the back of a Police Van, if not spending a few hours in the Lock-up.

    What would happen in Court if somebody called a Judge or another Officer of the Court an effing white c@#$???

  7. Razor
    June 21st, 2007 at 16:56 | #7

    Terje – we have a minimum wage – it is set by the welfare system.

  8. Paulkelly
    June 21st, 2007 at 17:20 | #8

    Trust economists to totally miss the point and nitpick and carry on about the minimum wage.

    This verdict is a shameful disgrace. The American South is finally finding the courage to convict killings of 4 decades ago, yet here in Australia it’s ok for a cop to small a blackfella’s liver.

    And the Qld police union – what a bunch of criminal c*nts.

  9. Jill Rush
    June 21st, 2007 at 17:42 | #9

    Whilst the all white jury accepted the police version of events it is hard to believe that the prosecution case was pursued vigorously after all of the previous events.

    The right thing for an adult is to walk away from a loud mouthed drunk. The police response was disproportional and tragic.

    The problems in Indigenous communities are long standing and have resulted fron a failure by those making decisions to empower the communities or to ensure that infrastructures support the population.

    Too much is given as short term political fixes where a seagull (a bureacrat who flies in and shits over everything and everyone briefly before flying out again) who has no idea of community dynamics proposes a solution which involves spending lots of money with no ongoing supportive presence.

    Such fixes often rely on the community members exercising skills that they don’t have and ignoring long standing cultural traditions of obligation. Instead of giving respect to those members who are elders the social structure in place is ignored because of perceived problems.

    There will be no changes until the helpers are helped to do their job rather than expected to be magicians and where the communities themselves can gain self respect through programs which are meaningful.

  10. Razor
    June 21st, 2007 at 17:42 | #10

    Paulkelly – so you think the Justice system is wrong? “Beyond reasonable doubt” should be abandoned? The Jury are obviously racists? teh Prosecuting lawyers stuffed up? the judge doesn’t know what he was doing?

    And exactly why is “the Qld police union – what a bunch of criminal c*nts.”? because they support their members and have the guts to call Beattie on his disgraceful behaviour? Jesus H. Christ – I thought you lefties liked unions???

  11. jquiggin
    June 21st, 2007 at 17:49 | #11

    Can we stop swearing at each other? Everybody please read the discussion policy and abide by it.

  12. Paulkelly
    June 21st, 2007 at 18:11 | #12

    In response to Razer’s lame post: the answer is yes to every question.

    Prosecuters and police are close.

    It’s time Qld police moved into the 21st century. Right now they’re kind of in Mississippi circa 1965.

    I thought righties were against juries letting obviously guilty people walk on a technicality?

  13. June 21st, 2007 at 18:39 | #13

    Razor,
    Presuming you are not a Police officer – how should you earn respect is someone swears at you?

  14. wise_but_poor
    June 21st, 2007 at 19:47 | #14

    Consider the following two episodes of injustice:

    1. In 2002, Abu_Bakar_Bashir(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abu_Bakar_Bashir) was sentenced to jail for 3 years, but the sentence was reduced to 20 months. Considering the enormity of Bashir’s crime many people accross the world felt that justice was not done in this case.

    2. In 1999, Australian missionary Graham Staines(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Graham_Staines) and his two sons were burnt alive by Dara Singh and 12 others in Orissa. Dara Singh was sentenced to death and 12 others were given life imprisonment. However, the death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment in May 2005 by the Orissa High Court, who also acquitted the other appellants. Again the world was upset since they felt that justice was denied.

    Now, just imagine what message mulrunji’s case sends across to the world! If Australian’s expect that justice needs to be done to their people, so the world also has the right to feel uncomfortable when justice is denied in Australia. The ironical part of the story is in this case justice was denied to an Australian(if Australian’s feel that mulrunji was an Australian citizen too).

  15. June 21st, 2007 at 20:53 | #15

    maybe justice was done- i wasn’t there. but i saw justice in mississippi, and there were some familiar aspects.

    where ever kooris have maintained their language and customs they should be given control of their land, in some arrangement similar to the american reservation system. this allows the local people to have their own laws, cops and judges. they’re still poor, but seeing their own people running things does a lot for morale.

    there’s no excuse for white cops, and white judges, any more, the locals aren’t going to revolt.

