Beattie tries to soothe Aboriginal anger

December 21, 2006 - 7:42PM

Queensland Premier Peter Beattie is trying to ease anger of the controversial death of Mulrunji Doomadgee saying any future indigenous deaths in custody will automatically be treated as suspicious.

Mr Beattie today flagged the change amid growing outrage about the authorities' handling of Mulrunji's death in custody on Palm Island in 2004.

The Aboriginal community's anger has grown since Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Leanne Clare last week announced Senior Sergeant Chris Hurley would not be charged over Mulrunji's death.

This was despite the deputy state coroner Christine Clements' ruling in September that the officer caused his death.

Mr Beattie said Police Commissioner Bob Atkinson told Palm Island council yesterday all indigenous deaths in custody would be treated as suspicious, following claims an initial police probe into Mulrunji's death was bungled and tainted with bias.

Mr Beattie said investigations would be "centrally managed" by the Crime and Misconduct Commission, the police Ethical Standards Command as well as specialist units such as homicide.

"This will remove even a perception that such deaths in custody are not thoroughly and independently investigated," he told reporters in Brisbane.

He said he did not expect the decision to be "universally applauded by police", but welcomed Mr Atkinson's announcement.

"It's one way to deal with this issue ... the police commissioner is bending over backwards to try and ensure that there is confidence in the police service in this state," Mr Beattie said.

He also said a letter from Attorney-General Kerry Shine was sent to Ms Clare today, saying a review or second opinion on her decision would be "strongly" supported by the premier.

"During the meetings held with community representatives (on Palm Island)... the premier and I made it clear that any 'review or second opinion' on the matter was strictly one for the consideration of the (DPP)," Mr Shine wrote.

"The premier has however indicated that he would strongly support such a review, if this decision was made."

However Ms Clare said later today she wouldn't seek an external review of her decision not to charge a policeman over the death of a Palm Island man in custody.

"If this case had gone to a jury no law-abiding citizen, black or white, Christian or Muslim, would have found this man guilty," she said in the statement.

Mr Beattie denied the letter, drafted in conjunction with his office, constituted a backflip after previously insisting he would not interfere with Ms Clare's independence.

Mr Beattie also announced a $36 million Indigenous Alcohol Diversion pilot program.

The program, which starts in July 2007 and will run for three years, is aimed at rehabilitating people charged with minor offences and with alcohol problems.

The program's centres will be located at Cairns, Townsville and Rockhampton and will service indigenous communities including Palm Island.