The report handed down by Queensland deputy coroner Christine Clements on September 27 found that Palm Islander Mulrunji not only died in police custody on November 19, 2004, but died at the hands of the arresting police officer.
The coroner’s report is unequivocal on this point: Senior Sergeant Chris Hurley caused Mulrunji’s death. But in Queensland, under the Peter Beattie Labor government, there is one rule for coppers and another for the rest of the population — especially Murris (Queensland Aborigines).
Straight after Mulrunji’s death on Palm Island Hurley was promoted and transferred to a plum posting on the Gold Coast, and for the past two years has continued to work as a police officer.
Clements’ report not only accuses Hurley of killing Mulrunji,it reveals that members of the Queensland police force conspired to cover up Hurley’s role. The report also found that at the Palm Island watch-house there was no attempt to comply with the protocols recommended by the 1991 Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody.
Queensland Murris expect justice, and Mulrunji’s family some closure. But Hurley was not relieved of his policing duties at any time since Mulrunji’s death. It was only as a result of the massive outcry, some of which came from within the Beattie government, that Hurley’s lawyers asked that their client be stood down, on full pay. This happened two days before the October 10 march on state parliament to demand justice.
The coroner’s report has now gone to the Director of Public Prosecutions, who can recommend any charges that may flow from its findings. But the position of Queensland’s Murri community is unequivocal: Hurley must be sacked and charged. Any other police officer who played any role in Mulrunji’s death must also be suspended and charged. The state government must implement all of the 40 recommendations handed down by the state coroner.
Premier Beattie has hidden behind a mantra of “due process” in this case, yet the state has stood by its man in blue, ignoring for two years the demand that the officer be stood down. This same racist approach has informed the Beattie government’s recent decision to dismantle the Department of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Policy and its refusal to agree to further negotiations about stolen wages.
As we approach the 40th anniversary of the 1967 referendum that removed the constitutional discrimination against Aboriginal people — the highest “yes” vote ever in a federal referendum, with 90.77% voting for the change — the Queensland government’s response to this latest miscarriage of justice is even more shameful.
The Socialist Alliance supports the Queensland Murris’ call for a national campaign to address the huge problems facing Indigenous communities — such as those on Palm Island — focused on employment, housing, health care and education.
There also needs to be a national campaign around the 40 recommendations handed down by the coroner in Mulrunji’s case. Programs such as Brisbane’s MurriWatch — a visitor program covering all city watch-houses and run by the Indigenous community — need to be generalised nationally.
The alternative is a continuation of the terrorising by racist cops of Indigenous communities, which will lead to more Aborigines dying in police custody.
Socialist Alliance is urging national support for protest actions on November 19, the second anniversary of Mulrunji’s death.
[Dave Riley is a member of the Socialist Alliance national executive.]From Green Left Weekly, October 18, 2006.