  16. melanie
    June 21st, 2007 at 21:38 | #16

    After the Bjelke-Petersen years, when southerners used to treat Queensland as a joke, it has become a bit harder to treat the state as abnormal. But I heard a discussion on the radio a week or so ago about increasing failure to implement the recommendations of the Fitzgerald inquiry. Traditions die hard it seems. Perhaps someone will contradict this, but I gather that average education standards and attainment are still below the national average. Hanson got a lot more votes up there than anywhere else in the country. Bob Catter (the fact that he got elected) might be seen as another example of this kind of deficiency.

  17. mugwump
    June 21st, 2007 at 22:54 | #17

    Unfortunately, it seems more likely that the dogmas of the past, which produced a system built on passive welfare, are going to be replaced by a new set of dogmas based on neoliberal ideology (for example, inflated expectations about the effects of property ownership, and a refusal to countenance large-scale job creation).

    Which came first, the chicken or the egg?

    Until you have a culture of property ownership (and other associated “neoliberal ideological dogmas” like working to make life better for your family), I don’t see your average alcoholic Aboriginal turning up for work, no matter how much money you pour into job-creation programs.

  18. June 21st, 2007 at 23:43 | #18

    al loomis,
    Should it only be the Koori people? What about the Nyoongar of South West Australia? The Pitjantjatjara of the Centre?
    I can imagine the Nyoongar getting pretty upset if you called them Koori.
    .
    mugwump – I think alcoholics everywhere have trouble turning up for work. Being an indigenous Australian does not uniquely qualify you for this.

  19. June 21st, 2007 at 23:48 | #19

    Melanie – given the mob that just got re-elected in NSW I think that we’re a bit dim down here as well.

  20. observa
    June 22nd, 2007 at 00:16 | #20

    The verdict shows the DPP was totally vindicated in the initial assessment that there was no case to answer here. The only reason that was overturned politically, was because the dead man was black. If Mulrunji had been a white abusive drunk the DPP’s adjudication would have stood without a murmur. Indeed, even the sober white bouncer who accidently killed David Hookes as a result of their altercation walked away free. I want everyone to respect my law and my coppers and that means ‘yessir, nossir, three bags full sir or else!’ Neither Mulrunji nor Hookes deserved to die for their loud mouthed, agressive drunken actions, but tough titties that they did. Lots of dutch courage drunks die on the roads too.

  21. mugwump
    June 22nd, 2007 at 00:40 | #21

    Andrew Reynolds – my point is that dysfunctional communities are not going to improve with free jobs any more than they have with free money.

  22. June 22nd, 2007 at 08:07 | #22

    andrew reynolds

    in sydney area, koori is generic, polite “whitebread” for aboriginal. and of course i meant any tribe that has maintained cultural coherence. the native americans have retrieved a lot of land through the courts and money has followed. perhaps it wouldn’t work here but i’d like to hear why, in some detail.

    this sometimes results in corruption and gangsterism. they’re just like you and me, given the chance. the federal police cope with this, just as they would if a state government was crooked, a not unheard of circumstance. but overall the results have been better than leaving the n.a.’s at the mercy of government bureaucrats.

  23. observa
    June 22nd, 2007 at 08:26 | #23

    With the PM’s announced takeover of NT aboriginal lands the Mulrunji case is certainly far from over. No more are we going to listen to the sandstone social worker tribe and their genocidal, liberal progressive ways. Since Whitlam, they have wanted to treat aboriginals as their special environmental, time warp poodles and turned their Dreamtime into a nightmare fopr aboriginals. I fully anticipate the war will be long and bloody and the producer group and their political lawyering classes will fight me and my PM all the way. Losing is not an option, except for they and their State Premiers now. Let the battle begin.

  24. jstrocch
    June 22nd, 2007 at 08:52 | #24

    Pr Q says:

    Returning to the bigger problems, this kind of thing will keep on happening as long as indigenous communities suffer from high levels of unemployment and alcohol or drug abuse. This will need a big effort, and a willingness to look at what works rather than political dogma.

