I want justice for my brother and my people

Cosima Marriner on Palm Island
December 16, 2006

THE Aboriginal leader Noel Pearson lashed out at Queensland's Director of Public Prosecutions, Leanne Clare, yesterday, accusing her of incompetence after she decided not to charge a police officer involved in the death of an Aboriginal man on Palm Island.

The Federal Government also weighed into the scandal, with the Indigenous Affairs Minister, Mal Brough, calling for an independent investigation into Mulrunji Doomadgee's death.

But on Palm Island Aborigines were despairing rather than angry. "The Lord says vengeance is mine," said the dead man's sister, Elizabeth Doomadgee. "I really want justice to come out of this. The tables will turn eventually."

Mr Pearson questioned the judgement of Ms Clare in deciding on Thursday that there was not enough evidence to prove Senior Sergeant Chris Hurley was responsible for Mr Doomadgee's death, despite a coroner's finding that the policeman had struck him and caused his death.

"Nobody in Queensland can have confidence in her judgement," Mr Pearson said on ABC radio. "She screwed up in the Volcker case, she screwed up in the Pauline Hanson case, her litany of incompetence is there for the public to know about and, in this critical case concerning Palm Island, she has just absolutely driven indigenous people to depths of despair."

But others said it was unlikely there would be a repeat of 2004, when the island erupted with riots after Mr Doomadgee's death.

"They just stay as calm as the sea," Ms Doomadgee said. "I don't think there will be any explosion. They don't want to see it happen again."

Instead, Palm Islanders will continue their fight for justice through the courts, with plans to appeal against Ms Clare's decision.

The acting Mayor of Palm Island, Zac Sam, said: "We'll beat 'em at their own system. The only way we'll get closure is when one man stands up in front of a jury."

One of the traditional Aboriginal owners of the land, Allan Palm Island, said: "I think the whole nation got a shock at how the system works."

Senior Sergeant Paul James, who is in charge of Palm Island police station, said there were no incidents overnight.

Mr Brough said Palm Islanders had had conflicting advice from the coroner and Ms Clare about the causes of Mr Doomadgee's death. "That is simply throwing the community into huge confusion, disarray and bewilderment," Mr Brough said. "So, Peter Beattie - please announce that this will be reviewed urgently."

Ms Doomadgee took heart from the Mr Brough's comments. "Now the Federal Government will take it higher. [The Director of Public Prosecutions is] in trouble."

Mr Beattie said it would be a breach of the separation of powers for him to put pressure on the Director of Public Prosecutions to take any action, and it was "politically immature" for anyone to suggest he could.

Civil libertarians have called for the NSW Director of Public Prosecutions, Nicholas Cowdery, to provide a legal opinion. The Queensland Council of Civil Liberties vice-president, Terry O'Gorman, said, "Nick Cowdery QC is notoriously independent and he's the only DPP of the eight states and territories of Commonwealth who has tenure - the others are on contracts."