Holidays blamed for delaying Palm review

Laine Clark
January 3, 2007

Mulrunji Doomadgee

QUEENSLAND'S acting Premier, Anna Bligh, says the Christmas holiday season is frustrating the Government's search for a legal figure to head a review of an Aboriginal death in custody.

But she said progress was being made, with the Government drawing up a shortlist of six people — including some from interstate — who might conduct the review of the death of 36-year-old Mulrunji Doomadgee on Palm Island, off Townsville, in November 2004.

Ms Bligh said contacting people would be difficult because some might still be on holiday during the Christmas-New Year period.

"Unfortunately, at this time of year, it is not always easy to make direct contact with people in these positions," she said.

But her office was "making every effort to be in a position as early as possible to make that appointment".

"Can I say to the people of Palm Island and to the families affected by this issue that … there is an expectation that this will be resolved as quickly as possible," she said.

In September, state deputy coroner Christine Clements ruled that Senior Sergeant Chris Hurley caused Mr Doomadgee's death. But the Queensland Director of Public Prosecutions, Leanne Clare, decided not to charge Senior Sergeant Hurley over the death, labelling it a tragic accident.

A former chief judge of Queensland's District Court, Pat Shanahan, was appointed to review the case, but quit over a perceived conflict of interest after it was revealed he had sat on a panel that appointed Ms Clare to her position.

"My preference is to secure the services of someone who has the experience necessary to undertake a very tough job and enjoys the respect not only of the legal but also the broad community," Ms Bligh said.

"I'm not looking at state borders. The primary consideration is to find the best person."

Queensland Attorney-General Kerry Shine — who provided the shortlist after meeting the state's acting crown solicitor yesterday — has not ruled out the review delivering a different judgement to the DPP's.

"The point of the review is seeking a second opinion of another expert and, of course, lawyers do differ in their views," he said.

"So it is quite possible that some people come up with a different opinion. It is not a question of examination of conduct or misconduct (by the DPP) or anything of that nature."

Civil libertarians and indigenous groups have called for the reviewer to be an independent person from interstate.

But Aboriginal activist Sam Watson said the review was pointless.

"Every single Aboriginal person would have lost any confidence in (Peter) Beattie in his capacity as (Queensland) Premier and in the criminal justice system to deliver any justice," he said.

"Beattie will ensure that the person appointed is a paid-up member of the Peter Beattie fan club."