    Howard’s paternalist authoritarian cultural policy to clamp down on vice in remote Aboriginal communities is surely a step in the right direction. THe libertarian cultural policies propounded by Wets are not suitable for Aboriginals. The nation state has to step in to restore family values.

    But I agree that more mutual obligation workfare, rather than welfare, statism is required. Should the state encourage regional consolidation of unviable communities?

  25. June 22nd, 2007 at 10:59 | #25

    Al loomis,
    Koori is generic, polite “whitebreadâ€? for aboriginal from South East Australia. I would suggest that you do not lump all Aboriginal Australians together as being from that area. If I remember correctly it is Ananga in the central desert and Nyoongar around Perth and the South West – the rest I cannot remember.
    The gaining of additional land, while it has increased the amount of money in native American communities does not seem to have greatly increased either the health or “happiness” outcomes there. Problems like these, though, take decades or a generation or so to work out.
    .
    Jack,
    I see the problem here not some much as solvable by the State as caused (in great part) by the State. The forced cultural and physical dislocations of the 60s and 70s were devastating to the communities. Minimum wage regulations reduced or removed their ability to get gainful employment and, when they did move into towns they were effectively held out of normal housing by poverty and government housing regulations.
    This move by the Feds to impose a belated form of child protection, while needed, is a band-aid over a small part of a gaping wound.
    Perhaps the State should sort out who owns what, ensure that health, education and law and order are properly done and then butt out.
    The State’s paternalism has largely put them where they are. I doubt more of it is likely to be part of the solution.

  26. Hal9000
    June 22nd, 2007 at 11:05 | #26

    Razor, there is in fact a long history of informed study and debate on the issues of arrest powers for what you term ‘disrespect’. Obscene language has always been problematic as an offence, given that it is frequently used by police themselves, as well as politicians and union officials – thereby making its deployment arbitrary and discriminatory. Some years back I worked in the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody. As part of the Commission’s work we took possession of the Brisbane Watchhouse charge book. This contained, inter alia, brief particulars of the alleged offence of the arrested person. I well recall the particulars of one Aboriginal man, arrested in the public bar of the old Prince Consort Hotel (one of the few establishments to serve Aboriginal patrons) for the offence of saying “Who are you calling a black c***, copper?” Respect indeed.

    If the offence were to be seriously enforced, under cover police would hang around in public bars, building sites and football matches making thousands of arrests. Of course, that isn’t going to happen, and nor should it.

    If showing inadequate respect for a police officer is to be made an offence, you’d have to prescribe permissible and impermissible words of salutation – perhaps ‘sir’, or ‘officer’ would be to your taste? Perhaps not ‘constable’, given the potential for unfortunate stress on the first syllable? Since, however, senior police address their juniors with that title, we’d have to change the names of the ranks. I’m sure (irony alert!) this would encourage loads of respect for the legislators proposing it.

    Making ‘dumb insolence’ an offence didn’t even work for the British army in the First World War, so we can dispense with that.

    Respect, as others have noted, is a two-way street – a bit like loyalty. In law, all citizens are supposed to be equal and entitled to equal respect from public servants like police. However, a moment’s reflection will tell you the levels of respect we could anticipate a police officer affording a well-dressed person in a fancy motor vehicle in an upmarket suburb on the one hand and a shabbily clad person waiting for a train in a downmarket suburb on the other are poles apart.

    In my youth in the 1970s the Queensland Police behaved pretty much as you’d expect an army of occupation to behave. They’ve improved a lot since then, but they’ve still got a long way to go. Equipping them with the kinds of powers you seem to have in mind won’t help.

  27. June 22nd, 2007 at 12:33 | #27

    John Howard is being a knee jerk control freak in regards to the just announced prohibitionist measures in Northern Territory. My views outlined here:-

    http://alsblog.wordpress.com/2007/06/21/little-children-are-sacred/

    Catallaxy also has a good discussion going:-

    http://catallaxyfiles.com/?p=2949

  28. Razor
    June 22nd, 2007 at 17:53 | #28

    #13 – depends who they are and the situation – some drunk on the street I’d give it straight back, my kids or employees would be made to understand that it wasn’t acceptable in no uncertain terms. If it was a drunk in the street and I was with my family or other vulnerable people I’d move on out of the situation and call the Police (and I have actually done that on a number of occaisions.

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